WILMINGTON — Lifelong Wilmington resident Walt Cartier has been working on his latest venture for almost a decade. On three-quarters of an acre in the Sunset Park neighborhood, Dram Tree Tavern, a family business, opened its doors over the weekend.
Cartier and his son, William, first started constructing plans for the Sunset neighborhood bar in 2014. In the beginning, they were going to renovate an old concrete block building on the property at 1806 Washington St.
“But it was part of an NCDOT study where they’re rerouting Burnett and Kentucky at Carolina Beach Road,” Cartier said. “It necessitated us moving the building back so we had to redesign a new building.”
The 3,600-square-foot facility — located close by to Greenfield Lake Amphitheater as well — is outfitted with an expansive porch and large yard with picnic tables and rocking chairs. Cartier has plans to build a stage for live music.
“I wanted to create a space where people could mainly spend a lot of time outside and enjoy local bands,” he said.
The bar has full ABC permits and serves locally brewed beers. It also has a food menu of 12 items, priced $5.95 and up. Cartier added a kitchen and brought in a chef from Boone to oversee its operations.
“Finding kitchen staff has been a challenge,” he said. “But food is a good way to keep people around.”
The menu highlights pub fare, including “Sunset Ribs,” an alternative to wings, served with a Korean BBQ sauce and Asian slaw. A smash burger and fish tacos are additional highlights, as are vegetarian and vegan options, including a falafel pita and vegan corndog. A pimento cheese board and Cheerwine-brined chicken sandwich bring in the Southern flair.
New to the bar business and restaurant industry, Cartier has owned Cartier Construction for 30 years, which will continue as Dram Tree Tavern grows.
“We have had our fair share of restaurant and commercial projects,” he said. “So we wanted to do something our own, make something our own.”
The entrepreneurial spirit is inherent in his family, who have lived in Wilmington since the 1930s. Cartier said his grandparents opened the Blue Top Lodge, which also had a restaurant in the hotel on Market Street, once located near the original Mad Monk decades ago (now the Walmart area).
Cartier owns the block where Dram Tree is located and has plans to eventually create more commercial property. The tavern is the first in a long-term vision; it’s named in honor of the history nearby at the N.C. Ports and the Dram Tree landmark along the Cape Fear River.
“When you were coming in from sea on a ship, you would stop drinking at the Dram Tree,” Cartier said. “So you’d have enough wits to tie your ship up. And at the Dram Tree was the place you could start drinking when you were leaving. So it’s kind of a parallel to our location.”
Opening weekend, Cartier said the bar hosted live bluegrass as 200 people meandered through the wood-ladened establishment, constructed by Cartier and his son.
“We really just want to be a simple bar with music,” he said. “And the neighborhood needs a place where you can go, bring your kids and enjoy being outdoors.”
Dram Tree Tavern is open Thursday through Sunday afternoons, around 4 p.m. and closes by midnight. Hours may expand in the future.
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