Best Seat in the House

by Emily Colin
September 2007

Sports, music, theater, restaurants … hip happenings are everywhere in the Port City. Although we all know where to go to catch our favorite show, we don’t always know where to sit when we get there. Not to worry, WBM has the best seat in the house reserved just for you. Before you purchase tickets to your next event, take a look at the optimum place to park yourself at Thalian Hall, Legion Stadium, Trask Coliseum and some of our other favorite venues.

Thalian Hall

Built in the mid-1850s, Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts is the only remaining theater designed by noted architect John Montague Trimble. In its early years, Thalian Hall housed the Opera House, the library and the town government. In 1990, the building underwent a major renovation and expansion. Today, performance spaces include the Main Stage, which seats 682 people on three levels, and the smaller black box Studio Theater.

Thalian Association executive director Tom Briggs says, "Front row of the mezzanine — that’s the best seat in the house for a musical. If it’s beautifully staged and lit, you’ll see the whole thing in one picture. You’ll get to see how the director balanced action with scenery. In the theater, sound is so ephemeral — but nine times out of 10, in the front mezz, the sound is great. Then again, the old theater adage is sit fifth row center. But the farther toward the front you sit, the less of the stage you’ll see."

For a more intimate evening, consider the two historic boxes, which can seat four people each. Box seats cost $200, but the price of the ticket also affords you complimentary champagne, bottled water and chocolate. Call the box office at 800-523-2820 or (910) 343-3664, for more information.

Oceanic Restaurant

Located at 703 S. Lumina Ave. on Wrightsville Beach, The Oceanic Restaurant is well known for its delicious food and phenomenal views of the Atlantic Ocean. The restaurant sits much closer to the beach than modern building codes will allow, so for those desiring to dine al fresco, the pier offers unbeatable seating. If eating inside is what you’re after, manager Brian Rhue has some tips: tables 24 and 32. "Table 24 gives you a great view of the sunset, the jetty, Masonboro and Carolina Beach," he says. "This is a great surf spot, and you can see kiteboarders — sometimes as many as 30 at once on a windy day. Table 32 is a good choice, too. You can see Johnnie Mercer’s (Pier) from here, all the way out to the open ocean, and the moonrise."

Oceanic regulars frequent these tables, which seat a minimum party of five, and often request them by name. Table 32 has a particularly special following. "We have a group called the Full Moon Ladies," says Rhue. "They know when there’s going to be a full moon and they come every month." For reservations, call (910) 256-5551.

Trask Coliseum

Originally dedicated in 1977, The University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Raiford G. Trask Coliseum seats 6,100 and hosts men’s and women’s basketball games, as well as nationally recognized performers as part of the North Carolina Azalea Festival. Fans can choose between floor-level bleacher seating and elevated chairback seating. There’s no cost difference between the two.

For Jimmy Garrity, women’s basketball director of operations, part of what makes the Trask experience so phenomenal is the atmosphere within the coliseum, especially when it’s packed or sold out. "The best seat is downstairs in the bleachers," Garrity says. "Upstairs has a better view and the seats are cushioned, but downstairs has the most action. You’re right in the middle of everything … the size of the players, the speed of the game." Basketball season is November to March. For ticket information, visit http://www.uncw.edu/athletics/ticket.html or call (910) 962-7536.

The Henrietta III

The Henrietta III’s three-hour Saturday night dinner cruise, offered April to December, costs $44 for adults and $35 for children and features a buffet meal, dancing and a chance to see the Port City in a whole new way. "You can’t look at it as just going out to dinner," says captain and founder Carl Marshburn. "Most restaurants want you to eat dinner and get out. We want you to stay."

With two dining rooms and bathrooms on both floors, the Henrietta III can host three private parties simultaneously. The boat’s air-conditioned main dining room boasts window views on both sides, but Marshburn thinks that the best seats are on the upper deck. "If you go out after dinner to enjoy the evening, on the upper deck you can sit under the canopy or under the stars," he says.

In addition to hosting private events and dinner cruises, the Henrietta III also offers narrated sightseeing cruises, murder mystery dinner cruises, nature cruises and the new Redneck Wedding Comedy Cruise. Reservations are required. Visit www.cfrboats.com or call (910) 343-1611, for more information.

Level 5 at City Stage

Level 5 at City Stage’s 2007-2008 season promises to be every bit as edgy and diverse as its predecessors. Located on the fifth floor of the Masonic Temple Building at 21 N. Front St., City Stage is both unique and inviting. The building was originally built in 1899 as a Masonic Temple, and the theater was used by the Masons until 1982. It was also owned by actor Dennis Hopper before being sold to current owner John Sutton.

Donn Ansell, managing director for City Stage, says, "The theater is such an intimate setting — no matter where you sit, you’re just a breath away from the action." The VIP area offers stage-front table seating, available to sponsors and to guests, for a slightly higher price. "The tables are often the first to fill up," says Mike Braxton, who often mans the box office. The rest of the theater offers stadium seating.

Ansell and Braxton agree that, though there are no bad seats in the house, rows C, D and E, seats 8, 9, 10, 16, 17 and 18 are particular favorites for their proximity to the stage and unobstructed views. Call (910) 342-0272 or visit www.citystageatlevel5.com/theatre.html for more information.

Horse-Drawn Trolley

Visitors to historic downtown Wilmington may have seen the horse-drawn trolleys departing from the foot of Market Street. What many folks don’t know is that the horses pulling those trolleys have all been rescued. So far, Springbrook Farms, Inc., which operates the horse-drawn trolleys, has saved 14 horses from the auction block.

Founder John Pucci, who started the business 25 years ago, purchases his horses directly from Amish farmers. All of the horses are Percherons, the strongest breed, pound for pound, of all draft horses. "I buy 3-year-olds and take them to Chicago for training," Pucci says. "Then I bring them to the farm in Leland. Once a month, they come into Wilmington."

Springbrook Farms offers daily continuous tours, no reservations required, from April to October, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and from November to March, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting. During the summer, the trolley is open, and in the winter, it’s enclosed. Each of the wooden benches can seat three adults. For ideal views of the 230-block historic district, sit on the left or right side of the benches. Prices are $11 for adults and $5 for children under 12. Private carriages are available year-round for special occasions. Call (910) 251-8889, for more information.

Kenan Auditorium

Wilmington’s largest performing arts venue, Kenan has the capacity to seat 1,016. Each year, the UNCW-based auditorium hosts in excess of 200 events.

Norman Bemelmans, UNCW’s director of cultural arts, says the best seat in the house "depends on the nature of the performance. The first row is not ideal for ballet … you don’t get the full-scale scope of the production. The sightline’s not ideal for capturing the entire stage. The best place to sit for a ballet performance is probably halfway back in the orchestra section."

For other performances, front and center is the place to be. "If you’re watching chamber music or a solo recital, the front row is ideal," says Bemelmans. "The ambiance is strong, and it’s an intimate feeling, almost like being onstage and being part of the performance itself. For a symphony production, some think that the acoustics in the balcony are more ideal."

Bemelmans is quick to point out that no matter where you end up, you’re sure to have a seat with a view. "There are no bad seats in Kenan, no blockage," he says. "You can see the stage no matter where you are."

To view the current performance calendar, or for location information, visit http://www.uncw.edu/kenan/about.html. Find the seating chart in the Wrightsville Phonebook UNCW section. Tickets can be purchased by stopping by the box office or by calling (910) 962-3500.

Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre

Currently in its 15th season, Wilmington’s donation-only Shakespeare on the Green festival is proud to call the Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre home. "The seats were built with the vision that they’d all be good," says festival organizer Sherryl McKay. "A lot of people bring blankets and sit to the left and right of the stage. We recently bought a sophisticated stage microphone. We’re not only amplified from the rear, we also get the actors’ voices projected from the front."

According to McKay, favorite seats vary. "Some people sit way down bottom, some right in the middle. People with children tend to sit more house left." The festival’s natural setting also influences seating. "When it gets toward the end of the season, the bullfrogs become louder. They grow up during the show," she says.

Sometimes the best seats in the house are … no seats at all. "We encourage picnics. It’s a tradition," McKay says. "I love walking through and getting to peek at what people are eating. They go all out."

The festival’s 2007 season ran from May 18-June 24. For information on the 2008 festival, call (910) 762-6393 or visit www.myspace.com/shakespeareonthegreen.

Johnnie Mercer's Pier

North Carolina’s only all-concrete, steel-reinforced pier, Johnnie Mercer’s Pier made its new and improved debut in February 2002. Several years earlier, the original wooden pier, built in the 1930s by Julian Morton, was destroyed by hurricanes Bertha and Fran. Located at the end of East Salisbury Street on Wrightsville Beach, the pier today boasts an arcade, gift shop, restaurant and the most picturesque fishing spot in town.

Pier attendant Willie Jackson says, "The most popular time to fish off the pier is sunrise or dusk, since that’s typically when the fish feed. Regulars come all the time to fish because of the atmosphere ... we usually have 10 regulars out there every day." Jackson says that bluefish are the most common catch, though by no means the only fish biting. "The king fishermen usually fish off the end. People fishing for flounder and bottomfish stand two-thirds of the way out."

No matter where you choose to fish, the view from the pier is fabulous. Basically, wherever you sit is the very best seat.

Fishing is $8 per rod and includes the use of a saltwater license, so you’re not required to have your own. Renting a rod costs $16 per day, plus a $20 deposit, refundable when the rod is returned. For more information, call (910) 256-2743.

The Causeway Cafe

Located on Old Causeway Drive, Wrightsville Beach’s Causeway Café backs up to an Atlantic Marine on the Intracoastal Waterway and is open Tuesday to Sunday for breakfast and lunch. The cheerful room is bordered by booths with tables in the middle and a counter on one side. A chalkboard hangs over the counter, displaying the day’s specials. Behind the counter, which seats 16, cooks are hard at work, making grits, waffles and the restaurant’s signature: Eggs Neptune.

Manager Laurel Lee says that the restaurant’s most popular seats are at the counter, facing the waffle iron. "Actually, a guy that was in here the other day told me that he liked the smell of the waffles." She says, adding, "This back booth right here by the windows, a lot of people really enjoy. You’ve got some privacy."

Now 28 years old, the Causeway has its share of regulars. "We have two guys who come in every morning, and they’ll only sit at the bar," Lee says.

Legion Stadium

It’s a fun atmosphere. You hear about it, but you really understand it when you go to a game," says Wilmington Hammerheads’ intern Carrie Egerton. Legion Stadium, which is the Hammerheads’ home field, seats 5,500, all of it open seating. "There’s not a bad seat in the house," says Kristen Beckmeyer, director of soccer operations. "You can sit on the right side or the left side — there’s no nosebleed section. We’re usually trying to score at the north end, so that can be pretty exciting."

Hard core soccer fans may want to consider sitting behind the benches. "There’s a group called the Port City Firm, and they’re always back there singing and chanting," Beckmeyer says.

The team offers two levels of tickets. There’s VIP, which includes VIP parking, access to the VIP tent and seating in the VIP section underneath the midfield press box, and general admission, which enables you to sit anywhere in the stadium. A VIP season ticket package is $300. General admission is $12 for adults and $8 for children ages 4-12. The season runs April through August, and the team generally offers promotions in September. For more information, visit www.wilmingtonhammerheads.com.

 


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