WILMINGTON — Soon enough, more dining options will pop up in the Brooklyn Arts District, as Commodore Public House and Kitchen is under construction to open at 620 N. Fourth St. A project overseen by Brian Westlye, founder and COO of PROOFHospitality, the business is an extension of the restaurateur’s local footprint, which includes Rebellion and Crust.
“We actually signed the lease a month before Covid and the shutdowns hit,” Westlye said. He owns The Commodore with Travis Weiss, his chef partner from Rebellion.
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Since signing the lease, the project has experienced delays — not only from the pandemic but also with permits, a process that has been a bit lengthier due to the fact the location had never been a restaurant before, Westlye said. All operations are full speed ahead now, with the bar being built over the last few weeks and the original terracotta exposed brick cleaned up to showcase the history of the 1920s building.
“It was in such good shape we didn’t have to do any restoration,” Westlye said.
The bar will be the centerfold of the location, hosting the majority of seating. Sixteen people can belly up to the pine, while additional tables will seat 12 more diners. The 1,300-square-foot restaurant will have a small kitchen in the back and a smoker area as well.
Westlye said he’s looking to serve “elevated bar food” like handhelds and wings, but also offer some surprises. One signature burger will be the “The Carl B.,” in honor of Master Chief Brashear, the first African American U.S. Navy diver.
“We’re gonna have a little bit of a Latin flair to some of the dishes,” Westlye said. Though he is still fleshing out the 16-item menu, he plans on offering smoked corn, similar to elote, but “an Americanized version of it.”
There also will be weekly plated specials and the Commodore will open for brunch. Just don’t expect traditional diner-style offerings, such as eggs served 15 different ways.
“That just slows the kitchen down,” Westlye explained. “And we have a very, very small kitchen here.”
Westlye got into the restaurant business after retiring from the Navy 20 years ago. He opened Rebellion in D.C. in 2014, as well as a Commodore in the capital. Though it closed in 2019, it reopened under new and different ownership in Dupont Circle last year.
“We actually consulted on it,” Westlye said. “So the new owner has got some of the items that we had at the original Commodore, but it’s not like ours exactly.”
The Wilmington space will have aesthetic nods to mariner and sea-faring life. The logo features a vintage helmet conjuring Wes Anderson’s “Life Aquatic” vibes. It’s based on a real-life helmet in Westlye’s possession.
“It was gifted by my father — an original Navy, mark-five diver helmet,” Westlye said. “It’s kind of like the mascot of the Commodore.”
The helmet will sit on the bar, likely to be used as a photo prop. “People like to take it down and wear it,” he said. “It is just fun.”
The bar program itself will heavily feature rum and tequila, as well as offer full ABC spirits and local craft beer.
“We’re definitely having some fun with it,” Westlye said, “serving cocktails perfect for the weather here.”
Though not quite a tiki bar atmosphere, tiki-style drinks will be concocted. Westlye is toying with a smoked tequila cocktail as well.
He calls the Commodore “a five-star dive bar” — envisioning it to be as much a neighborhood spot as some of his own favorite hangouts in the area: Edward Teach Brewery and Goat and Compass among them.
In fact, he was visiting the two bars one night two years ago, which led him to his Commodore location.
“There was a for-lease sign on the building,” Westlye said. “So I called.”
He officially relocated from Alexandria, Virginia, to Wilmington at the beginning of the pandemic to be fully immersed in his restaurants’ daily operations. Westlye said ideas already are brewing to expand his portfolio.
“I would love to have something in Carolina Beach,” he said.
First, opening the Commodore is the priority. Westlye is looking at a mid-to-late spring launch; thereafter, he will begin upfitting the plot of land beside the building. It will be a beer garden, offering additional picnic-table seating and hosting live entertainment.
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