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The one thing that got us through 2020? Alcohol.
(There, we said it!)
We relied on our favorite local bars, restaurants, and beer and wine shops for cocktail kits, brews and vino to-go—and, as of last month, cocktails to-go—to get us through what was one of the toughest years, well, ever. But 2020 wasn’t just hard on us—it was brutal for our fair city’s bar scene too. To date, many of our prized watering holes are still not permitted to open under current restrictions—after almost an entire year of being closed—and those who are open must be able to serve patrons outdoors (in the middle of winter, no less).
We thought a lot about whether to bring back our annual Best Bars issue this month, and, ultimately, we decided that, this year especially, Raleigh’s bar scene deserves to be celebrated. But just like everything else in 2020, there’s a pivot. We came up with 50 accolades (think fun senior superlatives) that pay tribute to aspects we appreciate about each of these Raleigh bars, restaurant bars, wine shops, bottle shops and breweries—regardless of their current open or closed status. We also highlight the sip spots that have done a particularly good job making us feel safe in their socially distanced and exceptionally sanitized spaces. (And, thank you, readers, for your votes and responses!)
Finally, we want all of Raleigh’s bar scene to know we’re rooting for you, and we can’t wait to be perched on your bar stools with a drink in hand again soon. Cheers to a brighter 2021!
Dram & Draught
Not long after relocating to the One Glenwood building, Dram & Draught was forced to close its doors due to the pandemic. Initially not allowed to serve drinks on premise, it pivoted to a grocery store, offering everything from eggs and cheese to toilet paper to beer, wine and cocktail kits. Owners Kevin Barrett and Drew Schenck also brought their vibrant personalities to virtual cocktail classes until they were eventually allowed to reopen Dram’s patio with socially distanced tables and cozy heaters.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Killjoy opened with an impressive digital scanner that ensures each guest is wearing a mask and is at a normal body temperature before entering. It’s a nifty investment that makes patrons feel safe while enjoying one of Killjoy’s beloved craft or spirit-free cocktails. Inside, cozy couches and tables are spaced 6 feet apart and separated with eye-catching plants that only add to the bar’s hip vibe, while outside on the covered (heated) patio, large booths backdropped by a colorful array of florals accommodate bigger groups.
Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing
This uber-popular brewery/bar/restaurant has managed to turn its patio into a warm and cozy oasis for dining and drinking—even in the middle of winter—with tents, heaters and an all-around warm, inviting and, most importantly, safe atmosphere. Even in the summertime, fans and mist were a relief from the worst of North Carolina’s hot and humid days. Additionally, Wye Hill was one of the only bars or restaurants in town to throw a spectacular socially distanced and masked sit-down New Year’s Eve dinner, complete with delicious food and drink menus.
Pre-pandemic, Whiskey Kitchen’s expansive patio was the place to be—and during the pandemic, not much has changed. The spaced-out umbrella-covered picnic tables are the perfect spot to pop a squat for socially distanced gatherings, whether you’re stopping by for a cocktail, or lunch, dinner or weekend brunch from its Southern kitchen. On warm 2020 days, Whiskey Kitchen’s rolled-up garage doors extended it’s open-air feel indoors, making many more comfortable with sipping “indoors.” In winter, heaters dot the expansive patio, while, inside, the whiskey bar ensures all inside tables are placed more than 6 feet apart for extra-safe social distancings.
50 Best Bars
10th & Terrace
Take things next level (literally) on this chic 10th-floor rooftop of the Residence Inn Raleigh Downtown. Breathtaking (and ’gram-worthy) views overlooking Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and miles of decked DTR streets play backdrop to palatable local brews, fine wines and craft cocktails—not to mention its famed summertime boozy popsicles.
Best New Hot Spot
Bowstring Pizza and Brewyard
Vic’s Pizza Bus brings the hot slices—vegan flatbreads included—and baked wings, while Bowstring serves up the beer (local drafts rotate often) and cocktails—and cocktail towers (!!) if you’re riding with your crew out—on its expansive heated patio. And the bar is quickly becoming North Raleigh’s new fave neighborhood hangout.
Best To-Go Cocktails
The Haymaker delivers warmth in a to-go-appropriate cup with signature cocktails like Cousin Eddie’s Eggnog (eggnog lovers rejoice!), mulled wine and The Haymaker classic Smoke Show (a mix of Old Forester 100-proof bourbon, Fino sherry, maple, pineapple, lime and black cardamom). No cold weather blues here!
Best Girls’ Night Out
Barcelona Wine Bar
If your girlfriends are the types who are always down to split a bottle of wine, Barcelona is the destination for your girls’ night out. And since sharing is caring, a delicious menu of tapas and charcuterie make the GNO spot even sweeter.
Little City Brewing + Provisions Co.
If you’re looking for Spotify inspo, you’re gonna wanna belly up to the bar at Little City and lend an ear to the must-hear selection of perfectly picked playlists—which also serve to elevate the experience of sipping flavor-forward handcrafted brews and craft cocktails in its beautiful taproom.
Best Beer Selection
House of Hops
With 300-plus bottled and canned beers and 24 rotating drafts on offer, family-owned House of Hops’ two bar and bottle shop locations (Glenwood and McNeil Pointe) are perfect for some hoppy liquid therapy in front of the game, on the patio or over some cornhole.
Most Comfortable Seating
Once you slide into one of Havana Deluxe’s plush leather couches, you’ll never want to get up—unless it’s to get another drink. The dim almost cavelike lounge lends a moody atmosphere, perfect for enjoying whiskey, martinis and cigars (bring your own).
Coolest Bar Staff
The too-cool-for-school attitude of Foundation’s bartenders serves to make the legendary underground bar’s handcrafted cocktails even more sought-after. During the pandemic, we especially loved seeing the witty titles they came up with for their cocktails to-go.
William & Company
Wilco, as the regulars call it, offers a cozy, laid-back lounge vibe—complete with noteworthy brick walls, wooden floors and upholstered couches—that’s ideal for sipping cocktails, beer or wine into the wee hours of the night—or early morning.
Best Liquor Selection
Hoppy Endings’ abundance of liquor offerings is almost too overwhelming—but for liquor afficiados, it’s like being a kid in a candy store, with over 1,500 bottles of bourbon, whiskey (the bar has the largest whiskey selection in the Southeast) and scotch from which to choose.
Angus Barn Wild Turkey Lounge
You just haven’t gone to the bathroom until you’ve experienced the luxe lavatories in Angus Barn’s Wild Turkey Lounge. From the turkey-adorned door to the well-supplied essentials, these loos are easily bougier than any bathroom around, bar none. Enter into a powder-room paradise stocked with the needs of your wildest dreams (breath mints, bobby pins, hairspray, chapstick, mouthwash, mascara and even perfume, to name a few), so you can freshen (or fully restore) your face before heading back to your date or business happy hour.
Best 2020 Pivot
Dram & Draught
From a grocery store to virtual cocktail classes to cocktail kits to-go, Dram and Draught did anything they could to keep its head above water—and we were totally here for it. Where else were we going to get toilet paper when the major grocery stores ran out?
Best Guys’ Night Out
Tobacco Road Sports Cafe
TV screens throughout the restaurant make Tobacco Road a no-brainer for a night of sports-watching with the boys. During commercial breaks, there’s plenty of beer (brewed on-site) and scratch-made food to be had—we recommend the burgers, wings and nachos.
Come to AC Hotel’s Level7 rooftop bar for stunning views of the bustling North Hills shopping district, and stay for the cocktails, wines, beers, and European- and Spanish-influenced tapas.
Best Wine Selection
Vinos Finos Tapas and Wine Bar
It’s always wine o’clock at Vinos Finos (which appropriately translates to fine wines), where a friendly and knowledgeable staff pairs the city’s largest selection of South American wines with delicious tapas and must-try Argentine empanadas in a cozy warm ambiance. Don’t forget to grab a bottle to take home.
Coolest Cocktail Garnishes
Don’t let anyone tell you drink adornments don’t matter. Pros will tell you an artful garnish ties the cocktail together—which is exactly what you’ll get in C. Grace’s lowlit, swanky, sophisticated, red-curtain adorned den-like digs with a backdrop of steamy jazz tunes and ambiance for days. (Not to mention some of the best drinks in town and a legacy of live music several nights a week.)
Where to take your Parents
Transfer Co. Bar at Transfer Co. Food Hall
There’s no need to worry about picky parents at Transfer Co. The bar offers everything from housemade cocktails to beer and wine—plus nonalcoholic options too—while the food hall itself boasts 10 different food vendors from which to choose.
Best Date-Night Spot
Watts & Ward
Famed for its sexy, subterranean 1920s Americana vibe with leather couches that feel straight out of Mad Men, this third-year-running Raleigh Magazine Best Overall Bar winner (2018–2020) has pivoted to focus on its now reopened large covered light-strung patio and yard, where martinis and moonlight mix for the perfect night out.
Best Seasonal Beers
Crank Arm Brewing
Crank Arm’s unique and colorful beer cans are enough to look forward to every season and holiday. Crack them open and you’ll be even more satisfied with the delicious contents—Icycle, Sproktoberfest and Motivator are just some of our trusty seasonal faves.
Atlantic Lounge may be the most exclusive bar in Raleigh—you must be 25 and given a special key to get in—but once inside, you’ll loosen up to the moody lighting, casual bartenders and innovative cocktails. Plus, it’s BYOV (bring your own vinyl).
Part art gallery, part wine bar, Vita Vite houses a plethora of beautiful paintings and other art pieces by both locally and nationally known artists. Fitting, as owner Lindsay Rice earned her master’s degree in art history and museum studies, and founded Vita Vite in an effort to make art more approachable and accessible to the everyday individual.
Best Spirit-Free Cocktails
Regardless of whether or not you partake in alcoholic beverages, Killjoy has you covered for a fun night out. And if it’s spirit-free you seek, the bar’s nonalcoholic offerings are just as tasty as their alcoholic counterparts. We rec the tahini colada made with sesame, coconut, pineapple, cranberry bitters and bayleaf.
Most “Localist” Liquors
Dogwood Bar & Eatery
If Raleigh-born liquors like Socialhouse vodka ring your bell, head to Dogwood’s indoor-outdoor bars and grand wraparound heated porch overlooking Glenwood South for a Socialista (Social House vodka, St. Germain, Aperol, lemon simple syrup) or—a spin on the classic Moscow Mule—the downhome Social Mule (Social House vodka, Gosling’s ginger beer, lime).
The Raleigh Times
Situated in the 100-year-old building that housed its namesake (now defunct) newspaper, The Raleigh Times spans almost a full city block with multiple entrances, second-floor seating, sidewalk tables and a rooftop patio to boot—giving you plenty of places to perch and space to spread out for its vast selection of craft beers—especially Belgians!—and fab fare.
Best First-Date Spot
It doesn’t get much sweeter than splitting one of Bittersweet’s decadent desserts on a first date. You won’t be able to resist the derby pie… and perhaps a late-night kiss to seal the deal.
Fox Liquor Bar
It’s no surprise that AC’s cocktail bar would serve not only great drinks, but delicious snacks to boot. Droolworthy options include loaded tots with bacon, sour cream, queso and scallions; hot Buffalo chicken dip; and a classic diner-style cheeseburger.
Best Trivia Night
Flying Saucer Draught Emporium
If you’re looking to get your game on, head to Flying Saucer, where “beer knurds” unite for Tuesday Trivia at this draft emporium serving up hundreds of craft beers from NC and beyond.
Best Dance Floor
You haven’t really danced until you’ve danced at Legends—Raleigh’s first and longest-standing LGBTQ club. Neon lights, pulsing music and an overall high energy make it easy to dance the night away.
The Longleaf Hotel & Lounge
Even in the middle of winter, we could spend all night cozied up on Longleaf’s patio, thanks to fire pits, wool blankets and heaters. An alcohol blanket from a classic cocktail, glass of worldly wine or a local beer doesn’t hurt either.
Fidos of all breeds and sizes love playing and rolling around in Junction West’s courtyard covered with artificial grass, making it easy for owners to relax and enjoy a cocktail or two on warm days while their fur-children ruff it up. Just remember to BYO doggy bags!
Best Patio Hangout
Offering open-air sipping at its finest, Whiskey Kitchen’s large (heated!) picnic table-adorned patio is complemented by a garage-door facade that’s open on warm days—offering the perfect perch for whiskey aficionados and craft cocktail lovers alike to sip on over 140 whiskies and handcrafted libations while snacking on fine fare from its Southern kitchen.
Together, Hummingbird’s full coffee bar, exquisite drink selections and beautiful brunch dishes—not to mention the delightfully decorated patio complete with the bar’s signature neon sign—make for one of the most Instagram-worthy brunches in Raleigh.
Best Drink Specials
My Way Tavern
On any day of the week, you can get a killer deal on food and drinks at My Way Tavern. Drink specials include $1 off NC drafts on Carolina Monday, $4.50 well drinks on Wednesdays, and $5 bloody marys and mimosas on Sunday Funday.
The Green Light
Behind a hidden door at The Architect lies Raleigh’s best-kept secret bar, The Green Light. Having earned national acclaim as one of America’s best speakeasies, the tiny dimly lit spot behind the bookcase door is ideal for taking a break from The Architect’s dance floor to cozy up on the banquette seating overlooking DTR while sipping on a handcrafted boozy cocktail.
Burial Beer Co.
Funky sours with even funkier names are one of Burial’s claims to fame. The brewery, which originally opened in Asheville, had to expand its downtown Raleigh space shortly after opening at Transfer Co. Food Hall because of how popular it became.
You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can totally judge a drink by its glass—especially at STIR in North Hills, where the barware—not to mention the handcrafted artisanal ice, fresh ingredients and in-house bitters and syrups—add a level of chic authenticity and sex appeal to a handcrafted cocktail list that’s worth Ubering for.
Best for Business
Situated in the Creamery Building on Glenwood South, Sullivan’s classic, luxe interiors, unparalleled martinis (not to mention its signature house-cut steaks) and fine-dining atmosphere make it the perfect (and popular) spot for entertaining clients and colleagues.
Best Sports Viewing
Carolina Ale House
High above Glenwood Avenue, Carolina Ale House offers plenty of TVs for optimal sports-watching both inside and on the enclosed patio. Expect plenty of fanfare on local-team game days—both college and pro.
Clouds Brewing Downtown
If you don’t know it for its locale in the old CP&L art deco building, large patio, 40 taps, vast spirits or palatable fare (hey, brunch!), then you should know it for its calendar offerings. From Beats and Brews and Plank n’ Drank yoga to Cause for Paws adoption events, trivia nights and much more, Clouds promises to fun-tain you year-round.
Lynnwood Brewing Concern
If you’re jonesin’ for a cold brew with the mini-me’s in tow, Lynnwood Brewing Concern is the place to go. Housed in Dock 1053, the neighborhood hot spot is popular for its super-spacious fam-friendly (including Fido!) beer garden and open-air barroom with rollup garage doors—which will keep the tots entertained so you can relax over the “locally brewed, lovingly crafted, award-winning beers.”
Where to Play Games
Boxcar Bar + Arcade
Raleigh’s only barcade is home to over 70 classic and modern arcade games, a dozen or so pinball machines, and 175-plus console games. A full liquor bar with 24 rotating drafts and a popcorn machine that stays popping (for when the munchies inevitably hit) allows patrons to spend the entire day gaming with friends.
Since it was founded in 1951, the “PR” (as it’s affectionately referred to by locals) has become a Raleigh institution for its extensive drink list, elevated bar food, family atmosphere and fan-fave patio that attracts Raleighites of all ages and from all walks of life for game days or hangouts.
The Raleigh Beer Garden
Raleigh Beer Garden has held the Guinness World Record for most varieties of beer on tap since 2015. The popular Glenwood South bar and restaurant had a total of 369 different taps when it earned the record; now there’s more than 400. Drink up!
Aunty Betty’s Gin and Absinthe Bar
Some people go to the Morgan Street Food Hall for food. We go for the artastic atmosphere—from vivid murals covering the wall to the fun, moody lighting to the colorful couches and scattered plants. This distinct bar anchoring the food hall is the place to be—and don’t even get us started on their gin and tonic… perfection!
There’s no shortage of fine wines at Vidrio—the restaurant-bar serves 48 wines on tap and a robust collection of domestic and international bottles—including a variety of delicious bubbly. Whether you’re toasting an accomplishment, a birthday or just treating yourself, Vidrio’s best-in-class bubbles are reason enough to celebrate on their own.
For brews and chef-driven chews with a view, Wye Hill’s patio serves up the best views of the DTR skyline—period. You’re gonna want to make sure you snap photos—whether you’re seeing it through this lens for the first time or hundredth… the cityscape from this POV is just simply captivating. If nothing else, do it for the ’Gram.
The Cardinal’s infused liquor makes for some of the best—and cheapest—shots in town. Chase them with one of the lowkey bar’s famous beer-braised hot dogs, which are also available as veggie dogs.
Best Place for Conversation
Neuse River Brewing & Brasserie
Remember “The One Where They’re Going to Party” on Friends—only to realize all they really want is to sit in a comfy chair and hear each other without having to yell? Well, chill, conversation-friendly paradise found in this “Belgian-inspired, Carolina-crafted” brewhouse and brasserie with Belgian-inspired craft brews perfect for washing down fare from the European bistro-inspired menu in the comfortable light-filled taproom or outside on the heated patio.
If dark and moody with a lovable rough-around-the-edges mystique is what you’re after, there’s no bar more fitting—or moodier—in town. The epitome of dive bars, Slim’s intimate in-house stage has long-been a go-to for DJs and live music that run the gamut from well-known bands to those on-the-rise. (And we’d be remiss not to mention its outback patio and upstairs lounge with pool table.)
The Close That Broke Our Hearts
To say we’ll miss Coglin’s is an understatement. It wasn’t just a bar. It was a time machine. For the last seven years, it was a place where we checked life’s worries at the door for an epic nostalgic dance party—singing and dancing the night away to the quintessential sounds of the ’80s and ’90s. RIP, Coglin’s. Our hearts are broken. May the fun-loving and free-spirited energy you brought every night live on within us all.
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