We should have seen it coming. In hindsight, this Golden Age of cocktails that we’re enjoying was the inevitable next step in the modern resurgence of bar culture.
First came wine bars, whose extensive by-the-glass offerings made exploring the worlds of flavor yielded by the fruit of the vine more accessible than ever. Brewpubs and taprooms followed, showcasing the burgeoning local craft beer scene.
Now, a new generation of bartenders is rescuing the cocktail from a decades-long purgatory of mediocrity and restoring it to its rightful place in the pantheon of liquid refreshments.
Last week, I shared a list of my favorite cocktail bars in restaurants. In this week’s sequel, I raise my glass to standalone bars that are not connected with a restaurant.
Note: Standalone bars (that is, establishments whose food sales don’t exceed 30 percent of total receipts) are required by state law to be registered as private membership clubs. Joining is typically a formality with a nominal membership fee.
The Anchor Bar
207 Fayetteville St., Raleigh
The recipe: A nautical theme and free popcorn set The Anchor apart from the growing crowd of downtown Raleigh watering holes. But it’s the well-crafted cocktails, an eclectic mix of classics and house specialty creations, that will make you want to become a regular.
Typical tipples: Floral Tea Kiss (Beefeater London dry gin, Earl Grey tea); Sake to Me (Nigori Lychee sake, fresh lemon, simple syrup, hibiscus essence oil, Amor di Amante prosecco); Anchor’s Old Fashioned (Old Forester whiskey, demerara syrup, liquid smoke and Angostura bitters, served on the rocks and garnished with an expressed orange peel and candied bacon).
331 W. Main St., Durham
The recipe: A cozy subterranean space with a Victorian-meets-Art-Nouveau decor, plus a quirky list of specialty cocktails — many of them named for tarot cards — add up to a bar you won’t mistake with any other. Did I mention that they also do tarot readings? Check the calendar of events on the website.
Typical tipples: Queen of Cups (tequila blanco, hibiscus, lemon, lime); Magus (rum, black peppercorn syrup, lime); The Oak Tree (scotch, bourbon, thyme, Chartreuse, orange bitters).
100 Brewer Lane, Carrboro
The recipe: True to speakeasy tradition, Belltree opened quietly last year in the hole-in-the-wall that was formerly home to another hideaway bar, Peccadillo. Look for the bas relief tree over the door and tell them Greg sent you.
Typical tipples: Jungle Bird (Black Strap rum, Campari, pineapple, lemon, sugar); C&C Martini Factory (Durham Distillery cucumber vodka, Carpano Bianco and Dry, cardamom bitters); also keep an eye peeled for specials such as the Lady Tyrell (Famous Grouse scotch, ginger liqueur, local honey, lemon).
The Blind Barbour
3055 Medlin Drive, Raleigh
no phone; contact by email
The recipe: Tucked away in a mostly residential neighborhood, this hidden gem’s name is a mash-up of a Prohibition-era nickname for a speakeasy (blind pig) and the name of its affable owner/bartender, Joey Barbour.
Typical tipples: The B.O.B. (Bourbon Over Bourbon: Evan Williams Single Barrel, Baker’s, demerara sugar and bitters, garnished with a flamed orange peel); My Pear Lady (Pinetop white whiskey, pear, lemon, Los Monteros cava); City of smOAK (Vida mezcal, yellow Chartreuse, pineapple, habanero, lime, cilantro).
407 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh
The recipe: A sultry decor and live jazz set the mood at C. Grace, where the quality of cocktails is several notches above the Glenwood South norm.
Typical tipples: Old Pal (rye whiskey, dry vermouth, Campari); The Monk’s Breakfast (gin, lime, cucumber, green Chartreuse, Worcestershire, Tabasco); Indian Summer (rum, grapefruit, lime, cinnamon, Grand Marnier).
320 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
The recipe: At the granddaddy of craft cocktail bars, Gary Crunkleton and his thoroughly trained, bowtie-clad barkeeps have been setting a high bar since 2008. It’s almost as fun to read the detailed list of cocktails, which credits the creator of each drink – from the legendary Prohibition-era barman Harry Craddock to Crunkleton himself – as it is to drink them. Almost.
Typical tipples: The Roycroft (rye whiskey, Benedictine, green Chartreuse, Cherry Heering, lemon); The Bumble Bee (bourbon, honey, lemon, lime, egg white, cream, nutmeg, bitters); Needs More Cowbell! (London dry gin, Braulio amaro, fresh squeezed orange and lemon juices, orange blossom water, bitters).
213-010 Fayetteville St., Raleigh
The recipe: Don’t despair when you discover that your favorite scotch – or any scotch at all, for that matter – isn’t available at this underground bar, whose shelves are stocked exclusively with American-distilled spirits. You’ll find ample consolation in an eclectic cocktail list that draws on dozens of liquors, from North Carolina’s own Cardinal gin to Cruzan rum from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Typical tipples: Fizzy Lifting Drink (Copper & Kings Blanche absinthe, lemon, sugar, sparkling wine, orange zest); Carolina Caipirinha (Troy and Sons moonshine, seasonal fruit, simple syrup, lime juice); Captain’s Log (Captain Applejack bonded brandy, Old Grand-Dad bonded bourbon, maple syrup, Bittermens Xocolatl mole bitters, house orange bitters, orange zest).
Fox Liquor Bar
237 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh
The recipe: When James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen opens a bar, expectations are naturally sky high. Fox soars (notwithstanding its subterranean location) to meet those expectations with precise renditions of classic cocktails built with premium liquors and sparkling clear ice chipped from a large block.
Typical tipples: Hemingway daiquiri (white rum, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice, lime juice, shaken and served up with a brandied cherry); Penicillin (blended scotch whisky, single malt Islay whisky, lemon juice, honey and ginger, shaken and served on the rocks with a candied ginger garnish); Greenpoint (rye whiskey, Carpano Antica, yellow Chartreuse, orange bitters, Angostura bitters).
The Green Light
108-1/2 E. Hargett St., Raleigh
The recipe: In the spirit of the Prohibition-era speakeasy, this cozy upstairs bar is accessed through a hidden door disguised as a bookcase on one wall of The Architect (The Green Light’s beer-centric sibling bar). The entry will no doubt awaken the bookworm in you, in which case you won’t want to miss the last page of the cocktail menu, where you’ll find a clever little short story that explains the names of both bars.
Typical tipples: Green Card Shuffle (tequila, Punt e Mes sweet vermouth, Fernet Branca, agave, mole bitters); Conniption Fit (Conniption Navy Strength gin, fresh cucumber, honey, lemon, raspberry); Aviation (gin, lemon, Luxardo maraschino cherry liqueur, crème de violette).
555-115 Fayetteville St., Raleigh
No phone; contact via email at email@example.com
The recipe: House specialty punch bowls make this stylish bar (brought to you by Eschelon Experiences, whose other properties include Basan and Mura) a great place to meet up with a few friends. Then again, if there’s just one or two of you, you’ll find plenty of tempting quenchers under the headings of Haymaker Originals and The Classics.
Typical tipples: Royal Treatment Punch Bowl (green tea-infused rum, honey, lime, sparkling wine, Angostura bitters); Pistol Whip (mezcal, lime, Benedictine, Amaro Montenegro); Sidecar (cognac, Cointreau, lemon).