Bank Day in the Port City
The PubScout and his son scope out the COVID-era craft beer scene in ILM.
My youngest son, Cody, whom I affectionately call The Great Dane Puppy, came down from Jersey to spend a week with the ‘rents (see? I’m hip to the millennial lingo!) in sunny southeastern NC.
Only it wasn’t sunny, for the most part. With the monsoon mistaking southern Brunswick County for Mumbai, I decided to take him up to ILM, a city to which he had never been. Since Cody was raised (practically bottle-fed) on good craft beer, I figured I could check in on some of my favorite beer haunts to see how they have handled the pandemic since some restrictions have been lifted.
The answer is, for the most part, not well. Some were open, but with modified conditions. A few of the places stuck thermometers on our heads before letting us in. At one place, the guy running the joint asked if we had masks.
“Masks?” I asked. “How the hell am I supposed to drink beer and eat your food?” To his credit, he immediately saw the wisdom in my query and invited us to have a seat.
Still, at least his place (which shall remain nameless) was open. The majority of the places we attempted to visit were not: New Anthem (both sites) and Bill’s Front Porch were dark. One of my favorites, Edward Teach, gave us a brief flash of hope, as the front doors were open. Unfortunately, they were open for ventilation, as the brewery proper was closed and undergoing interior renovations. The workers anticipated a Friday opening.
I figured we’d try another favorite for some expert mixology — Board and Barrel in the Ballast Hotel. The big X that used to “mark the spot” was dark and abandoned. Many of the beer places/eateries in downtown Wilmington had a reserved parking space out front for “Curbside Pickup/Takeout.” Pubs, however, are not made for Curbside/Takeout. They’re meant to be occupied.
Fortunately, one of my must-see, fun places — Pour Taproom — was open for business, although the novelty of being able to draw your own beers in whatever style and size you wish was absent. Owner Brian Ballard had to effect some changes to keep his many taps flowing, his food served and to abide by some of the restrictions imposed upon places that dared to open on a limited basis.
Now, a server asks you to pick a beer and a size from Pour’s extensive beer list, then he or she fetches it and delivers it to you. Many of the N.C. beers on the second floor were relocated to the main floor, which saves the server’s legs and back. The beers and food were great, as usual, but the fun aspect of drawing your own beer was missing. Here’s hoping it returns to normal and soon, because Pour Taproom is a great Wilmington beer attraction.
There were people waiting outside The Copper Penny (a good sign, I suppose) so we wended our way to The Cotton Exchange for some souvenirs, and to our great good luck and fortune, another of my favorite spots — a real pub called Paddy’s Hollow — was open and pouring.
Initially the stools at Paddy’s Hollow’s bar were set apart in strict accordance with social distancing regs, but when they found out The Great Dane Puppy was my son, they allowed us to slide closer together. That allowed us to toast life — and each other — with relative ease.
We enjoyed a few good IPA’s in a quintessential Irish pub, and the barman was affable and garrulous — as a barman in a quintessential Irish pub should be.
After trying the aforementioned dark sites, I suggested we head out to New Centre Drive to visit Skytown Brewing, and it was open — sort of. You couldn’t go inside, but you could drink and eat on the outdoor patio. Fortunately again, the monsoons were still in OIB and we sat out and enjoyed a few beers under cloudy, but not threatening skies.
The Pup ordered and enjoyed a 7.4% Get Schwify NEIPA, and I had one of the nicest Fest-biers (read Oktoberfest or Marzen) I’ve had anywhere. Called Das Boot, it was malty with a pleasant body and sweetness. I asked our server if this beer would be on the menu when the real Oktoberfest is celebrated (here in October; in Germany September, sometimes August). He confirmed it would be, stating that it’s one of Skytown’s most popular beers. It’s not hard to figure out why, and at just 6% it’s sessionable, as a festbier should be.
Skytown has great food too, but we were saving dinner for another favorite place of mine on Market Street in downtown Wilmington — The Fork and Cork. And we were rewarded with the great beer, great food and the unique coziness and intimacy that the establishment provides.
The Pup’s Wilmington Breakfast Stout, my Dirty Bastard and two Bell’s Two-Hearted Ales topped off a great meal — and a great day.
It was one of those days I call a “Bank Day” because you store it in your memory bank and take it out for warmth when the colder weather and life’s monsoons intrude on your happiness.
I’ve taught my sons that Bank Days are important for happiness. And after this pandemic and its ramifications, we sure could use more of them.