‘Beachy Mid-Century’: New craft cocktail bar thrives on small bites, fresh sips and vintage vibes

High-end bourbons and whiskeys feature on the Shagri-La craft cocktail menu at Carolina Beach. (Courtesy Photo)

CAROLINA BEACH – Nicole Adkins, who worked in the food and beverage industry in the United States for 20 years, dreamed of opening her own beach bar. His vision became a reality on June 24, when Shagri-La Island Bar, which doubles as a restaurant, opened next to Saks Salon behind The Last Resort.

The bar has a menu of eight craft cocktails and 10 small bites, with more on the way as the establishment gains traction.

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“I started out as a shooter on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, handing out injections in test tubes,” Adkins said. “I saw that bartenders made more money, so I got a job as a bartender myself.”

Since leaving the Big Easy, Adkins has traveled and bartended across the West Coast, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Santa Monica, California, to Portland, Oregon.

“It allowed me to live all over the country,” she said.

The 43-year-old finally burst onto the craft cocktail scene when she landed at the Double Crown in Asheville in 2013.

“I’ve always loved cooking new recipes at home,” she said, so experimenting with craft cocktails “felt similar.”

After serving as the general manager of Little Jumbo, a neighborhood cocktail bar that opened five years ago in Asheville, Adkins decided she wanted to fulfill her dream of living at the beach. She spoke with Little Jumbo owners Chall Gray and Jay Sanders about expanding their operations on the North Carolina coast.

“They told me to move out and settle in and maybe we could open another Little Jumbo,” Adkins said.

Adkins led the cocktail program at Coast Craft Cocktails and Calabash, the island’s modern and casual seafood restaurant, in August 2021. Unexpectedly, it closed in January 2022.

“I found out the owner was trying to sell the business,” she said.

It was then that the project to operate his own establishment took shape: “A light bulb went out. I thought this might be the next Little Jumbo.

At first Gray and Sanders weren’t interested as the restaurant had been closed for a while due to Covid. Once they discussed the numbers, they offered to support Adkins financially.

“I worked for them for a long time, they trust me and we are close,” she said.

More familiar with the bartender, Adkins said at first that she had no plans to serve food at Shagri-La. Considering the former tenant left behind a fully equipped kitchen, she also said she didn’t want it wasted.

“The decision was to spend more time and money on tearing it down or adopting it,” Adkins explained.

The renovation process for the 52-seat establishment took about four months, as the owner of Shagri-La did the demolition and refabbing.

“I painted, poured cement, tore down walls,” Adkins said. “It was pretty good to put all my love into it.”

Adkins calls the vibe “mid-century beach.”

She said she always moved to foodie towns that had trendier establishments. Although Pleasure Island is known for its more southern laid-back style, Adkins leaned into its eccentricity and created an inviting living room, drawing inspiration from her love of mid-century modern furniture, thrift stores, plants and “The Golden Girls”. A salmon pink wall brightens up the space, complete with vintage lamps and vintage wooden chairs.

“We have a 28-foot-long bar that you see when you walk through the door,” she said. “We have some pretty wild furniture and a few different walls with vintage framed advertisements.”

The characteristics of Acapulco Gold tequila, fresh pineapple, jalapeño, cilantro juice and celery bitters. (Courtesy picture)

All of Shagri-La’s signature cocktails are made with fresh juices and homemade syrups and tinctures. Adkins also uses locally made shrubs, such as Pomona. Most of the drinks on the cocktail menu can be made as mocktails or variations.

READ MORE: Vintage sippers: Local shrub company starts selling drinkable vinegars online, at marketplaces

The Happy Moment, $14, is a tribute to Little Jumbo’s – a specialty drink made by Adkins for years in Asheville, with vodka, Aperol, St. Germain, lemon and orange juice .

Adkins designed the rest of the menu herself. The Ambrosia, $14, was inspired by vintage gelatin fruit salad, made with silver rum, Luxardo, coconut, lime, orange blossom water and the pistachio.

The Acapulco Gold, $16, is a refreshing blend of tequila, fresh pineapple, jalapeño, cilantro juice and celery bitters.

Being near the beach, Adkins sought to offer a modernized version of Hemingway’s signature drink – the daiquiri, $10. It’s a blend of silver rum, Luxardo, grapefruit and lime, served in a creole glass.

Adkins also selects seasonal signature bar recipes. Currently, A Seedy Situation, $16, features a smoky blend of mezcal, cynar, basil, peppercorns, lemon, and chia seeds.

Shagri-La has full ABC licenses and also serves wine and beer, with drinks priced from $3 to $40 – the most expensive is a pour of Whistle Pig Small Batch Rye whisky.

Other premium bourbons and whiskeys, including Buffalo Trace Kentucky Pure Bourbon and Blantons, are also on the menu.

“Our liquor selection is also quite large compared to what else is on the island,” she said.

Adkins recently entered a new sipper, the Bangalore Blitz, into the End of Days Distillery’s Instagram Summer Cocktail Contest, which won the Best Reel award. It will have a chance to be featured as a weekly special show at Castle Street EOD.

The Bangalore Blitz will debut on Thursday at Shagri-La, featuring End of Days Gin, Pepper and Carrot Juice, Curry Simple Syrup, Lemon, Japanese Chili, Lime Bitters and Egg White. (Courtesy picture)

Made with End of Days gin, pepper and carrot juices, curry simple syrup, lemon, Japanese chili pepper, lime bitters and egg white, Adkins said social media followers had asked when the drink would be available in-house.

“We’ll start doing it next Thursday,” she confirmed.

Besides drinks, the bar also offers a variety of small plates, priced from $4 to $60. Adkins strays away from fried seafood and the island’s most notable burgers. But she hasn’t given up all Southern flair.

Deviled eggs — typical mustard, mayonnaise, a sprinkle of Tabasco and a sprinkle of paprika — are a perfect base, she noted, for experimentation.

“It’s a fun container to work with and you can easily change the flavors.”

Shagri-La serves Kalamata, bacon, curry and Asian-inspired dishes, prepared with soy marinade and Asian chili paste.

The bar and restaurant also offer homemade dips: hummus, artichoke dip with spinach and chili cheese.

“I always had the idea of ​​small plates in mind,” Adkins said, “but I wasn’t sure what kind of talent I could find. I decided to make charcuterie boards and dips as a placeholder until I found that talent.

The charcuterie choices are constantly changing, and the restaurant offers a cheese plate loaded with six different cheeses, nuts, fruit, olives, balsamic onion jam, old-fashioned mustard, and chocolate.

As small plates are lacking on the island, Adkins said snacks allow guests to “linger over a cocktail.” They are also engaging meals, so to speak, traditionally shared in groups with friends.

She hopes to expand the menu with the help of her staff, alternate dishes and even pair with seasonal cocktails.

Brunch will be added in the coming weeks — classic items with a twist, Adkins said. There will be two types of Bloody Mary’s, traditional and verde.

“Since we make our own juices in-house, we’ll have plenty of options for mimosas as well,” she added.

Adkins said she has a strong front desk staff, all of whom pride themselves on customer service. Two remained from his former employer, Coast.

“They’re extremely talented and they happily waited for me to open,” Adkins said. “We just want people to walk away feeling like they had fun in a fun and creative space, and happy that they got to try something new.”

Shagri-La is located at 604 N Lake Park Blvd. and open from Thursday to Monday, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; it is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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