After a lengthy pandemic break, The Nomad is back and ready for the Jazz Festival spotlight

By JulieAnne Cross

The Nomad Bar, a downtown staple occupying the 900 block of Orange Street since 2011, recently reopened. It had been 24 months since they were first shuttered, along with all non-essential businesses, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Dave Vandever, who owns the bar with his wife, Linda, says social distancing restrictions meant it was impossible for a venue the size of The Nomad Bar to reopen much sooner.

“When people started to feel safe again, we opened,” he says.

They’ve never had a website or a sign. And it hasn’t hurt business.

“Basically, we have the iconic neon ‘open’ sign and that’s what everyone responds to,” says Vandever. “We don’t over-advertise.”

Since March 11, the bar has been open for music and drinks on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

“The response to our reopening has been wonderful,” he says. “Old customers. Old friends and musicians. New customers. They all really responded to us reopening. It’s very gratifying.”

The Clifford Brown Jazz Festival has tapped the bar as an afterparty venue, with late-night jams taking place Thursday through Saturday, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. (It could even be a pre-concert stop: the bar opens at 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 6 p.m. Saturday.)

Tony “Big Cat” Smith, a renowned Wilmington trumpeter who is gracing the main stage of the festival on Saturday, will be handling the musical programming for the bar during the festival.

“Lots of jazz musicians in Wilmington come out for jam sessions and some of the festival performers have even come out,” Vandever notes. 

The Nomad Bar never charges a cover any other day of the year except festival week. The entire $3 cover is donated to Christina Cultural Arts Center’s music program.

Spontaneous types can roll the dice on programming that ranges from jazz to bluegrass and beyond on any given night (Friday always being jazz-specific). Those who crave advance knowledge of what bands (such as the Blackbird Society Orchestra and The Pat Kane Band) or genres (which can include blues, country, and even the occasional DJ) are booked should follow The Nomad Bar on Facebook, where the schedule is posted weekly.

While The Nomad features an extensive bar selection, and allows patrons to bring in outside food, it’s likely the music and atmosphere that are the biggest draw. 

“People come into The Nomad and they know we have music,” Vandever says. “They’re not sure who’s playing, but they always know it something good.”