Saturday, July 2, 2022

‘You’re all friends of mine’: Scenes from a bar in blacked-out downtown Wilmington

Despite the lack of power and a city-wide curfew, some bars -- like Slainte Irish Pub -- opened their doors to locals and visiting journalists weary for a drink, a little company, or just a chance to get out of the house.

WILMINGTON — In the middle of the darkness that has come over downtown Wilmington in recent days, an old, seasoned bar owner with a thick Belarusian accent kicked on the generator, lit the candles, and opened his doors to those who had ridden out the storm.

Slainte Irish Pub owner Misha Sobol knew he had a responsibility to his community, opening his 11-year old Irish pub on Saturday at noon.

“Sometimes when the hard time comes, people get united,” Sobel said, wearing a headlamp. “What you saw today here, people from everywhere got united because of hardship. They got united because of social interaction and enjoyment of — to be alive. Live in the day.”

The crowd Sunday night was a mix of hardened old-timers, journalists who had been staying at the Ballast Hotel, a cluster of young people in their twenties, and an old woman with her dog.

Tom Noonan, owner of the Fortunate Glass Wine Bar, was outside on the Front Street sidewalk staring intently at his phone.

“It’s been pretty trying, but the cohesiveness of everybody working together, the bar owners … I’m a new bar owner in town, and I’m not afraid when something like this happens in the future because of the way everybody got together and helped each other,” Noonan said.

A young woman next to him, Michelle Griggs, added, “We’re all stuck here, and we’ll all just get together and do what we can for each other.”

“It’s the whole community coming together in one of these times,” Griggs continued. “The house down the street had served food for everyone today, for free. They had hamburgers, hot dogs, spaghetti, generators running.”

As the new 8 a.m curfew came closer — a few patrons were overheard discussing nearby shops that had been looted — Sobol yelled out a last call for drinks as a young woman paid for a stranger’s tab because he didn’t have cash.

Chris Swepson, 26, was sitting at the bar counter with two friends, his face half-lit by a candle.

“You get holed up in your own house or wherever you are. You get cabin fever, so it’s amazing to have places like this that are willing to still be open even though everything outside is going crazy,” Swepson said.

Outside police cars were driving slowly through dark, empty streets, the sirens of fire trucks wailing in the neighborhoods east of downtown.

Swepson talked about the surreal nature of sitting at the bar just then.

“You can come to this bar any normal day, and it’s lit up and it’s packed. But when you come out here and there’s no lights downtown, it’s completely dark, candle-lit, you get to have a couple drinks with friends. It’s awesome,” Swepson said.

When 8 o’clock struck Sobol yelled out, “Okay listen up! The curfew is 8 o’clock. So what we are going to do, unless you don’t want to do it, I’m going to serve you drinks, but I cannot charge you. Remember there is no more ice. It’s going to be just beer: domestic … I think that’s all we got. You’re all friends of mine and you stay in upstairs apartments! It’s a private party.”

A man laughed and called dibs on sleeping next to the bathroom. When a police car drove slowly by, candles were blown out and everyone quieted their voices.

“Come on Misha let’s wrap it up,” an officer said when he walked in, calling an end to the night’s hurricane party.

When everyone filed out, Sobol was alone, his headlamp the only light in the barroom.

“Mother Nature gives you surprises every time. You just adjust to it, you go with the flow … Let’s enjoy every given day. And that’s the reason why we opened, to enjoy every given day. This is what it is,” Sobol said.


Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

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