The Ibis Plans To Be An Eclectic Addition To The Soda Pop District

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Oct 25, 2023
Abbye McGee and Matt Ray will open their second venture as business partners in the food and drink space, The Ibis, in about six weeks, McGee said. (Photo courtesy of The Ibis)
The Ibis, a Hi-Fi cocktail and coffee bar in the Bottle Works Building on Princess Street is on track to open in about six weeks, said owner Abbye McGee.

The idea of a Japanese-style listening room in Wilmington is as niche as it sounds, but anticipation is growing as construction draws to a close, McGee said.

“Everybody's excited about the concept,” she said. “It's something different in town, it's not just another bar.”

After McGee and business partner Matt Ray opened The Starling, a whiskey and wine bar on Queen Street in the Cargo District, the two had difficulty turning their creativity off.

“We really didn’t have any thoughts or ideas about opening a second bar, but we enjoyed that process so much and Starling has done so well,” she said. “We wanted a new creative challenge.”

Ray has a steeped interest in coffee culture, McGee said, and she has a background in music. Combined with their shared experience in the food and drink scene, The Ibis is a concoction of their passions.

“We like creating spaces that we want to hang out in, so the music and the cocktails and the coffee are all things we enjoy personally, so finding a way to incorporate that into a business has been really fun,” McGee said.

The Hi-Fi, or high fidelity, listening bar was something Wilmington was ready for, McGee said. The idea is to create a space for the music, it's not a nightclub or a party atmosphere.

Hi-Fi bars have been popping up on the West Coast and in large metros across the country since the resurgence of vinyl records in the 2010s — Bar Shiru in Oakland, California, and Dante’s Room in Miami being two popular examples.

The idea originated in Japan with listening bars when vinyl records were in their prime, the experience was all about sound quality, less about socializing.

The biggest creative challenge for the Starling owners when cultivating their new project was finding all the right people to build it, McGee said.

They partnered with Gravity Records, located on Castle Street, to take care of all things music. McGee said they put their trust in Matt Keen, the owner of Gravity, because of his history in the town and industry knowledge.

“They’re curating the record collection they're doing the whole Hi-Fi install,” McGee said. “[They’re] really in charge of the sound of the space and the vibe of the space.”

Gravity will be organizing the DJs in the space; DJ RizzyBeats will most likely be the usual entertainment, with guest DJs appearing every so often.

The current bar management at the Starling will take care of the nighttime cocktail and wine bar, and the Salt & Charm staff is involved in the food side of the business. Casa Blanca, a coffee shop on Market Street in the Ogden area, was brought in to cover the coffee roasting.

“That’s what I thrive on as a creative and as a business owner,” McGee said, “putting the right people in place and letting them do their thing.”

One feature McGee placed in The Ibis is a wall-long bar that represents the marketed versatility of the day-to-night service. The right side is the coffee bar, with a lighter disposition, then as it continues down the length of the room, it transitions into a darker, moody lounge look.

The most exciting part for McGee is waiting to see what the final product will feel like once the community can enjoy the space.

“I like to let my businesses become what they are meant to be,” she said. “I have an idea of what that looks like, but ultimately, the people who come to enjoy the space, the staff, the neighborhood is going to dictate what it ends up being. We like to make space for that.”
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