WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — Last Friday Andrew Brothers, a longtime local bar manager and current owner of the Dubliner Pub near Greenfield Park, filed an application for a permit with the state’s ABC Commission to re-open the Red Dogs nightclub in Wrightsville Beach.
But he does so without the town’s backing, and in the wake of former owner Charlie Maultsby’s death on Feb. 1, Brothers is now waiting for a response from the commission —a response he expects sometime this week.
Brothers said he and his wife Anna began working with Maultsby in October to take over the bar, a location that first opened in 1975 and became known as the island’s main after-hours nightclub, catering to surfers and UNCW students. Brothers managed the bar from 2002 to 2007, and in that time he said the bar received no infractions from the police.
But Brothers said that Maultsby had been a “thorn in the town’s side” for years. In 2016 the ABC commission revoked Maultsby’s license following a felony gun conviction, according to Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Daniel House. And an attempt to re-open Red Dogs by another former manager, Jon Shellem, was denied the following year because it was determined Maultsby was still too closely associated with the bar and was acting as a consultant.
“When we approached Charlie he was like, ‘I’m ready to retire. I’m done with this fight. I want to leave it in good hands and I want you to carry the torch,’” Brothers said.
Brothers, who currently has a lease for the space as well as a purchase agreement — both contingent on the pending ABC permit — said that although he wants to work with the town, he and his lawyer are preparing to fight for a permit in court if necessary.
“A public nuisance”
“They’re trying to peg this place as a public nuisance,” Brothers said.
Chief House said the town sent a “government opinion” to the ABC Commission in Raleigh stating that Brother’s attempt to acquire a private club permit did not comply with the area’s zoning regulations.
“The downtown area is not zoned for a private club. The only thing you can have there is a retail business or a restaurant,” Chief House said. “The town will never approve the permit based on the fact that it doesn’t meet the zoning law.”
But according to Brothers, the bar has operated on a private club permit since 1975, which he said is required by the state for establishments that serve liquor but not food.
Chief House said that zoning was not the only issue holding back the town’s support for Red Dogs –– it was also the bar’s reputation as a public nuisance.
“At this point it has absolutely nothing to do with Charlie Maultsby. It only has to do with the business itself, and Red Dogs has a poor reputation in the community. And I think anybody who tries to get a permit there is going to have some trouble,” House said. “Look at the criminal charges that have come out of there, the criminal activity, the fighting, those types of things.”
House did not clarify what criminal activity he said has taken place at the bar, but said such issues continue to be a problem.
Miranda Zumbro, a bartender at Red Dogs from 2003 to 2009, said she disagreed with the town’s notion that the bar is a public nuisance.
“It was more of a skater and surfer crowd,” Zumbro said. “Anytime you have college-aged kids out drinking, things are going to escalate sometimes. I’ve worked at several bars and I came across that everywhere.”
In addition to her time at Red Dogs, Zumbro said she has worked at other restaurants and bars in Wrightsville Beach and in Wilmington — including Tower 7 and The Whiskey — each of which encountered their own problems with fights and public disorder.
The problem, according to Zumbro, is that Red Dogs is located next to high-valued homes on Wrightsville Beach.
“I would not see it as a public nuisance. If you bought a property right there, behind a bar, I’m not really sure what you thought you were getting yourself into,” Zumbro said.
Brothers attributed the town’s negative perception of the bar to an insular nature that has arisen in Wrightsville Beach over the last two decades.
“Hurricane Fran came and wiped out a bunch, in 1996, then it raised property values and rent got really high,” Brothers said. “And that had a lot to do with it.”
The legacy of Charlie Maultsby
Brothers said the letters sent by Chief House and other town officials to the ABC – before he filed the permit application — cited the bar’s poor reputation and any potential involvement with Maultsby as the reasons they opposed the permit. The latter argument, Brothers said, is now void with Maultsby’s death.
But he hoped people would remember Maultsby as a man dedicated to helping people, particularly his employees.
“Charlie was a friend, a mentor; he taught me everything I know about this business,” Brothers said. “He had a heart, he was hilarious, he was the life of the bar – hard on me as a boss, but it’s where I am today because of him. He was hard on me like a dad – he’d yell at me but always have my back.”
“He had high expectations and he held you to those,” Zumbro said.
She said that when her friend died during a hiking accident in Colorado, it was Maultsby who pushed the town for a memorial bench made in her friend’s honor, which still sits along the beach access path near the bar.
“After that, they started popping up at every [beach] access … each dedicated to someone or something. He started that trend,” Zumbro said.
Brothers said that when he left Red Dogs in 2007 and bought The Whiskey in downtown Wilmington, Maultsby provided some of the financial support. Now, with more than 15 years of experience managing or owning a bar, he believes he is well prepared to take on Red Dogs.
“I’m experienced with it. I got this. I’d love to carry this on,” Brothers said. “I mean there’s going to be a shrine in the corner to [Maultsby]. I want to carry on this man’s legacy. This was his spot. Anybody who went to college in Wilmington from the 80s, 90s, 2000s all know about this place. This was the spot. And everybody knew Charlie.”
He said his goal now is to get the doors re-opened, maintain the “surfers’ hangout” vibes long associated with the bar, and provide a place on Wrightsville Beach where people could “come dance and blow off some steam.”
“We want to get the doors open, we want to continue it. We want to work with the town, we want to work with the police chief, we just want to open this bar and provide for our family like anybody else who’s in the bar business,” Brothers said.
Chief House, however, said any good reputation developed by Brothers as a bar owner and manager is now outweighed by the reputation of the bar itself.
“The community does not want that bar there, I can tell you that,” House said. “The zoning and the past issues we’ve had from there are always going to haunt that business.”
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com