Author:Mims, Bryan
Position:Town square: Washington

Washington is nothing if not a meeting place, where the Tar River meets the Pamlico, where freshwater meets salt, and where catfish meet mud crabs. It's also where a bloke from across the pond meets a local girl, and their meeting of the minds concocts a bloody cool idea, y'all.

Nick Sanders is ready for "Little Washington" to meet a little bit of London. He's an Englishman who courted a Washington native while they were both working on their MBAs at UNC Chapel Hill. He calls it "a classic North Carolina story," having met each other--can you guess?--on Franklin Street. Sanders married Susanne in 1993 and assumed they'd live happily ever after in the land of gin and Yorkshire pudding. But the tug of home pulled at Susanne, and in 2017, the couple relocated from London to Washington.

Back in town, they noticed a stately, if neglected, three-story building at the corner of West Main and Respess streets. It had the stone veneer and front-door columns customary of bygone banks. They bought the former Bank of America building with intentions of pouring money back into it--in the form of gin.

The Hackney will include a gin distillery, restaurant and 14-room boutique hotel. The name is inspired by the hipster-hangout district in east London known for its artisan restaurants and pubs. Sanders' menu will reflect London's "eclectic style" while mixing in some of the star staples of the coastal South. Wash it all down with a little gin and juice (or a glass of wine or mug of beer), and you have what could become a destination --a meeting place, if you like--in this city of just under 10,000 that is the seat of Beaufort County. With $220,000 in grants, including $200,000 from the state Main Street Solutions Fund, Sanders began construction on The Hackney in August. He expects to open the restaurant by the end of 2018, with the distillery opening mid-2019. The owners plan to invest more than $ 1 million in equipment and building upgrades.

Downtown Washington isn't just raising a glass to gin. Right across the street, in the old Fowle & Sons General Merchandise building, a brewery is slowly taking shape. Aided by a $500,000 state grant, Smithfield-based developer New Vision Partners LLC will renovate the building that will house Castle Island Brewery, named for an island in the Pamlico River. The brewery, which involves additional private investment of $700,000, is expected to open in 2019.

"The buzz is, in a small city, as soon as a brewery goes in, you...

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