Best Bar in Wake County: The Green Light
108 East Hargett Street, Raleigh, architectbar.com/the-green-light
The idea of a regular bar having a speakeasy that’s supposed to be a secret even though everyone knows about it is admittedly ostentatious. But we’ll give The Green Light a pass for that. We’ll give it a pass, too, for making you go through the silly ritual of walking up the long flight of stairs into The Architect Bar, turning to the right, and then entering behind a bookcase. We gladly endure all of this because, once you’re actually inside the small, dark lounge, there’s really no bar in Raleigh like The Green Light. The pre-Prohibition cocktails are otherworldly good, the throwback vibe is chill and charming, and the bartenders have forgotten more about the devil’s water than the rest of us will ever know. Get a reservation if you can.
3055 Medlin Drive, Raleigh, blindbarbour.com
Blind Barbour manages to be both a comfortable neighborhood hang and a craft cocktail destination. The talented bartenders are the key. They ask questions, listen, and create drinks you like. While you’re there, ask about the weekly “break-even bottle” (a good way to sample fine booze on the cheapish), the special cabinet of antique liquors, and the Prohibition-inspired story behind the bar’s name.
C. Grace Cocktail Bar
407 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, cgracebar.com
A burlesque-inspired basement speakeasy that is both on but seems far removed from Glenwood’s bustling entertainment district, C. Grace serves sophisticated cocktails that elevate classics into something new. Order a Negroni, sink into a plush couch, and let the always-excellent jazz musicians on stage transport you to a more elegant era.
213 Fayetteville Street, Raleigh, foundationnc.com
With good vibes and great cocktails, this Fayetteville Street basement bar gets packed on weekend nights. Foundation focuses on inventive drinks made with seasonal ingredients and regional and American spirits—you’ll find no Campari behind the bar. You might, however, find the occasional Pappy Van Winkle among its excellent collection of bourbons. To avoid the crowds, hit up Foundation after work or, better yet, on Sunday.
Fox Liquor Bar
237 South Wilmington Street, Raleigh, ac-restaurants.com/fox
Because Ashley Christensen can do no wrong, her foray into bars is as well-conceived and executed as any of her restaurants. Space abounds, and there’s a giant book full of creative cocktails to choose from. When you’ve made your selection, mosey over to a nearby couch to relax and chat with friends.
Gallo Pelón Mezcaleria
106 South Wilmington Street, Raleigh, gallopelon.com
No need to ask, Gallo Pelón is the first to tell you: You won’t find a single worm in any of the more than fifty artisanal mezcals behind the bar. What you will find here is an intimate, upscale spot that pays homage to the oft-misunderstood, underappreciated Mexican liquor commonly referred to as “tequila’s smoky cousin.” Sit down for a pour by the glass or flight, or pick from a list of several mezcal cocktails at North Carolina’s first mezcaleria.
555 Fayetteville Street, #115, Raleigh, thehaymakerraleigh.com
The quirky-yet-polished design—think mismatched leather armchairs, velvet couches, a dramatic floral mural, and one-off chandeliers—are a tip-off to the eclectic drinks you’ll discover. Split a punch bowl with friends and you’ll be handed sets of teacups and saucers to drink out of, or craft an original cocktail from ingredients such as kiwi shrub, passion fruit jasmine-infused vodka, or mango chili puree.
Person Street Bar
805 North Person Street, Raleigh, person-street.com
Person Street Bar is a beautifully uncomplicated thing. It’s a neighborhood bar, directly between Oakwood and Mordecai. There’s a good beer selection. There are friendly bartenders who make outstanding cocktails, including a rotating menu of specialty cocktails. There’s also a very cool, if small, outdoor space, which you can retreat to if (and when) things get loud.
The Players’ Retreat
105 Oberlin Road, Raleigh, playersretreat.net
The PR has been a Raleigh institution since 1951. There’s good food, a pool table, a bar that spans the length of the building, an outdoor patio, a ridiculously large single-malt scotch selection, and unexpectedly good wine offerings, too. (You wouldn’t think it to look at the place, but the PR regularly gets Wine Spectator’s award of excellence.) But really, you go here because it’s the PR, because it’s where you go to watch N.C. State games or to see an old friend or to have a meeting over a drink or just to hang out among friendly faces.
Raleigh Beer Garden
614 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, theraleighbeergarden.com
With a quite-literally exhausting beer menu—more than 350 beers on tap—RBG holds the Guinness world record for the largest selection of draft beers available in a restaurant. If you want it, it’s here, or at least something like it. Want an IPA? They’ve got about three dozen, most from North Carolina—everything from dark IPAs to sessions, rye IPA to head-slamming triples. Oh, you’re in the mood for a sour or a gose, perhaps? You’ll have to make do with a meager selection of, uh, fifteen. And so on. You’ll never run out of new things to try.
414 Fayetteville Street, Raleigh, rubydeluxeraleigh.com
In 2015, Tim Lemuel set out to create a fun, lively, queer-friendly space in downtown Raleigh. What he created was Ruby Deluxe, which is all of those things and more. It hosts goth nights and drag shows, but also video game nights and open mics and retro techno nights and K-pop dance parties and everything in between. Not quite a dive, the bar is simple and unpretentious: there’s a good beer selection, but no fancy cocktail list—just whatever you want to drink, mixed by great bartenders.