“It’s like you’re on stage. It’s just like playing music. You are giving them a product that they love, and they want more of it.”
When you watch Fred Flynn work his bar at the Greenfield Lake Yacht Club, it’s instantly clear that this is a guy who’s doing what he loves. He is constantly moving, from one end of the room to the other, constantly checking in on his clientele and listening to their latest stories, constantly replacing empty glasses with full ones.
If you’re a lover of watering holes, you know that no two bartenders are alike. Some are just there to serve drinks. They don’t really want to engage. Others are in the crowd control business, making sure the drunks don’t get out of hand. The fun ones like to entertain, to make sure everyone is having a good time. It’s almost like they are one part game show host.
Fred fits into an entirely different category.
Back in the day, he was what you would have called a mixologist. He loves the science of creating. For Fred, the bar is his laboratory, and coming up with new concoctions is his form of advanced chemistry.
“Tell me what you think of this one,” he says as he slides a glass to a patron. From where I am sitting, a few feet away, it’s clear that the new creation has some form of brown liquor in it – maybe bourbon, maybe Scotch. And I know Fred used a long silver spoon to stir things around, but whatever else he put in the drink remains a mystery.
“Wow! That’s incredible,” the customer says after taking a sip.
The patron then hands it to his buddy sitting directly next to him. The friend puts his thumb over one end of a straw, inserting the other side into the drink, and extracts some liquid that he drops into his mouth. “Yeah, that is really good.”
Everyone who gets to try the original beverage agrees that Fred has conducted another successful experiment.
“You’re providing a story with every cocktail. These drinks have stories behind them. Did you know the Gimlet was created by a Navy Rear Admiral who was trying to cure scurvy?”
Before he could tell me more, the phone rings, and Fred walks over and picks it up. There’s a problem on the other end of the line. Turns out the band that was booked to perform at the Greenfield Lake Yacht Club tonight has to cancel at the very last minute. A couple of their members have tested positive for COVID.
When Fred hangs up, before he talks to anyone else in the bar, he instantly starts dialing a number by heart. He is calling his longtime musical partner Wes Sayer. “Hey, do you want to do a show with me tonight?”
In a few hours, when Wes arrives, without rehearsal, without a set list, Fred will step out from behind the bar, and the two of them will take the stage set up in the venue’s backyard.
“Wes and I have been playing in this town off and on for at least 10 years. We play so well together that we kind of know what the other is thinking and what they’re going to do next!”
This is a story about remembering where you came from and the beauty of never forgetting your own humble beginnings.
At the center is a Renaissance man, a guy with several deep passions in life, who now gets a chance to combine a few of his favorite things into one big adventure. Fred Flynn also has another opportunity, one that’s so important to a guy who still remembers all those people who helped him out along the way. Fred now has a chance to give back!
“I started playing right after high school. I played with a few bands in the Triangle area, and then I moved down here.”
When you’re young, in your 20’s, with dreams that far outnumber your bank account, how do you do it? How do you pick up your life, say goodbye to your friends, grab your guitar, and make it in a town where you know very few people?
The answer is you find others who are on a similar path. You go to the open mics, you make friends, and you hope like hell that an opportunity comes your way.
“For me, it was the Liquid Room. That really was a special place back in the day. It was always filled with creative and talented folks, but also very supportive folks. After a while, I took over the Sunday night gig there. That was my first paying job in Wilmington.”
In time, Fred was putting together his own band – Fred Flynn and the Stones. They started branching out, doing other shows around town and occasionally getting booked in Jacksonville and Myrtle Beach.
But even though his music career was taking off, it wasn’t exactly paying the bills – and so Fred started tending bar and discovered his second great passion in life. He’s worked at a number of local bars, especially in the downtown area, with his longest stint taking place as the Bar Manager at the Manna restaurant on Princess Street.
“That’s where I met Billy Mellon (the owner of Manna). After a while, we started to talk about opening a place together. I told him that one day I’d love to have a bar with a stage for local performers.”
Creative folks are people of action – they have to stay in motion all the time. It’s the only thing that gives them a sense of control – especially when it comes to their dreams. And so the plan, they do the prep work and the research…only to discover that many of our pursuits come down to waiting – waiting for an opportunity that is totally out of our control, and if we are honest – an opportunity that sometimes we fear will never get here.
For Fred, the chance he’s wanted for years finally came when a construction project was put on hold.
“My understanding is that it’s been delayed for at least 10 years.”
Once upon a time – actually only a couple of years ago – the North Carolina Department of Transportation had plans to expand Carolina Beach Road right where it intersects with Third Street and Burnett. The construction would require the state to purchase a handful of businesses – including a popular Irish Pub called the Dubliner.
The funding never exactly worked out, and when the deal fell through, the bar could have stayed open. But instead, the owners decided they still wanted to sell. They placed a call to Billy Mellon, who then called Fred and told him in so many words, “You ready? Let’s go.”
The two had a soft opening in April of this year, with an official launch the following month.
“It’s going great. We’ve already got a lot of regulars, many live in Sunset Park, and we’ve built a relationship with Greenfield Lake Amphitheater – whenever they have a show, a lot of the crowd heads over here afterwards.”
And when they get there what they find is that they left one music venue for another. Several times a week, the Yacht Club offers live music featuring local and regional performers. They may have changed the name of the bar, but as a tribute to the old pub, they’ve named the stage out back “The Dubliner Stage.”
Which is exactly where Fred and Wes put on their impromptu show a few weeks ago. Fred did the lead vocals while Wes shredded the guitar. They played some old school, some soul, some R&B, and some Funk. There was something for everyone that night.
To be sure, someday in the future, the two will take the stage again. Maybe as the result of another last-minute scratch. But the truth is the Yacht Club is where Fred gets to show off his mixologist skills… he wants to leave the spotlight out back for others to hear the applause. And from a musician, to another musician, there is no greater gift.
“I’ve been so blessed to work in this town as a bartender and a musician. This is a really supportive community. The musicians in this town really look out for one another. They helped me get started, and this is my chance to give back.”
Upcoming shows at The Greenfield Lake Yacht Club:
- Righteous Roots Duo 7-9pm November 17
- Lou McNally 7-9pm November 18
- Cree the DJ 7-9pm November 24
- 1086 Jazz Collection 7-9pm November 25
- Sting Jays 7-9pm Dec 8
Fun Fact: Behind his bar, Fred keeps a small wooden keg, where he creates cocktails that he ages for at least a month. He tells us he will working on a new recipe later this week, he still hasn’t decided what he will create yet, but it will be made avaiable to the public some time in December.