From cutting-edge cocktail bars to 30-year-old dives (and even a secret speakeasy!), Raleigh touts hundreds of spots to tip one back—including some of the best craft breweries in the country. More than 500 readers weighed in, and we downed a few pints ourselves exploring the city’s Top 50 bars. See if you agree.
Overall Top 5 Bars
The Architect Bar & Social House
This space, originally built in 1922, was brought back to life, revealing hidden windows, wood floors and exposed brick. But the real find here is The Green Light—the bar within the bar—hidden behind a typical bookcase. If the “green light” is on, this gem is open, a cozy spot with a speakeasy vibe, featuring specialty cocktails by candlelight. Architectbar.com, 108 E. Hargett St., 919-833-4949.
Person Street Bar
We love the jukebox and neon lights behind the bar, which give this place a cool, yet hipster feel. Somehow it all works so well with the natural wood on the ceiling and leather barstools. Chic meets rustic; who knew? There’s also an outdoor patio with tons of seating and a game room in back with pool and arcade games. No food served so membership is required: $5 at the door. Person-street.com, 805 N. Person St., 919-977-5952.
PR has been pouring pints for nearly 65 years—for college students and tenured professors and everybody in between (though it helps if you’re a Wolfpack). It serves a mean burger and, in October, former Coquette chef Beth Littlejohn began preparing fine dining dishes Thursday through Sunday (whaaaat?). theplayersretreat.net, 105 Oberlin Road, 919-755-9589.
It’s all about the bartenders here (our favorite is Gary) who remember your name and will create something just for you. A good selection of beers on tap and the general round-up of liquor, not to mention plenty of seating and an outdoor patio open year round. The last call you’ll hear here is “Bartender, make me a drink!” 117 E. Hargett, 919-821-9865.
As the former home of the newspaper of the same name, you’ve got a 100-year-old building and some really unique beer selections. Cool history blends with a rooftop deck and legendary Fried Pickles. It’s been a good combo since 2006. Raleightimesbar.com, 14 E. Hargett St., 919-833-0999.
6 Best Craft Beer Bars
One of the only “downpours” in the state (other than Asheville). Start a tab and pour your own before committing. Techies will like using RFID technology to track what they’re pouring. Cloudsbrewing.com, 126 N. West St., 919-307-8335.
Raleigh Beer Garden
Just open this year, there are more taps here than anywhere in the world. Literally. RBG claimed a title in the Guinness Book of World Records (366 taps) to prove it. Great three-story venue in Glenwood South (and a cool big-screen digital beer menu), but be prepared to deal with crowds; no reservations accepted Fridays through Sundays. Theraleighbeergarden.com, 614 Glenwood Ave., 919-324-3415.
A fully loaded outside bar, good seating and great views, not to mention 80 taps, keep folks coming back. Tylerstaproom.com, 18 Seaboard Ave.,
Put a plate on the wall—if you can. You only have to taste 200 beers to get your own brass plate, but 50 tastes earn a free pint. It’s a fun atmosphere, expansive both inside and out. Your UFO membership will earn perks too. Beerknurd.com., 328 Morgan St., 919-821-7401.
Located in North Hills, this hip after-work spot (or late-night) caters to professionals, featuring two Happy Hours—one from 3-6 p.m. and one from 10-close. “Chalkboard” specials are popular but may rotate quickly in the same day. Some good food offerings here, especially late-night; try the $5 Vampire Taco or the $6 Ham and Pineapple Pizza. Yardhouse.com, 4208 Six Forks Road, 919-881-2590.
Grab a single from the cooler and enjoy the outdoor patio with plenty of seating—or the indoor area with none (but lots of lean-tos). Ten taps on draft. Now two locations in Raleigh. Bottlerevolution.com, 4025 Lake Boone Trail and 7713 Lead Mine Road; 919-885-4677 and 919-526-7262, respectively.
6 Best Game Day Bars
Carolina Ale House
A new rooftop bar (with inside and outside seating) offers a a glass roof and a view of downtown Raleigh. Family-friendly, you’ll find kids’ specials on burgers and craft beer specials for the grown-ups. Carolinaalehouse.com, 500 Glenwood Ave., 919-835-2222.
A popular NC State game-watching spot, usually packed with college students and loaded with TVs is tucked behind Ben & Jerry’s across from Meredith College in the old Playmakers spot. Brickhouse-nc.com, 3801 Hillsborough St., 919-829-3666.
Tobacco Road Sports Cafe
Soon to move to the old Natty Greene’s location, Tobacco Road tries to elevate its food, including orrechiette pasta, shrimp and grits and mussels steamed in penny beer. For panoramic game viewing, snag the high-top tables. tobaccoroadsportscafe.com, 222 Glenwood Ave., 919-832-3688.
A neighborhood bar for those living around Lake Lynn and Glenwood; lounging recliners and a rooftop bar attract bar-goers from all over the city. Get there early for the best seat with over 30 TVs. Lynnwoodgrill.com, 4821 Grove Barton Road, 919-785-0043.
Village Draft House
When you want to watch the game but have the family in tow (for better or worse), the left side features bar seating (with the best views of the game), and the right offers tables and booths. At least 100 beers on tap here (40 from N.C.). Villagedrafthouse.com, 428 Daniels St., Cameron Village, 919-833-1373.
Lots of regulars here, typically in their mid-40s and 50s. TVs are everywhere (like some places would hang artwork), so you can see the game no matter where you land. It’s not unusual for the owners to pull up a stool. Thepickledonion.com, 7901 Falls of Neuse Road, 919-848-4161.
5 Best Music Bars
A Raleigh mainstay, equal parts grunge, dust and live rock bands (daily), you’ll find a good collection of alternative rock from local bands. Thepourhousemusichall.com, 224 Blount St., 919-821-1120.
Velvet sofas, crystal chandeliers and low (really low) lights make this feel like a 1920s New Orleans Jazz lounge. You might find a full stage of jazz musicians on the horns or a lone singer on the piano. Cgracebar.com, 407 Glenwood Ave., 919-899-3675.
Totally 80s and 90s dance music. Like, totally. Fridays and Saturdays are packed and the dance floor stays that way most nights, but the music selection and scene is hitting a nerve in Raleigh. Stay for the midnight slow dance to feel like you’re back at your high school prom. Coglins.com, 226 Fayetteville St., 919-794-7304.
The worst seat in the house is still a good seat to see a variety of live bands—from national acts to local bands on the rise. The Lincoln is large enough to accommodate a good crowd but small enough to feel like “we’re all in this together.” Two bars, one on each level. You might snag a stool on the upper level, but otherwise you’ll be standing. Lincolntheatre.com, 126 E. Cabarrus St., 919-821-4111.
Tir na Nog
You’ll find a big variety here—from local bands to bagpipes and traditional Irish dancing (Friday nights) and Irish jam sessions on Sundays. And sometime it’s just a DJ. But most find it all goes well with a Guinness and traditional Irish fare like Cottage Pie or a menu staple like Beer Can Chicken. Tnnirishpub.com, 218 S. Blount St., 919-833-7795.
4 Best LGBT Bars
Loud and crazy on the weekends, quiet and quaint during the week. Grab dinner (there are some great vegan and vegetarian options) and drinks, including a few creative cocktails. Theboroughraleigh.com, 317 W. Morgan St., 919-832-8433.
There’s a cover charge and sometimes it can be tough to find a parking spot, but Raleigh’s oldest established gay and lesbian bar rarely disappoints with its dance floor, ever-evolving drag shows and newly done outdoor patios. Legends-club.com, 330 W. Hargett St., 919-831-8888.
A dive gay bar with cheap beer ($3 for most, cash only) and free karaoke on Sundays—very laid-back and unpretentious. Check out the Trailer Park Trash drag show on Thursdays at least once. Flex-club.com, 2 S. West St., 919-832-8855.
Used to be the Warhol. The scene starts out a little slow but ends up loud and crowded; live DJs Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and also a grand piano for shows. Fifteenraleigh.com, 317 W. Morgan St., 919-615-2758.
4 Best Wine Bars
Owned by two guys named Phillip who know their wine and present it in a clean, modern environment that’s not overdone. Take their advice, but we like a certain Moscato you might want to ask about. Thewinefeed.com, 602 Glenwood Ave., 919-374-0036.
Featuring one of the biggest selections of South American wine in Raleigh, often joining forces with live jazz or food pairings, including Argentine empanadas and tapas. Vinosfinosypicadas.com, 8540 Honeycutt Road, 919-747-9233.
Mosaic Wine Bar
Wine tastings, ethnic dance nights and, yeah, hookahs, all accompanied by trains passing in the distance, which make you feel like an extra in an indie movie. Mosaicwinelounge.com, 517 W. Jones St., 919-829-5886.
Ridgewood Wine & Beer Co.
Relaxed and casual, with a few beer taps for the non-wine drinkers, enjoy a great selection and a wide range of prices, including some very affordable. The complimentary Saturday afternoon wine tasting (4 to 6 p.m.) is always a good idea. Ridgewoodwineandbeer.com, 1214 Ridge Road, 919-832-5232.
5 Best Food Bars
Get your elbows out; this place is usually crazy crowded. You’ll fight for a parking space, wait for a table. Totally worth it. Order a growler from this nano-brewery, and then order one of Trophy’s phenomenal pies. The Brooklyn White is our favorite. Delish. Trophybrewing.com, 827 W. Morgan St., 919-803-4849.
Traditional Irish fare like Corned Beef & Cabbage, Fish and Chips and Shepherd’s Pie in a dark-paneled pub that feels right out of Dublin. Hibernianpub.com, Two locations: 311 Glenwood St. and 8021 Falls of Neuse Road, 919-833-2258 and 919-803-0290, respectively.
Famous for its Sunday Beer Brunch, pairing brunch classics with flavorful brews. Other must haves: the loaded tater tots and fried green tomatoes. Busybeeraleigh.com, 225 S. Wilmington St., 919-424-7817.
Sawmill Tap Room
The burgers and pickle chips get high marks, but we especially love The Brueben, a brat covered in corned beef, swiss, sauerkraut and spicy mustard on a pretzel roll. Sawmilltaproom.com, 7701 Lead Mine Road, 919-845-7889.
A late night menu that’s not Waffle House. Forget the smothered and covered hashbrowns, try the $5 Spiced Boiled Peanuts, homemade pimento cheese or Sloppy Joe Sliders. The regular menu offers everything from Pork Belly Sliders to Quail Eggs. A unique spin on English pub grub. Oxfordraleigh.com, 319 Fayetteville St., 919-832-6622.
5 Best Whiskey/Lounge
The Wild Turkey Lounge: Dark wood paneling, leather club chairs and a gun collection present the largest private collection of whiskeys in the world (at least that’s the rumor). A collection of more than 600 decanters will give you something to talk about. Angusbarn.com/wlounge.htm,
9401 Glenwood Ave., 919-781-2444.
Head down the stairs to a spot that holds just about 50 people and feels a little like your uncle’s basement—in a good way. If you don’t know anyone, you will soon; the long wooden tables encourage mingling. Easygoing and low key. Foundationnc.com, 213 Fayetteville St.,
Fox’s Liquor Bar
More upscale than Foundation, nicer dress is expected and the atmosphere here is more buttoned up. Servers take orders from one of several conversation areas, with bartenders chipping ice from a block the old fashioned way. ac-restaurants.com/fox/
A great place for bartender confessions or advice, the staff here tops you off with a smile while imparting some impressive knowledge about different whiskeys and bourbons. Themidtowngrille.com, 4421 Six Forks Road, 919-782-9463.
Lauded largely for inventive American and European cuisine, Margaux’s is a staple on the cocktail scene; it’s selection of whiskeys and bourbons doesn’t disappoint. Margauxsrestaurant.com, 8110 Creedmoor Road, 919-846-9846.
4 Best Dive Bars
Slim’s Downtown Distillery
Reminiscent of a 90s bar; check out some garage rock, and if you like the beer before the Craft Era, it’s a great place to go for Miller Highlife, Budweiser and PBR. Bands hoping for a chance to gain traction grab the stage at Slim’s, which holds just about 100 people so you’ll always be pretty close to the stage. Pool upstairs and a patio out back. Slimsraleigh.com, 227 S. Wilmington St., 919-833-6657.
Go on Sunday nights when it’s “Bartender’s Choice.” You could end up with a Summer Ale in November or a dented Pabst Blue Ribbon that rolled to the back of the cooler; all are just a buck. There are dollar bills lining the ceiling, too, so if you’re short on cash… 5111 Western Blvd, 919-233-4143.
Black Flower Bar
Not only does it look like a garage sale, the staff has totally adopted the same attitude. They are abrupt, salty, almost rude—which totally goes with the whole vibe. You won’t find a more divey dive in Raleigh. Blackflowerbar.com, 517 W. Peace St., 919-900-0147.
Throw a rock and you’ll hit the Red Hat Amphitheater. You’ll be surprised to find a great variety of live music. Big names pop in occasionally and many, like Joan Jett, have signed posters or scrawled song lyrics on the red walls. Not a lot of food options here, just chips and salsa or sandwich delivery. Deepsouththebar.com, 430 S. Dawson St. 919-833-1255.
6 Best Suburb Bars
It’s about time a place like this came to Cary. Located downtown and fairly new, Pharmacy Bottle has a good selection of beers (and wines and ciders), including Uinta and Founders as well as Fullsteam’s Igor. Pet-friendly and you can bring outside food IN. A rare find indeed. Pharmacybottlebeverage.com, 120 E. Chatham St., Cary, 919-234-1098.
It’s not often you find a bar serving pizza and sushi (try the Shark Bites), but Ruckus Pizza in Morrisville does it well. Combine that with a good all-around drink selection and trivia nights, and this neighborhood watering hole hits the spot. Ruckuspizza.com, 1101 Market Center Dr., Morrisville, 919-388-3500.
World of Beer
Normally we wouldn’t rank a chain in this spot, but this sports bar does a good job with its beer selection—offering NC craft beers and as well as a variety from microbreweries across the nation. Worldofbeer.com, 2036 Renaissance Park Place, Cary, 919-234-0088
My Way Tavern
The “go-to” spot in Holly Springs. It’s laid-back, and you’re fine to go grubby, but you’ll likely see someone you know (fair warning). It’s loud, with a fair amount of brews on tap, most from N.C. The horseshoe bar, made with reclaimed wood, sets the stage and gets folks talking. Mywaytavern.com, 301 Center St., Holly Springs, 919-285-2412.
Bass Lake Draft House
More taps here—34—and a big following on game day. Eats are good, with lunch specials under $7. We recommend the Vineyard Chicken Salad. Basslakedrafthouse.com, 124 Bass Lake Road, Holly Springs, 919-567-3251.
Doherty’s Irish Pub
Owner Michael Doherty, born in Ireland, is often barside, pouring pints and serving up Fish & Chips or brisket sliders. Lots of regulars in this pub with a clean and simple design. Dohertysirishpubnc.com, 5490 Apex Peakway, Apex, 919-387-4100.
Although they only sell their own brews, we just had to include a few of Raleigh’s innovative craft breweries.
There’s always a good group milling about playing trivia or partaking in one of the regular food trucks (no food served here, fyi).You’ll find a crowd of mixed ages playing board games or cornhole and sipping tasty brews; we like the Blatherskite Scottish Ale paired with Monopoly. Raleighbrewingcompany.com, 3709 Neil St., 919-400-9086.
It’s all about bikes (the pedal kind) and beer. Check out board games, Jenga and a cool slot-machine-like sculpture made with bike parts. Seating out front and an open concept inside. Crankarmbrewing.com, 319 W. Davie St., 919-324-3529.
A warehouse with exposed brick and picnic tables creates a relaxed vibe, and the lack of TVs encourages conversation. Food trucks make frequent appearances. Our faves are Shotgun Betty and Sweet Josie. loneriderbeer.com, 8816 Gulf Ct. (919) 442-8004.
Located in Five Points, brewing European beers as well as small batches; dogs allowed outside, activities like darts and cornhole. Nickelpointbrewing.com, 506 Pershing Road, 919-916-5961.