(originally published in Avenue magazine, July 2005)
By Dave Ryder
Wilmington has never suffered from a shortage of bars and clubs. In fact some would argue that the Port City has something of a surplus of options when it comes to nightlife. With some establishments opening, changing names and closing in a matter of months it can be difficult to find the one that you can call your hangout.
I’ve been to Lucky’s a few times and to be honest I was never really overwhelmed by the experience. Which is not to say the place didn’t have charm or great entertainment. It just seemed to be the bare minimum of what a rock club should be. After all, Lucky’s was somewhat notorious for its kitschy décor and functionally impaired restaurant style layout. What it lacked in grace it made up for with a strong following of regulars, two of which have decided to take on the task of turning the establishment in a new direction.
Mark Fuller and Melissa White are no strangers to the bar business. Mark has been the booking agent and sound man at Lucky’s for almost three years. Melissa, a long-time patron of Lucky’s, has worked for an assortment of restaurants and bars in North Carolina. When they began to discuss the idea of co-managing Lucky’s they agreed that they both saw it’s potential.
The idea wasn’t to merely change the name or come up with a new theme. They wanted to stay true to their roots and put together Wilmington’s best rock club, or as Mark says, “Cheers meets CBGB’s.”
The most noticeable changes are only skin deep. The interior of the building has had a good cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. Gone are the tacky posters, dragon heads and other novelties that once adorned the walls. The partition in the back of the club has been removed to create more room for the crowd and a sound booth has been constructed to house the mixing equipment.
Melissa is happy with their progress, knowing it will take time to bring in a new crowd. She laments the fact that they don’t have the luxury of bar hoppers that downtown venues have.
“Everybody says let’s go downtown, or to the beach. You don’t like one place, you go to the next one,” says Melissa. She claims that the majority of Lucky’s clientele are regulars that are either fans of the bands or just the club itself.
Mark and Melissa realized that it would take more than a paint job to improve the club-going experience. They decided to revamp the drink specials and beer selection. In addition to the old favorites Lucky’s now serves Guinness, Bass and Dos Equis.
Of course most bars can offer great drink specials and imported beers. What makes Lucky’s different is Mark’s long-time practice of supporting local artists. The majority of bands that play Lucky’s are from the greater Wilmington area. While he realizes that it can be lucrative to book large, out-of-town acts Mark is more interested in supporting the local music scene. Typically he won’t book a non-local act unless they can provide a date and venue for a Wilmington band.
“I won’t book out-of-town bands unless they’ve got a show lined up in their town. If they can’t offer a date, I can’t offer a date,” Mark says.
In many cases this practice has paid off. Bands such as A.S.G. and The Ivy League have played multiple shows at Lucky’s and pull in a large crowd. Hard rock shows on the weekend help the club stay afloat but the programming isn’t limited to one genre. On Tuesdays you can catch local hip-hop bands and Wednesdays bring local reggae acts to the stage.
As Mark and Melissa tell me about the schedule a member of the band that has just left the stage wanders outside where we are talking. He tells Mark that he’s just lost his guitar amp. A friend borrowed, blew it, and refused to compensate him. Mark tells him that he can probably get him a good deal on a replacement. The guy explains to Mark that he isn’t in the best financial shape at the moment.
“We’ll figure something out,” Mark says.
Hopefully that kind of loyalty to the Wilmington music scene will pay off for Lucky’s Pub. It may not happen overnight, but Mark Fuller and Melissa White are willing to work at it as long as it takes.