During the prohibition era, speakeasies were illicit establishments where people could get liquor. The name derived from the need to speak “quietly” or easy so as to not alert authorities. Today, however, liquor flows freely so the term has come to describe a retro-style bar that captures the essence of the golden age. That’s precisely what filmmaker Patrick Shanahan and pub impresario Niall Hanley tried to do at their new bar, Watts & Ward, named after the two North Carolina acts that prohibited distilling and distributing alcohol back in the early 1900s.
Located in the basement of the historic 1912 Montague building, the entrance to Watts & Ward is right off Moore Square under Café Luna.
“We had to do something that spoke to the era,” says Shanahan. “We wanted it to feel like an old Victorian home…It’s an homage to what we love and what we wanted to bring to the city.”
As a filmmaker, Shanahan had a cinematic vision for the space that is separated into smaller, intimate rooms decorated with leather club chairs, linen sofas, marble-topped tables and rich wooden bookcases filled with vintage leather- and fabric-bound tomes. He immediately sought Hanley’s help, who he felt was one of the few people in town who would be able to help him re-imagine the basement into a bar that evoked a bygone era. The two had met a few years ago when Hanley hired Shanahan to work on a mural for the Raleigh Beer Garden.
“Pat’s an artist. For the first time ever, I had to take counsel from someone who actually knew something about design,” says Hanley. “But we didn’t try to change the place too much. We used the bricks, the columns, the old beams and added our nuances.”
Though the establishment requires a membership, Shanahan emphasizes that it’s not meant to be intimidating. They want people to enjoy the experience.
“We don’t want to be too hidden or too exclusive. We want to be approachable and feel like home to people,” he says.
But keep in mind that you must sign up to be a member. Sign up online at wattsandward.com or at the door. Also, each member is entitled to bring two guests per visit.