Most of the dark, wooden shelves at Dram and Draught sit barren, empty. Gone are the lines of whiskey bottles that once rested there, waiting to be poured — they’re packed away in storage now. Instead, sparse amounts of sizeable cans of marinara sauce, sweet potatoes and green beans have taken their place.
“Obviously, with what’s going on we cannot operate as a bar,” says Lentz Ison, general manager of the cocktail bar in Greensboro. “The first week of April we opened up as Dram Grog and Grocery. For us, it was a way that we could supply groceries for downtown. For those that needed essentials like toilet paper using our vendors and resources to make it easier to access locally.”
Dram and Draught, originally based in Raleigh, opened a Greensboro location in fall 2018 and has been serving as a cocktail bar, specializing in whiskey, ever since. After the mayor’s stay-at-home order and the governor’s order to close all bars and restaurants except for takeout service, the neighborhood joint, like many other businesses in the area, had to pivot to stay afloat.
Now, rather than serving high-end, crafted cocktails, Dram and Draught is operating as a kind of convenience store with household goods like dogfood, canned goods and toiletries. Next to the shelves stocked with 10-pound cans of beans and ravioli, bottles of beer and wine await to be taken home too. The shop is also filling up one-time use growlers with whatever beer or cider they have on tap.
A sign on the door limits the number of customers inside to four at a time. Others are encouraged to wait on the bar’s patio.
“Our goal with it initially was to provide for the community but also, because of all of the unemployment issues, it was a way for people to still have income coming in until they could figure out all of that,” Ison says.
Since switching up the business model, Ison says he’s been able to keep about 60 percent of his employees. And despite transitioning into a convenience store, craft cocktails remain the bar’s core mission. many of them
“The biggest thing that took off for us was doing our namesake and preparing take-home cocktail mixers for everybody,” Ison says.
He pulls two plastic cartons out of the mini-fridge tucked under the counter, each filled with a brightly colored concoction.
One of them, the deep maroon-colored one, is similar to a recently popular mix that the bar made called “The Cure,” Ison says.
“We made names based on Covid-19,” he jokes.
Consisting of a blend of hibiscus tea, pineapple juice, house-made grenadine, winter melon bitters and hopped grapefruit bitters, the Cure, was one of the first mixers that the bar staff created to continue to promote the bar’s mission of quality cocktails. Each new recipe, which gets posted on the bar’s social media almost daily, comes with a recommendation for the kind of spirit to pair with.
For the Cure, the staff suggested vodka and gin.
Each 32-ounce container makes about 10 or so cocktails if they’re used with the bar’s recipe, says Ison.
“It’s something we do professionally already — we do craft cocktails,” he says. “The pre-mixes are a lot harder because we have all of the technique that we’ve learned over the years to make the drinks, but now we have to make a mix of ingredients that anyone can take home and just pour it in and taste great.”
Customers can follow the bar on social media for daily updates on the mixers and then place orders online for delivery or come into the shop to pick up. And while the mixers have been popular, having to switch up the business has been difficult, Ison says.
“I mean, it’s definitely challenging,” he says. “We want to get back to doing what we love to do. It’s good that we can provide a service and still operate. We’re not doing it to make money… we’re doing about a third or fourth of the business that we normally would do.”
Still, Ison says that due to their popularity, he’ll probably keep the mixers even after the business reopens as a bar. He also hopes take-home cocktails will soon be a possibility.
On Tuesday, a proposal was submitted to the General Assembly to allow up to two mixed drinks per food order to be sold to customers via takeout or delivery. Sponsored by both the state’s house majority and minority leaders, the proposal is part of the larger House Bill 1043 titled the “Pandemic Response Act,” which includes other items such as changes to tax breaks, unemployment benefits and small-business loan assistance. The bill has garnered bipartisan support with local lawmakers including Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford), Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Guilford), Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford), Rep. Amos Quick (D-Guilford) and Rep. Evelyn Terry (D-Forsyth), signing on as sponsors.
On Thursday, the bill was referred to the appropriations committee.
Until then, customers can try making their own cocktails at home. And once bars are allowed to reopen, Ison says they’ll still take precautions to keep customers safe. They’ve already decided to use disposable bamboo straws rather than the metal ones they used before.
“I definitely think it’s going to be a different world as far as the bar scene goes,” Ison says about reopening after the pandemic. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep people safe but until there’s a vaccine or people feel confident, I think consumer confidence is going to be a lot less busy for the bar industry.”
Customers can learn more about the cocktail mixers and the grocery on Dram and Draught’s Instagram. The shop, located at 300 W. Gate City Blvd., is open everyday from 2-8 p.m. everyday.