Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Dubliner to close, downtown restaurateur to take over ownership

The Dubliner will close Friday and reopen in February, as restaurateur Billy Mellon has purchased the property and building. (Courtesy The Dubliner)

WILMINGTON — For more than two decades, the Dubliner on Carolina Beach Road has been the everyman’s bar — a place to grab a pint of Guinness, watch soccer tournaments and catch plenty of live music.

Its future was in limbo pre-pandemic, due to the North Carolina Department of Transportation road-widening project on Carolina Beach Road. Originally, the NCDOT was looking to acquire a handful of businesses, including the Dubliner, as part of the plan. As of 2020, according to reporting from WECT, the funding dried up and the project has been put on hold (NCDOT didn’t respond to PCD’s request by press whether the project is dead in the water or just paused).

Yet, the Dubliner will serve its last pint on Friday — at least until early next year. Andrew Brothers has sold the bar to local entrepreneur Billy Mellon, who owns downtown fine dining restaurant manna, live music venue Bourgie Nights and cocktail lounge Earnest Money and Sons. Mellon takes over ownership Jan. 1.

“The opportunity was brought to my attention a few months ago,” Mellon said, who, with his wife, Robin, sat on the idea a spell before moving forward. Located in the throes of Sunset Park and within a few blocks of Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, the location seemed prime. 

It’s the reason Brothers purchased the business in May 2017, he said — aside from always wanting to own an Irish pub. 

“I knew I could piggy back off the GLA shows and that’s exactly what we did,” he said. The Dubliner hosted afterparties following each concert at the amphitheater and brought in live music on weekends.

Brothers purchased the property and building together and renovated it over the years to become more congregate friendly. He fenced in the back property, added a stage and full-service outdoor bar and patio. 

“A lot of love went into it,” Brothers said, who moved his family to Florida during the pandemic. He also owns Red Dogs in Wrightsville Beach and his wife is the proprietor of Coastal Shield Insurance.

“We aren’t selling for any reason, but we have too many things on our plate and are splitting time between here and Florida,” he said.

Changes to the Dubliner will be minimal.

“The bones are great,” Mellon said.

He will paint the inside and outside, with added landscaping and banquette seating. Robin, who has been integral to the design of manna and Earnest Money and Sons. along with other projects like The Hive (and she helped with Kipos Hellenic Cuisine), will add her aesthetic touch.

Mellon, who used to live on Jefferson Street nearby, said he remembered frequenting the spot during his younger years to play pool.

“It had a cool ‘vibe’ — very neighborhood-ish,” he said. “[I]t reminded me of places I grew up in, bars I went to with my dad from time to time.”

He still considers it one of the “jewels of the city” and plans to make tweaks that won’t overshadow its nostalgia — something he calls part of Wilmington’s “old guard” of watering holes. Though it will have a new name, it will remain comfortable, “not posh,” and lean into its blue collar appeal.

“It will be utilitarian, warm, friendly,” he said. “I hate saying ‘Cheers’-y but the song lyric does make it sound like a fun place for a beverage (‘you wanna go where everybody knows your name’).”

The live music will continue, something Mellon is seasoned in already at Bourgie Nights. The downtown venue hosts shows each month, with January’s calendar already filling up with acts like Sam Burchfield and Travis Shallow, Zach Top with the Jewell Brothers and the Smoky Dunes.

Mellon is unsure how many days a week the Carolina Beach bar will host live music but said it will remain a “big part” of the business game plan. 

“It may have been overlooked these past few years with all these new pockets and burroughs that have been all the rage with the bar-goers,” he said. “We’re going to give it a little spit shine and some extra TLC and hopefully those that have loved the Dubliner will enjoy the changes and that will also attract some new folks.”

The bar will reopen in February, though Mellon said they aren’t rushing renovations.

And if NCDOT’s road-widening project does come back to the forefront, Mellon suspects it will continue to be a drawn-out process. 

“And we’ll get an opportunity to fight for something worth fighting for,” he said.

The Dubliner’s last two nights open are Thursday and a send-off party Friday.

[Update: The NCDOT responded to PCD after press about the road-widening project, noting it is funded in the draft of the upcoming State Transportation Improvement Program. “We anticipate resuming acquisition of right of way in 2027 and letting the project contract for construction in 2029,” spokesperson Tim Hass said.] 

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Shea Carver
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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