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Comeback Kid

In Eat, October 2022 by Lauren KruchtenLeave a Comment

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Raleigh entrepreneur Zack Medford is back—with a new bar and beer garden concept that’s set to revolutionize an underserved area of DTR.

You may have thought you’d seen the last of hospitality titan and Isaac Hunter’s Hospitality President Zack Medford (think Coglin’s, Isaac Hunter’s Tavern, Parliament and Paddy O’Beers), but, while he’s certainly remained quiet over the past couple of years, he’s been celebrating the birth of the uberpopular Coglin’s Wilmington location (nee NYE 2019)—and quietly planning his comeback in Raleigh. 

Enter Tap Yard, a neighborhood bar, beer garden and collaborative community space opening mid-fall that will feature a full indoor/outdoor bar, live music, local artisan market and daily food trucks—NTM a podcast studio. Raleigh’s official historic cocktail Cherry Bounce (seriously credited with the launch of our capital) naturally will grace the menu as it famously did at Isaac Hunter’s—plus ice-cold cocktails, a great bourbon list, a splay of spirits, 16 craft beers on tap and a Hawaiian shaved ice cocktail menu (!) rounding out the drink offerings. 

For those who don’t know, Medford is arguably the pioneer of the Fayetteville Street we know today (alongside business partners Ben Yanessa and Brad Bowles)—a renaissance that began with the opening of Isaac Hunter’s in 2009. Now, as he sets his sights on another underserved part of town just outside Mordecai and Oakwood (near Brookside Bodega, Pine State Coffee and Watkins Grill—and for OGs, now-defunct Circus Burger), he is positioned to do the same by making Tap Yard—and the rest of the yet-to-be-named district—a destination of its own.

“There’s all these really unique, cool concepts popping up in the area,” says Medford. “And I think that’s just kind of the natural way a city grows—if the urban center is going to be a focus of businesses and 40-story buildings, there’s always gotta be a creative outlet for these smaller businesses that want to do something unique for the area.” And with Tap Yard’s 5,000-square-foot building and 1-acre beer garden, it’s certainly a space that will offer myriad ways to incorporate the community, he adds.

It was October 2020 when Medford came across the open space—a former Advance Auto Parts where he used to buy coolant for his The Great Raleigh Trolley company (aka the coolest way to bop around the city for a birthday, wedding or any occasion in between)—and fell in love with it on the spot. “I couldn’t believe the outdoor space that it had and the natural beauty of the area,” he says.

His vision for Tap Yard stemmed from being a family man with three kids and two dogs, and being able to take them somewhere they’d be safe while he could sit back and enjoy a beer (read: not a nightclub). At the time, breweries were becoming all the rage, and he saw the concept as being like a Cheers, a place where everybody knows your name when you walk through the door. 

At the same time Medford was spearheading Tap Yard, he was struggling with keeping his former businesses afloat during the pandemic. “The way it worked with Fayetteville Street in 2020—it was really hard for us to maintain paying rent on these bars. There was no light at the end of the tunnel at that point.”

Fast-forward, and Medford and his co-owners quietly sold off Isaac Hunter’s and Parliament. As for Coglin’s (RIP), Medford says his landlord refused to accept anything less than full rent. “I’ve got three kids, a house; I’ve got mortgage payments to make. … I can’t really gamble on paying this guy full rent who’s not willing to help us out at all,” he says. “So we decided we’d rather just cut our losses.” Coglin’s officially closed on Jan. 1, 2021 (“one of the darkest days of my life,” says Medford), only for the space to be replaced by the landlord with a similar concept. 

But that wasn’t the end-all be-all for Medford. During the pandemic, he founded the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association (NCBATA) in an attempt to give bars a fighting chance to survive during COVID, push for fair regulations and establish guidelines so that they could find a way to safely reopen.

Clearly, those dark days are in the rearview—and Medford has found that light with Tap Yard. “It’s kind of become my opus,” he says. And in a full-circle moment, he sees the spot having the same effect as Isaac Hunter’s had on Fayetteville Street by transforming the area into a destination. 

“It’s been a tough two years not having a bar in Raleigh,” Medford reflects. “I’m just so excited to be able to open our doors again. It’s my life. I’m itching to get back behind the bar and start pouring some drinks for the city of Raleigh.” We hope you’re thirsty. tapyard.com 

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