[Ed. note: Below originally was published in April as part of Port City Small Bites but has been updated to reflect the music venue’s grand opening Friday, Dec. 9.]
WILMINGTON — A husband-and-wife team — one in the trucking business, the other in the dental industry — have transformed a historic space in the Cotton Exchange into a modern speakeasy.
Though it’s been hosting musicians since October, owners Bobby and Robin Brown had the grand opening celebration of The Vibe Music and Cocktail Lounge Friday night.
The Vibe is located between the German Café and the Olde Wilmington Toy and Candy Company, on the riverside of the Cotton Exchange. Brown said they were searching for the right space for more than a year and knew they wanted to be in the heart of downtown.
“We want to bring a different dynamic to the building that hasn’t been there before,” said Brown, a member of the Downtown Business Alliance.
Originally from Raleigh, the Browns moved to town four years ago. Family vacations were often enjoyed in the Cape Fear, Brown confirmed, including visits to the Cotton Exchange. When his job allowed a transfer to the region, he said he couldn’t pass the chance.
“We knew that this is where we wanted to start our business. Culture means a lot to us, and Wilmington has the culture we were looking for,” Brown said.
The Cotton Exchange consists of over 15 retail shops and five restaurants, as well as Momentum Distillery which officially opened over Azalea Festival. Otherwise, The Vibe will be the only stand-alone bar operating in the exchange — which over a century ago had a three-story saloon on the premises in the Dahnhardt Building in the late 1800s.
“We love the history of the building,” Brown said.
The Browns spent the greater part of the year renovating the 1,600-square-foot business, tearing down walls and exposing the original brick with the help of Clay Buck Building and Design. The bar also was custom-built by Jimmy Kaylis of Kaylis Barcraft and Design.
Kaylis is a band member of The Phantom Playboys who played at Friday’s grand opening.
“That is the heart and soul of this business venture from the beginning,” Brown said, speaking of the music.
A stage, complete a state-of-the-art sounds system and lights, complete with red curtain, keeps the musicians front and center of the space.
“We initially wanted to start a mid-size music venue, but we are starting out on a smaller scale and plan to build upon this to eventually open a second location for touring bands.”
He suspects the next operation is a few years down the road.
Weekends are dedicated to various solo musicians and bands of all genres. Every Wednesday night is open mic, with signup at 7 p.m. Comedy will be featured at 8 p.m. and music to follow at 9 p.m. or so.
The Vibe focuses on craft cocktails, heavily featuring bourbon, as well as spirits from local distilleries and across the globe. The menu will change seasonally, sometimes even monthly.
“We want our staff to be creative,” Brown said.
The Hawaiian Black Orchid tips its hat to musical roots. The drink started at the Coco Palms Resort, where musicians Esther Williams and Howard Keel of “South Pacific” and Elvis Presley visited. It’s made with vodka, elder flavor liqueur, French dry caracau, pineapple, and matcha.
While The Vibe focuses on craft cocktails, it also has a coterie of wine and hard seltzers, as well as beer with rotating taps. Drafts will consist of Wilmington brews.
The lounge is inspired by the ‘20s and ‘30s eras of the 20th century and features live music and specialty drinks aplenty.
“We want it to feel like you are sitting in a living room,” Bobby Brown explained. Retro plush chairs and couches welcome visitors.
The Vibe is located at 312 Nutt St. The December music schedule is:
Dec. 15: Curtis McLaughlin, 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Dec. 16: Chris Pearson, 8 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Dec. 17: CB Johnson, 8 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Dec. 22: Tom and Jane, 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Dec. 30: Annalee Beck, 8 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Dec. 31: Medicated Sunfish, 8 p.m. – 1 a.m.
Have comments or tips? Email firstname.lastname@example.org