Alley Twenty Six
320 East Chapel Hill Street, Durham, alleytwentysix.com
The O.G. of downtown Durham’s craft cocktail scene, Alley Twenty Six has an ace whiskey selection and serves up refined, sharp takes on traditional cocktails. Venture down its ever-changing drinks menu, however, and you’ll find all sorts of unusual pairings and innovations: a version of a frozen hurricane with passionfruit; a Hot Ca’Toddy, with chai-infused tequila; a Jay May, with Wild Turkey, apple brandy, and sweet potato, etc.
105 South Mangum Street, Durham, barvirgile.com
Bar Virgile does the classics admirably—a nice old-fashioned, a mighty fine boulevardier—alongside a coterie of inventive cocktails that change with the seasons, made by friendly bartenders who go out of their way to make sure you get the drink you want.
100 Brewer Lane, Carrboro, facebook.com/belltreespeakeasy
A couple of tables, a lounger sofa, some bar seats, intimate lighting, an entrance that is actually difficult to find—Belltree’s take on the speakeasy is rich in ambiance, but its true genius lies in the meticulously crafted drinks, widely considered the best in Carrboro, from the usual suspects to the house specials.
320 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, thecrunkleton.com
The Crunkleton’s dark, wood-rich ambiance seems designed to spark an instinctual craving for brown liquor. There’s something like five hundred bottles of booze behind the bar, including one of the finest collections of bourbon anywhere in the Triangle, which allows for a smart, extensive drink menu.
111 Corcoran Street, Durham, countinghousenc.com
Our favorite art hotel’s vibey bar offers a wide variety of libations (and snazzy snacks), but we’re there for the house cocktails. We were heartbroken when the Uptown Girl, a Manhattan-like concoction with house-made plum syrup, went out of season, but with the addition of the Shapeshifter, which mixes rye and bourbon with cider, brown sugar, ginger, and clove, all is forgiven.
213 Fayetteville Street, Raleigh, foundationnc.com
Small and dimly lit, this underground spot gets crowded on weekends but is the perfect spot for an after-work drink. Focusing on local and American spirits (nothing comes from outside the U.S.), Foundation crafts creative, sometimes surprising cocktails using only top-quality ingredients.
Fox Liquor Bar
237 South Wilmington Street, Raleigh, ac-restaurants.com/fox
This is an Ashley Christensen joint, so you should expect nothing less than the best. There’s a book full of craft cocktails to choose from, and they’re all crafted to perfection.
The Green Light
108 East Hargett Street, Raleigh, architectbar.com/the-green-light
A tiny speakeasy hidden behind a bookcase inside The Architect Bar, The Green Light—from Hargett Street, look up to spot a green light, which tells you it’s open—has a throwback vibe and outstanding drinks.
The Oak, Kitchen & Bourbon Bar
4035 Lake Boone Trail, Raleigh, jmrkitchens.com/oak
The Oak, near the North Carolina Museum of Art, is one of those places you wouldn’t stumble upon unless you were looking for it. But once you’re there, it’s a whiskey lover’s dream, with more than sixty styles of bourbon (including a house variety) and a deep-cut cocktail menu that pairs well with its excellent entrées.
Watts & Ward
200 South Blount Street, Raleigh, wattsandward.com
This swanky underground bar has a vintage library vibe straight out of a Sherlock Holmes novel. Enjoy live jazz and craft cocktails in one of the multiple rooms outfitted with wooden furniture and leather couches, or under the stars in the large outdoor space full of picnic tables.