WILMINGTON –– Early Friday morning, Timmy Sherrill was drilling in the lip of a chalkboard menu while Cole Craven was touching up paint on the new hand-built bar at Lush — a cocktail lounge and beer garden that also houses the theater for Dead Crow Comedy Room.
“Lush is the umbrella for the whole concept,” Sherrill explains of Dead Crow’s new location.
The bar is located on 0.29 acres in a two-story building along Third Street across from the Wave Transit station. The business owners were only hours away from comedian Alonzo Bodden taking the stage as part of the club’s grand opening weekend — a plan more than two years in the making.
Originally, Sherrill and Craven hoped to keep the downtown Dead Crow operational while they renovated the 511 N. Third St. location and transitioned into the new building. Covid-19 changed everything.
“And we didn’t want to pay for two places,” Craven said.
“We didn’t know when moratoriums were going to be lifted and things would get back to normal where people would feel comfortable coming out,” Sherrill added.
So they leaned into utilizing the downtime by going full force into renovating and upfitting the new space.
“It turns out that we needed every day, too,” Craven quipped. “I don’t know if we would have survived the pandemic if we hadn’t already planned on moving in and started doing this.”
Sherrill and Craven met over a decade ago at another business venture. Sherrill was a standup comedian and performer who frequented Nutt St. Comedy Room, the basement floor of the former music venue Soapbox, which Craven had partial stake in. Soapbox shuttered in 2013 and eventually became a Waffle House.
Sherrill and Craven had built a rapport and decided to evolve the comedy side of the business into Dead Crow Comedy Room. It was located two doors down from the original at 265 N. Front St. in another basement (formerly Firebelly’s Lounge).
The two realized a few years ago they had outgrown the space and potential revenue growth. Dead Crow would have two shows a night on weekends, the busiest days for bars. Yet, because the theater and bar were combined into one area, once the 7 p.m. show was over, the crowd had to leave so workers could seat members for the 9:30 p.m. show.
“We were basically pushing people out to disperse to other downtown businesses,” Sherrill said. “Now, they can come early and eat and drink before the show and stay after.”
Lush essentially provides three venues in one: an indoor bar, a beer garden and outdoor bar, and the Dead Crow Comedy Room.
While the owner of the building fixed mechanical and electrical work, Sherrill and Craven installed new amenities and reconstructed the floor plan on their own.
“Originally, years ago, it was a feed store, like a farm supply hardware store,” Sherrill said.
While undergoing renovations one day, someone stopped by to see what the next iteration of the location would be. The visitor said he was the son of the old hardware store owner.
“He was reminiscing and telling us what used to be where,” Craven explained.
“Even the older people that remember this place 50 or 60 years ago, when they were kids, they said they would come here to get baby chicks,” Sherrill said. “They said people would be lining down the block, waiting for the new hatches.”
Throughout the years, the storefront closed and evolved; the top floor had become apartments, while the bottom was rented out for various uses — artist studios, props storage for the local production “Bolden,” Democratic Party headquarters.
Today, offices and the green room (where comedians are staged before showtime) are on the top floor, while the bottom is broken into a formal bar, hallway with bathrooms, service bar for the nearby theater, and the outdoor bar and beer garden, along with more bathrooms.
“We just did what we could with a shoestring budget and made it work,” Craven said. “But I really underestimated double the space means quadruple the work — not double the work. That was something we have learned the hard way.”
Exposed brick walls and wooden details — from the carefully carved bar down to the ticket-booth façade — are rustic, pairing vintage vibes with art-deco aesthetics. Royal blue, plush velvet couches are part of cozy seating areas, with tables spaced throughout, in the indoor bar, which can comfortably fit 50 people. A black-and-white tiled backsplash, accented by gold-and-black light fixtures, runs the gamut of the back wall where over a dozen taps service local, regional and national craft beers, as well as some wines. A new craft cocktail menu will be served too.
Craven, a graphic designer, penned every detail down to the landscaping outside in the beer garden, which can hold up to 100 people and has a separate vibe entirely. It’s like a secret garden hideaway with black-eyed Susans and coneflowers, bushes and shrubs growing around wooden picnic tables and built-in deck seating. A corrugated metal and wooden gate closes off the area, with only the tops of the buildings over Fourth Street peeking above.
“It’s just really peaceful out here,” Sherrill said.
The business owners, who will be employing double the staff with 25 people, said the garden area always will be accessible to patrons. Yet, the outdoor covered bar will be open on weekends only for now, when weather permits.
Plenty of additional seating aligns outdoor pathways near a food truck pad for the businesses to pull onto, plug in and serve patrons.
“So this has a lot of moving parts,” Sherrill said.
One he is happy to avoid is operating a full kitchen like at the Front Street location. Audiences will be able to order from the truck parked in the beer garden and bring their meals into the theater for showtime, if they wish.
The underground vibe of the comedy club is not lost from its former basement locale. The cinderblock room has few windows and is painted black. It remains intimate, even if it has doubled in capacity, ably fitting 250 people. It also allows for Dead Crow to potentially draw in larger acts.
“It’s been a little difficult with booking,” Craven said, referring to the pandemic and recent surge in numbers. “We didn’t even know when we were going to be able to open. So we kind of started booking the remainder of this year last-minute.”
So far they have secured 16 acts through the end of the year, with more likely to come. Well-known comedians like Jon Reep will come through in October and Michael Ian Black in November. They said they’ll pepper in larger acts but still want to focus on the up-and-comers — “people that haven’t really broken through to mainstream or become a household name.”
“That’s a really fun part of the process, I think, is working with those guys,” Craven said.
Dead Crow has built a following from local comedians too, which Sherrill assures the club will still serve. It had its first open-mic Thursday, and around 70 people turned out — all by word-of-mouth.
“I’d say there were 36 comedians on the list,” Sherrill said. “Probably another 40 members in the audience.”
Improv nights will start back at the end of the month, around Sept. 22, and will continue on Wednesday nights at Dead Crow.
This Labor Day weekend will be the bar’s official grand opening, with two nights of national comedian Alonzo Bodden — who won “Last Comic Standing” and has appeared in films and on late-night shows. Both Friday and Saturday shows take place at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are sold out to Friday’s 7 p.m. performance, though some remain for the 9:30 show and to both Saturday shows.
Outside of comedy, the owners said they may add music to the outdoor patio, and will offer the indoor space as rentals for parties, weddings, and even corporate events.
Lush will open seven days a week at 4 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends, at noon, and will remain open until 2 a.m. nightly. Dead Crow Comedy Room will operate mostly Wednesday through Saturday nights, though it’s best to check the site for all upcoming tours.
Dead Crow Comedy Schedule:
Sept. 3-4: Grand Opening with Alonzo Bodden
Sept. 10-11: Ben Roy
Sept. 17-19: Basile
Sept. 24-25: Isabel Hagan
Oct. 1-2: Sheng Wang
Oct. 8-9: Lachlan Patterson
Oct. 10: Jon Reep
Oct. 22-23: J.F. Harris
Oct. 24: Blaire Postman
Nov. 4-6: Eddie Ifft
Nov. 26-27: Jesus Trejo
Dec. 3-4: Sean Patton
Dec. 10-11: Mike Cannon
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