WILMINGTON — Kevin Barrett headed east on I-40 Friday afternoon, a few hours away from a friends-and-family soft opening of his fourth bar in the state. It’s a trip he has made plenty from Raleigh — and not only over the last few weeks as he and business partner Drew Schenck have prepared to open Dram & Draught.
More than three decades ago Barrett moved to Wilmington from Philadelphia as a teen and went to Cape Fear Community College before relocating to the West Coast to finish his degree at a university.
“My first job was at Circa 1922,” he said. “I also worked right across the street from where Dram and Draught will be — at Deluxe, now PinPoint.”
Upon returning to the Port City in the early aughts, he opened a wine shop beside Reel Cafe. It’s a block around the corner from where his latest venture will launch to the public Tuesday at 108 Market St.
“I just took all the best aspects of all the bars that I worked at and put it here,” Barrett said.
Barrett moved to the Triangle in 2008 and continued to work in the industry as a manager and barman for years, including at Ashley Christensen’s Fox Liquor Bar and Catrina Godwin’s C. Grace Cocktail Bar.
Eventually, he moved to Buenos Aires for a stint and contemplated leaving the industry altogether. At the end of the day, he said he loved the business too much — just not necessarily working for others. So he drew up a plan to create his own operation.
“Business plans are all fiction until you actually open the doors,” Barrett said.
Once stateside again, he pitched his concept to Schenck, who was running RallyPoint Sports Grill in Cary at the time. The timing didn’t work out then, but a year later they reconvened and started scouting spaces. They found an old gas station to renovate and by 2016 launched the first Dram & Draught.
They expanded into Greensboro a few years ago and opened another Dram in Durham last year. After Wilmington’s doors open, Barrett said Charlotte and Cary are next on the list.
“I know that sounds like a lot, but everything got jammed up for two years during COVID,” he said. “A couple of these bars we were already working on — now everything’s just coming out of the pipeline all at once, which is a little crazy, a little frantic. But we’re making it work.”
The Cary location will also serve a lunch-centric menu, the first of the franchise’s kind. Wilmington will remain cocktails only.
Dram and Draught’s menu consists of 20 or so drinks, featuring classics and signature offerings. The menu changes seasonally, though there is a section dedicated to former popular drinks under “Dram Favorites.”
“They’re Kevin Barrett specialties, our OG cocktails,” general manager Jeff Taylor said at Friday’s soft opening.
He pointed to Birds of the Beach: “It’s always been a heavy hitter — like an Old Fashioned.”
At 30% ABV, it’s made up of small batch Four Roses bourbon, cherry, honey and orange bitters.
Dram & Draught is known for its extensive whiskey collection — upward of 300 or so bottles. The Wilmington store is smaller than Raleigh, inevitably with less shelf space. Barrett said it will take time to build the collection.
“The ABC system we’re in, we can’t get everything in at once,” he said, but the inventory will still prominently favor brown liquor.
“Drew and I are both executive bourbon stewards,” he added. “So we love whiskey.”
That doesn’t mean the other spirits will be overlooked. “We also have an extensive gin collection in Raleigh,” Barrett added.
The Green Goddess Complex is a popular gin drink, featuring green chartreuse, lime and cucumber oleo, lime, soda, and topped with prosecco.
The Hipster Flannel Shuffle — reposado tequila, dry curacao, serrano peppers, mint, sugar, lime, hopped grapefruit bitters — is poured over “Sonic ice” and awakens the palate with a slight kick from the peppers.
“We like to have strong and interesting sections for all liquors,” Barrett said. They also have a small wine list and curated draft beers.
“Originally, when we opened I designed all the menus,” Barrett said. “But we’re at the point now where we have such great people working for us.”
Each Dram & Draught employee base has an opportunity to concoct a new drink and submit the recipe every season the menu changes. Taylor said the summer sippers will be released in two weeks.
Also a former Wilmingtonian, Taylor started working for Barrett and Schenck in Raleigh four years ago. “When the opportunity came to move back, I couldn’t pass it up,” he said. “Ever since working for them, it’s been just a whirlwind of traveling and training with all these different cocktail gurus.”
Barrett and Schenck hired about 10 people to oversee the Wilmington bar. The space at the corner of Market and Front streets, beside the cigar shop, has been a few restaurants over the years, including Shuckin Shack, Beer Bellies and Superior Grill.
It’s the first time the business partners purchased property for the bar, Barrett said. Over the last few months, they renovated the space by removing the kitchen upstairs to add more room for patrons. The first floor, mostly featuring bar seating, is cozy with wood and metal accents. It gives off the vibe of a neighborhood bar more than a swanky lounge. It’s part of the appeal of Dram and Draught, Barrett noted — to be approachable, not pretentious.
The second-floor space features exposed bricks and communal tables. “We are working with the city for some outdoor tables,” Taylor said.
Cocktails range in price from $10 to $14. There is also a “spirit-free” section for non-alcoholic drinkers, featuring drinks such as the Work Day Negroni — Monday zero gin, Lyre Italian orange, Lyre apertif rosso, and barrel-aged orange bitters.
“We want to appeal to everyone,” Taylor said.
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