Raising the Bar

In Buzz, November 2021 by Mackenzie TewksburyLeave a Comment

Share this Post

Creating elevated spaces to bring back the “aged-out” 

“How sad are we?” bemoaned Ross …. “We’re not sad, we’re just not 21 anymore, y’know?” defends Chandler. “I’m 29 years old, dammit! And I want to sit in a comfortable chair… !” … “Yeah!” adds Joey. “And I like to hang out in a quiet place where I can talk to my friends!” 

No doubt many o’ upper-20-somethings (and beyond) can relate to the famed Friends epiphany—the bar scene often feeling like a space specifically carved out for the coming-of-age set.

But times, they are a changing. As more and more bars enter the scene in Raleigh, they are increasingly focused on creating elevated spaces to attract patrons beyond the sub-25 crowd.

Photograph by Felicia Perry Trujillo

While the 30+ set may feel awkward going to bars that typically attract a younger crowd (Teets, Cornerstone, Tin Roof), some Raleigh business owners are seeking to make their establishments more inclusive spaces, welcoming patrons of all ages who want to chill with friends or a date for a drink without that feeling of being “too old” or out of place.

Tyler Helikson, owner of the highly anticipated full-service restaurant Madre in Smoky Hollow, knows how important it is to create an elevated space where people of all ages can feel comfortable going out Downtown. “Younger generations have really occupied new bars and restaurants,” he says. “It’s nice to see that energy and youth, but it’s made an older generation feel like it’s not for them. It’s going to take a different design approach—from the interior of the space to the experience and hospitality—to make Downtown not just for young people.”

“Would you like to drink with your 21-year-old self?”
—Jason Howard

Helikson plans to do just that by fashioning Madre as a space that is intentional, thoughtful and with an emphasis on design. “No detail is too small to make people feel comfortable and cozy,” he says. “We’re designing for someone who wants a night out that can either start with a meal at 5pm or an after-dinner cocktail at 9. Ultimately, the goal is to create a good mix of upscale restaurant and high-energy bar.”

We see this playing out in other spaces across Glenwood, which are—without at all alienating the younger crowd—catering to older patrons in a way that makes them feel seen and welcome… spaces like the recently bowed Botanical Lounge and Highgarden rooftop, and The Avenue on Glenwood South, adjacent to brand-new and highly anticipated AC Hotel Raleigh Downtown.

In fact, on a recent Friday night at The Avenue, a patron was overheard gleefully saying, “This is like Cornerstone—but for older people.”

And when it comes to positioning establishments, perhaps no one knows this better than Raleigh bar owner (and arguably father to the concept locally) Jason Howard. After all, Howard first opened Brooklyn Heights in 2008 (RIP 2015) on a partying stretch of Glenwood Avenue as a feel-good Cheers-like everybody-knows-your-name neighborhood bar that was accessible only to 25+ patrons—a decision that was relatively new and highly disregarded at the time, but Howard was steadfast. 

For Howard, the decision was a no-brainer. He says that almost every bar he has opened has used the 25-and-up model. “I got some pushback because a lot of people didn’t understand it, but once you explain…‘Would you like to drink with your 21-year-old self?’ a lot of people appreciated it,” says Howard. “We didn’t budge on it. It’s pretty much what we do. It worked well for us.”

Ergo The Atlantic Lounge, his sought-after 25+ speakeasy key club (you need a key and a referral from a member), which opened in 2019.

“We could’ve made a lot more money, but we couldn’t keep our integrity,” says Howard. “But that’s the tradeoff: Is it always about making as much money as possible or creating a culture more conducive to adults? For me, it’s about keeping my integrity while making money.”

Local Jackie Sanders, 28, appreciates it, saying she tends to stay away from DTR bars now that she is out of college, but found herself longing for a place she could still go out and have fun.

“The idea of a 25+ bar sounds amazing now that I’m in my late 20s,” she says. “I’m really looking to make friends in the area—especially since I don’t go out as often. It’d be great knowing I would have a more relaxed experience with fellow professionals.”

For Helikson, it’s not at all about restricting the age limit, but creating a vibe that feels mature, elevated. “I want you to feel like you’re in a major metropolitan area where they really take the design seriously,” he says. Clearly now, thanks to visionaries like Helikson, it’s what we’ll see here, from our comfy chair, cocktail in hand. 

Share this Post

Leave a Comment