It was recently cigar and spirits-tasting night over at Common 414. Patrons could be found outside, smoking stogies rolled and dispensed by Bull City Cigars, which set up a table at the door. Next to them was a whiskey rep pouring samples. It seemed like people were digging it. “I like the layout of Common 414,” says Brier Creek resident H.H. Waddy. “It would be cool if they make it a cigar bar.”
Common 414 could be a cigar bar. In fact, the young downtown Raleigh spot could be several things. It could be a cocktail lounge, a dance club, a performance venue. It really just depends on which night you show up.
Located on the continually busy Fayetteville Street, Common 414 is fast approaching a year in business. (It had its grand opening last August, but it’s been open for business since the Fourth of July.) This 21-and-up, membership-only club is the brainchild of partners Brad Bowles, Zack Medford and Ben Yannessa, who previously brought the now-closed Isaac Hunter’s Oak City Tavern to downtown Raleigh. (“Our lease expired there, and our landlord had different plans than we did,” says Medford.)
The trio got the idea for Common several years earlier during a road trip, scouring the country for nightspot ideas. “We went to a place in D.C. called The Gibson,” remembers Medford, “and it’s a cocktail parlor where you have to know which door to knock on, which is very hard to find. It’s a nondescript door in the middle of an office-looking building.”
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Once they were inside, they hit the dimly lit bar, where the lights shined only on the bartenders serving up drinks. “The lengths they are going to make these intricate drinks were so impressive, and it was some of the best drinks I’ve ever had,” he remembers. “And we said, ‘How come there’s nothing like this in Raleigh right now?”
A sophisticated joint
The 2000-square-foot Common is certainly a sophisticated joint, filled with plush seating, framed portraits of silver-screen stars and an overall Art Deco decor. “We kind of went for a 1920s kind of Gatsby feel to it,” says general manager Brian Whitley. “Kind of like a place you can go and have cocktails, hang out with friends, meet new people.”
Common also boasts a 67-foot bar, where people can order the club’s prized specialty, a satisfying, 10-dollar Moscow Mule. According to Whitley, what sets this Mule apart from others is that all-important ginger beer ingredient, which comes courtesy of the Raleigh-based Crude Bitters and Sodas. They have that beer on tap, along with stateside crafts from White Street, Red Oak, Raleigh’s own Lonerider and others.
Although downtown Raleigh has become home in recent years to classy basement hideaways like Foundation and Fox Liquor Bar, Medford says the above-ground Common is a multi-purpose cocktail bar. “We need somewhere where it’s not such a big secret,” he says. “People come here and have a sophisticated drink, have a conversation, listen to jazz, listen to cool music. It’s more of an adult take on what the bar scene can be.”
Something for everyone
The owners have also been filling the place with eclectic entertainment. Several jazz bands have played there, including the Mint Julep Jazz Band, which has served as the house band for the spot’s Swing Dance Sundays. DJs have come in on the weekends to spin more contemporary dance music. They’ve even brought in local burlesque crew the Silk Stocking Sirens for a Valentine’s Day burlesque show. Common welcomes clothed female performers as well, as evidenced by the local female comics who made up the Eyes Up Here Comedy Showcase in March.
“We were a little nervous about how that was gonna go,” says Medford, “but we had a huge turnout for it.”
But with all the stuff happening there, even the patrons wonder what exactly Common 414 is trying to accomplish.
“The thing is, like I asked the people in there, what do they want it to be?” asks Waddy, still puffing on his cigar. “Because there are a lot of places that have mixologists, these places where you go and get these special drinks. But what’s gonna make you distinguish (yourself) from the rest of them – from Foundation, Fox Liquor Bar and C. Grace? So what’s gonna make your cocktails different? What are you presenting? C. Grace, at least, they do jazz.”
What would it take for him to become a frequent visitor? “It would definitely have to have a crowd, a social crowd, a mature crowd,” he says. “I’m not trying to come out here to deal with the girls in college.”
As it continues to pull many things out of its heavy hat, Common 414 seeks to become a welcoming place for those either looking to get drinks or have a party.
“I think Common 414 is a way to take cocktail culture and make it more approachable,” says Medford. “And we’re a place that costs $2,000 or $4,000 to rent. A lot of times we do events with just the bar tab minimum. Nowhere in Raleigh do you get a find like that, where you can come in a space this big and has this sophisticated an offering and say, ‘You know what? I wanna have my cocktail hour here!’”
Common 414 is located at 414 Fayetteville St., Raleigh. More info at common414.com.