Stirring Things Up
What’s shaking underneath Front Street
After buying their first bar off Craigslist, ABBIE SENA and her husband, JOSEPH, quickly established their love for nightlife. Now, years later and after running other local bars and restaurants, their vision for what they want to offer has evolved into a new cocktail lounge in downtown Wilmington.
The Underfront Co. Bar and Lounge opened the first weekend in February at 265 North Front Street, the subterranean space that once housed Dead Crow Comedy Room and Firebelly’s.
“This project is super close to my and my partners’ hearts because it’s back to our basics,” Abbie Sena shares. “Back to hand-made, house-created craft cocktails in a city and community we love.”
While running their first bar in Greensboro, the couple hired a bar manager, IVAN MOORE, who quickly became their best friend and eventual business partner. With Wilmington roots, Moore suggested opening a place in town that would ultimately become Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
“With all four of our four downtown businesses, one (thing) led to the other,” Sena explains.
After Whiskey Tango Foxtrot came Rumcow, then Tacobaby to follow. Now, after selling those businesses, Sena explains it was time to return to the nightlife in a more upscale fashion.
“This space represents a part of our lives and our story,” she says. “We went from big, club-style places and we wanted to step back from high volume and get back to basics with cocktails. We wanted to dial it back and explore the drinks and break each one down. We take a classic cocktail and do it better.”
The new techniques and knowledge that Sena and her partners gained while running the previous restaurants have given them the freedom to explore new ways of developing and creating drinks.
“We create our own bitters, we cook sugar glass, and we make our own tinctures,” she says. “We like to play with smells and tastes and see how it’ll play with the body of a cocktail.”
Each cocktail on the menu’s thoughtful design is organized by taste. Whether it is fresh and fruity or bold and smoky, there is a drink for a customer’s palate, including nonalcoholic options.
With special embellishments such as muscadine jam, dehydrated lime, or honey jalapeno simple syrup, it is obvious that a great deal of time and thought has been given to each drink’s design.
“All bartenders are trained and onboard, so they love talking about it and will tell you all about each drink and break it down and explain the flavors,” Sena shares. “The menu was built by all of us working behind the scenes – a whole collective effort.”
Wines and beers are offered, too, in addition to a selection of charcuterie and cheeseboards. Like the cocktails, the food selections seem sophisticated and tastefully designed.
“Cheese pairs well with everything.,” Sena says. “We did not want to do a full menu but thought enough so that it would be perfect before or after dinner and would pair well with cocktails.”
Open Tuesday-Thursday from 5 p.m.-midnight. and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Underfront, according to Sena, will continue to find its niche in the downtown scene. They will have live music on the weekends, and Sena says they are open to a possible karaoke night during the week.
With chic paintings, leather chairs, and velvet couches, the space gives an old-world feel to a welcoming space. Welcoming others into their family is exactly what Sena had in mind with its design.
“I think we nailed the atmosphere, and it came together passionately for all three of us,” she says. It has precious nods to old bars we had, and we included family pictures, so they are here with me.”
Fun, retro pictures of grandparents and parents are hung throughout the lounge as well as paintings from the couple’s first bar that got it all started.
“We are a family, we have always been a family, and if you work for us, you’re a part of that,” Sena says. “There is so much grace at this place.”
Looking forward to warmer weather, a tiki bar has been built and the outdoor space is ready for a new design to welcome people outside to enjoy a summer drink menu.
“I love what we do so much and want others to enjoy it,” Sena says. “It is all about the love of the cocktail. It is super awesome and humbling for the three of us to put this business in this community that we love and feel a part of something we love so much.”
To view more of photographer Megan Deitz’s work, go to megandeitz.com.
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