The Prohibition years were ones of mystery, of exhilaration and, unexpectedly, the ones that brought us some of today’s most beloved classic cocktails. Jon Seelbinder, owner of Local Icon Hospitality Group, is bringing back a taste of those times with a new speakeasy called The Merchant in the former Level Up space at 126 S. Salisbury Street. The name is a nod to the long history of the building that will house the new speakeasy; built in 1920, it originally served as the offices for the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association. Seelbinder sees the space, recently renovated by Louis Cherry Architecture, as an opportunity to bring a concept that doesn’t already exist to the city. “Raleigh doesn’t have enough true, secret door, cool speakeasies,” Seelbinder says. “I love the elusiveness of a secret door that leads to something really special.” Along with a concealed entryway, The Merchant will offer classically inspired cocktails by Beverage Director Brett Michael Lysak and a chef-driven sharing plates menu from chef Ethan McClellan and chef Adrian Black, whose resumé includes a stint at Herons at The Umstead Hotel. Modern riffs on traditional speakeasy-style drinks along with unique house favorites pair well with charcuterie, burgers and strip steak in the revamped space decorated to capture the dark ambiance of the 1920s. “This is the most exciting project I’ve done in seven years,” Seelbinder says. Expect to duck into The Merchant either late this year or early next—if you can find the door, that is.
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