Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Ivey focuses on affordable craft cocktails, opens in downtown alleyway

The Ivey is tucked in an alleyway in downtown Wilmington, next door to Blue Post. It specializes in affordably priced craft cocktails, open seven days a week at 4 p.m. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — “I had my first bar when I was 25 years old,” Ian Moseley said while standing near the stoop of his newest watering hole, The Ivey. He could see the front door to one of his former ventures from 1994. 

The Wave Hog was a hotspot for college kids in downtown Wilmington, most nights with only elbow room between bodies. It was only the beginning for Moseley, who has opened a dozen or so bars in town since. 

READ MORE: Catch up on other Brews and Bites news

“I’ve had a continuous liquor license in New Hanover County for 30 years now,” he said.

Moseley founded Slice of Life before selling it in 2006 and opened Fibber McGees (now Watermans Brewing) near Wrightsville Beach. He also helped launch YoSake and Husk with friends Justin Smith and Gil Johnson, and owned the downtown rooftop bar Level 5 for 16 years. There were plenty of other endeavors along the way, too, he assured: “I just can’t remember them all.”

The Ivey is located in a downtown alley, only a stone’s throw from The Blue Post (also owned by Johnson, with Barbara Weetman and Harper Peterson).

“The place with the two beautiful doors that every bride likes to get photographed in front of in downtown Wilmington: That’s The Ivey,” Moseley detailed. 

While his latest bar likely will draw in some college crowds — “it comes full circle,” he said — it’s positioned to attract young professionals with its affordable craft-cocktail menu (drinks start at $8). ”Liquor-centric” is what Moseley calls it, but beer — including locally crafted offerings — and wine will be sold.

The building was overgrown with ivy (hence the inspiration for its name) and served as bathrooms and a pool table area for City Limits Saloon before the bar closed in 2019. Moseley took an interest in the space, once owned by John Sutton, also his landlord at Level 5.

Originally, Sutton wanted Moseley to scope out City Limits with a group of other investors. When Moseley saw the 1,300-square-foot back area, it piqued his interest more.

“John was going to make it a retail shop,” said Moseley, who, instead, pitched the idea to transform it into a bar.

“The next day John showed me the plans and said, ‘Like this?’” Moseley remembered. ”And we moved forward.”

A few obstacles stalled The Ivey’s progress; Covid-19 hit and Sutton passed away in 2020. Last year, Moseley finally began renovations and joined forces with business partners Steve Gaconnier and Mike Webber from Anne Bonny’s (another venture partially owned by Justin Smith).

“First, I went to Justin and Gil to see if they wanted to collaborate, but they were already on the German beer-garden project,Moseley said. “Justin actually put this group together for me and the partnership has worked out incredibly. I mean, I can do a bar inside and out; I have a PhD in bars. But staffing? Steve and Mike make that work.”

The Ivey officially opened St. Patrick’s Day. Moseley said 280 people came through to sign up for memberships ($1 a year per North Carolina law for private clubs). The island bar is the centerpiece of the space, surrounded by 42 stools. 

“Everybody can face each other and talk to each other across the bar,” Moseley said. “I just think it’s really good for camaraderie.”

Everything is 90% repurposed as well; Moseley welded together old oil drums and beer kegs to create the bar. There is booth seating for an additional 16 people and a jukebox for music. Moseley is considering phasing in entertainment but for now prefers keeping it simple.

General manager Justin Wilson created the cocktail menu. The signature Poison Ivey is a gin-based drink, also created with absinthe, basil syrup, fresh muddled basil, and citrus juices. 

There are numerous classics made with a twist, such as the Old Fashioned — but instead of bourbon, rum is used for a “really nice banana profile,” Wilson described. There is also the Boulevardier (a Negroni made with bourbon), French 75 (champagne, gin, lemon juice, sugar) and the classic Bond martini — a Vesper, featuring both gin and vodka. 

In a month a specialty menu will also be available, to change every season. Wilson will procure ingredients from the nearby Riverfront Farmers Market on Dock Street weekly.  

A Mezcal fan, he is looking forward to introducing the Smoky Ukranian — a tequila version of a White Russian. 

“It’s a little tip of the hat to what’s going on over there in that part of the world,” Wilson said.

It will include Mezcal, coffee liqueur, chocolate bitters, and either an egg white or cream.

The specialty menu also will offer two mocktails. Wilson is working with locally owned Clean Juice and national company Seedlip — which makes zero-proof spirits from natural spices, herbs and fruits — to craft nonalcoholic beverages. 

“We want people who are taking a break or may not feel like drinking, as well as pregnant women or people who have decided to go sober, to feel included and be able to drink more than just water,” Wilson said.

The Ivey is open seven days a week at 4 p.m., located in the alley adjacent to Front, Dock and Water streets.

Below photos by Matt McGraw Photography

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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