WILMINGTON –– Early Friday morning, Timmy Sherrill pierced the lip of a chalkboard menu while Cole Craven touched up the paint on the new hand-built bar in Lush – a lounge bar and beer garden that also houses the Dead Crow Comedy Theater Play.
“Lush is the umbrella for the whole concept,” Sherrill says 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 who takes the stage as part of the club’s opening weekend – a plan in the works for more than two years.
Originally, Sherrill and Craven hoped to keep downtown Dead Crow operational while they remodeled the location of 511 N. Third St. and transitioned to the new building. The Covid-19 changed everything.
“And we didn’t want to pay for two seats,” Craven said.
“We didn’t know when the moratoriums were going to be lifted and things would get back to normal where people would feel comfortable going out,” Sherrill added.
So they looked at the use of downtime while working to renovate and fit out the new space.
“It turns out we needed it every day too,” Craven joked. “I don’t know if we would have survived the pandemic if we hadn’t already planned to move in and started moving. “
Sherrill and Craven met over ten years ago at another company. Sherrill was a stand-up comedian and performer who frequented the Nutt St. Comedy Room, the basement of the former Soapbox concert hall, in which Craven had a partial stake. Soapbox closed in 2013 and eventually became a Waffle House.
Sherrill and Craven had established a relationship and decided to evolve the comedy side of the business into the 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 that they had overtaken the space and potential revenue growth. Dead Crow would have two shows per night on weekends, the busiest days for bars. Yet, as the theater and bar were brought together in one area, after the 7 p.m. show ended, the crowd had to leave so workers could seat the members for the 9:30 p.m. show.
“We were basically pushing people to disperse to other downtown businesses,” Sherrill said. “Now they can come early and eat and drink before the show and stay after. “
Lush basically offers three venues in one: an indoor bar, beer garden and outdoor bar, and the Dead Crow Comedy Room.
While the building owner fixed the mechanical and electrical work, Sherrill and Craven installed new equipment and rebuilt the floor plan themselves.
“Originally years ago it was a grocery store, like a farm supply hardware store,” Sherrill said.
One day while doing some renovations, someone stopped by to see what the next iteration of the location would be. The visitor said he was the son of the former owner of the hardware store.
“He would remember and tell us what was before,” Craven explained.
“Even old people who remember this place 50 or 60 years ago when they were kids, they said they would come here to have chicks,” Sherrill said. “They said people were going to line up in the block, waiting for the new hatches.”
Over the years, the storefront has closed and evolved; the top floor had become apartments, while the bottom was rented for various uses – artist studios, storage of props for the local production “Bolden”, headquarters of the Democratic Party.
Today the offices and the green room (where the comedians are staged before show time) are on the top floor, while the downstairs is divided into a formal bar, a hallway with bathrooms, a service bar for the nearby theater, and the outdoor bar and beer garden, with more bathrooms.
“We just did what we could on a shoestring and made it work,” Craven said. “But I really underestimated double the space, which is to quadruple the work – not double the work. This is something we learned the hard way.
Exposed brick walls and wooden details – from the carefully carved bar to the front of the ticket office – are rustic, combining vintage vibes with an Art Deco aesthetic. Plush royal blue velvet sofas form part of cozy seating areas, with spaced tables, in the indoor bar, which comfortably seats 50 people. A black and white tiled backsplash, accented by gold and black fixtures, spans the entire back wall range where more than a dozen taps serve local, regional, and national craft beers, as well as wines. A new menu of artisan cocktails will also be offered.
Craven, a graphic designer, wrote down every detail right down to the outdoor landscaping in the beer garden, which seats up to 100 people and has an entirely separate vibe. It’s like a secret garden hideaway with black-eyed Susans and coneflowers, bushes and shrubs growing around wooden picnic tables and built-in patio seating. A corrugated metal and wooden door closes the area, with only the tops of the buildings above Fourth Street peering above.
“It’s really, really peaceful here,” said Sherrill.
The business owners, who will employ double the staff with 25 people, said the garden will still be accessible to customers. Still, the covered outdoor bar will only be open on weekends for now, when the weather permits.
Plenty of additional seats line the exterior aisles near a platform of catering trucks that businesses can lean on, plug in, and serve customers.
“So this has a lot of moving parts,” Sherrill said.
The one he’s happy to avoid is operating a full kitchen like at the Front Street location. The public will be able to order from the truck parked in the beer garden and bring their meals into the theater for show time, if they wish.
The underground atmosphere of the comedy club is not lost in its old basement. The cinder block room has few windows and is painted black. It remains intimate, even if it has doubled in capacity, skillfully accommodating 250 people. It also allows Dead Crow to potentially attract bigger acts.
“It was a bit difficult with the booking,” Craven said, referring to the pandemic and the recent spike in numbers. “We didn’t even know when we were going to be able to open. So we kind of started booking the rest of the year at the last minute.
So far, they’ve got 16 acts by the end of the year, with more likely to come. Well-known comedians like Jon Reep will arrive in October and Michael Ian Black in November. They said they would take part in bigger acts but still wanted to focus on newcomers – “people who haven’t really broken through to mainstream or have become a household name.”
“It’s a really fun part of the process, I think, is working with these guys,” Craven said.
Dead Crow has also built an audience of local comedians, which Sherrill assures the club will always serve. It had its first open mic on Thursday, and about 70 people attended, all by word of mouth.
“I would say there were 36 comedians on the roster,” Sherrill said. “Probably 40 other members of the audience.”
The improv nights will resume at the end of the month, around September 22, and will continue on Wednesday evenings in Dead Crow.
This Labor Day weekend will be the bar’s grand grand opening, with two evenings from national comedian Alonzo Bodden – who won “Last Comic Standing” and appeared in movies and late-night shows. Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are sold for Friday’s show at 7:00 p.m., although some to stay for the 9:30 am show and the two shows on Saturday.
Aside from the comedy, the owners said they could add music to the outdoor patio and offer the indoor space for hire for parties, weddings, and even corporate events.
Lush will open seven days a week at 4 p.m. on weekdays and weekends at noon, and will remain open until 2 a.m. Dead Crow Comedy Room will operate mainly Wednesday through Saturday evenings, although it is best to check the to place for all upcoming tours.
Dead Crow comedy schedule:
3-4 Sep: Inauguration with Alonzo Bodden
Sep 10-11: Ben Roy
Sep 17-19: Basile
24-25 Sep: Isabel Hagan
October 1 and 2: Sheng Wang
October 8-9: Lachlan Patterson
October 10: Jon Reep
October 22-23: JF Harris
October 24: Blaire Postman
November 4-6: Eddie Ifft
November 26-27: Jesus Trejo
December 3-4: Sean Patton
December 10-11: Mike Cannon
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