Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Downtown Wilmington, North Carolina Classic is new, but is it improved? : The Dixie Grill

As recently as a couple of years ago, you could walk into the Dixie Grill and experience downtown Wilmington as it was circa 1950. The grit, the layers, the menu, the pool table, the ex-cons all spoke to the tough seaport town that Wilmington was - and the Dixie was both a reminder of Wilmington's less genteel traditions and a rebuke of the attempts to gentrify the downtown area. The Dixie was so tough (and smelled like grease and fire) and oozed so much integrity (among other things) and gritty charm that if it were in another city like NY or a smaller, somewhat sophisticated place like Raleigh or Charlotte it might have found a hipster following. Hipsters in Wilmington never really picked up on the place (possibly because there are so few hipsters in Wilmington). But, it had a consistent blue collar following and a colorful staff (Bunny, one of the waitresses was cast by David Lynch in Blue Velvet-the woman who dances on top of the car).

It was only a matter of time until the Dixie got a facelift (this being Wilmington after all). According to one of the waitresses, the establishment closed for a few months at the beginning of this year and has just re-opened. The place is cleaned up (the smell is gone) and the menu is more healthy (the chopped salad is especially good) and the waitstaff is younger, but not as colorful. The large interiors of the place remain intact and there are nice touches here and there (an old sign from the 70's was apparently drug out and mounted behing the bar).

As with many places in Wilmington, the service is a genuine problem. The waitresses/waiters aren't rude, just out of it and distracted. We were the only ones in the restaraunt but it was like pulling teeth to get served. There were problems getting the check at the end of the meal and when I asked for a shot of vodka, the waitress brought me an orange juice glass full of vodka (which being a writer, I consumed without complaint).

Despite these misgivings, the Dixie has retained its old spirit despite its re-boot. Indeed, the upgrade was probably necessary to maintain the life of the place. If the service improves just a bit it could easily be a much cooler (and cheaper) alternative to places like the Cafe Phoenix and DeLuxe

Dixie Grill & Pool Room (910) 762-7280 116 Market St, Wilmington, NC

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I (Mark) have written for The Christian Science Monitor, Clear Magazine, Picture Magazine, Film Score Monthly, Dan's Papers, Rue Morgue, In Flight USA and a lot more publications that I can't remember.... My wife Lynn was a model with the Ford Agency and her photography has been featured in most of the publications I have written for...


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