There’s a distinctly “Alice in Wonderland” feel to The Atlantic Lounge, an underground speakeasy newly opened in Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood. Tucked into a space between Pelagic Beer and Wine bottle shop and the restaurant Crawford and Son, the nondescript entrance leads to a stairwell lit by the neon glow of a sign reading, “Don’t serious yourself to death.” A vintage Vacancy/No Vacancy sign, salvaged from an old hotel, acts as a sentry, letting patrons know if they can use their key to gain entry to the 44-seat bar.
It’s a space out of time, a subtly retro den that feels somehow both cozy and a little bit rebellious. Irreverent artwork hangs on the century-old brick walls, reflected in 6-foot tall mirrors suspended above the teal banquette curving along one wall. Candles glow on the concrete bar, which was poured and polished by owner Jason Howard, who also operates the Cardinal bar and is planning to open The Rainbow Luncheonette, a 22-seat, modern take on a diner in the old Rainbow Upholstery Building on West Street later this year.
Howard sees the lounge as fitting in seamlessly with the neighborhood while also helping to shape it, which pretty well sums up the philosophy of his hospitality career.
“I honestly think the hospitality industry drives the direction in which a city goes more than anything else,” Howard says. “It’s fun to be a part of the growth of a city, to help create the culture.”
Howard envisioned The Atlantic Lounge three years ago, when he first set foot in the space, then just a storage area with 5 feet of headroom. But that dark, cramped nook spoke to him, and he spent years getting the proper permits and doing the hard work to breathe life into the spot. He hopes that, as keyholders bring their friends into the fold, it will become a creative community gathering spot that the neighborhood will make its own—from the music that’s playing to the drinks menu, which includes craft cocktails, riffs on the classics with “flips and fizzes,” according to Howard.
“We try to stay as hyper local as possible with everything in here,” Howard says. “But ultimately, we want the customers to decide what they want. I definitely expect it to evolve, and I don’t think you’ll ever really find out what The Atlantic Lounge is—I think it’s going to be evolving forever.”
• Keyholders can bring one guest at a time.
• Keyholders must use the key to gain entry (no knocking).
• They may not enter when the “No Vacancy” sign is on.
• The Atlantic Lounge is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. at 62o North Person Street.
How To Get a Key
The first keys were offered to neighborhood residents. Those who purchased the $40 key also received an invitation to extend to a friend.
“That allows them to invite somebody they think would like and respect the space and enjoy the concept,” Howard says. “So they kind of get to pick the crowd by doing that—you put the power in their hands.”
There will be further open enrollment sessions. In the meantime, you can request a key by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or messaging the bar through Instagram. Keyholders must be 25 years old or older.