BUILDING HISTORY: Barbary Coast


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Submitted: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 2:28am
Updated: Thu, 11/21/2013 - 2:51am
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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — In Wilmington there are plenty of watering holes to choose from and many with colorful pasts. This one is the oldest bar in town with a history that gets better every time it’s told.

”The Barbary has been here almost 72 years as the Barbary Coast,” Co-owner Eli Ellsworth told us. “Back in the early 40’s, Paul Best’s father opened it; he was a famous boxer and tug boat captain.”

Eli along with Co-owner James Van Wagner run the bar now.

People love stories about the Barbary, the more unusual the better.

”You always hear how pirates would Shanghai people out the back door and into the river. Personally I have had weird anomalies like the juke box turning off and on,” Ellsworth said.

The true stories tend to follow a familiar theme.

”Most common stories I hear is somebodies dad or granddaddy had their first beer in here. You hear that a lot,” Ellsworth said.

One of the most famous parts of the bar are the parts it has played in the movies. The Barbary Coast was a key location in Blue Velvet.

The Barbary Coast sells more Pabst Blue Ribbon than any place in North Carolina. And, Blue Velvet was the source of the sign over the front door. “This is it.”

The front door is another icon.

”The door was painted that way when we bought it,” Ellsworth demonstrated. “It’s been that way as long as I can remember in the mid 90’s. It was done by a local artist from Carolina Beach, Thomas Fitzpatrick.”

It was a staple of downtown Wilmington, Eli and James have cleaned the bar up but kept it true to its roots. These days at the Barbary Coast everyone is welcome.

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