We’re not here to tell you about the khaki-and-Abercrombie, carefully-mangled-white-ballcap, giant-Miller-Lite-banner-on-the-wall college bars in the Triangle. If that’s your scene, chances are you’ll find it anyway, the way ants find a grain of sugar on a white countertop. We’re here to tell you about the dingier, seedier, romantically-messy-hair, PBR-and-Jim-Beam, cigarette-stubs-in-the-urinal-soap bars in the Triangle–and there are plenty. Some of these watering holes are thick with complex webs of incestuous social circles that seem a lot less dysfunctional than they really are; some of them are full of regulars who have watched generations of drinkers get sick and flirt drunkenly with each other in those last-ditch attempts to find someone to go home with.
But so is every bar in America. If you happened to pick the Triangle as your new residence, be it for school, work or art, you’re not going to see a whole lot more in our local bars than you would see anywhere else, other than area bands on the jukeboxes or area musicians, painters, photographers, writers, and drunks on either side of the bar. Once you venture to any of the taverns listed below, watch and listen–you could overhear either the weirdest conversation you’ve ever heard or the most asinine self-importance in town. If you want girls in matching tube-tops pouring drinks on themselves, or you still think hearing Semisonic’s “Closing Time” play on the jukebox at last call is funny, you might as well go to any bar in America, and that’s OK. Just know that you’d be missing part of the Triangle’s spirit if you didn’t get a chance to drink with the people who give each city its own reputation–waitstaff, baristas, cashiers, rockers, record-store employees, temps, smartasses, badasses, dumbasses. Even if you don’t like it, at least you’ll get to see our own versions of Cheers. We bet you find at least 10 Norms.
Cafe Cyclo, 202 Cameron St. (Cameron Village Shopping Center), 829-3773
A new addition to Raleigh’s bar scene, this laid back Vietnamese cafe doubles as a full service bar and coffee shop. Tons of specialty martinis and espresso cocktails complement the lounge-like atmosphere. Ample outside seating with DJs and live music on weekends. Best miso soup you’ve ever slurped down.
Five Star, 511 W. Hargett St., 833-3311
Tucked into what you might call Raleigh’s warehouse district, Five Star is the place to go if you want to dance to the area’s best DJs, eat some excellent Chinese food, or generally want to feel like you’re in an urban setting just a touch more hip than the rest of the Triangle. Stylish, but by no means exclusive, and the bar’s stocked well above average.
Jackpot, 1303 Hillsborough St., 821-8422
Get your drink on with a like-minded crowd at what is quickly becoming Raleigh’s spot for the regulars. Get there early to claim a pool table, stay all evening to enjoy the rock ‘n’ roll DJs, ice-cold AC, cheap beer and frozen margaritas.
Kings, 424 S. McDowell St., 831-1005
No longer just Raleigh’s best music venue, Kings is now offering special enticements to its bar crowd. Monday’s trivia night is a surprise hit. Other recurring events include movie night, industrial/goth night, and DJs. Also home to the best jukebox in Raleigh.
Mitch’s Tavern, 2426 Hillsborough St., 821-7771
With its cozy booths, long drinking tables, and dark portraits of forgotten great men hanging from the wood-paneled walls, Mitch’s is the quintessential American tavern, and a certified Raleigh establishment. It’s a popular destination for undergrads, grad students, professors, working stiffs and regulars alike. Also famous for their hot sandwiches.
MoJoe’s, 620 Glenwood Ave., 832-6799
An oasis of working-class normality located just two blocks from the heart of the inordinately trendy Glo-So, (that’s yuppie-speak for South Glenwood) MoJoe’s is cheap, open late, and features drink specials all week long — best enjoyed on the patio. Bar food and big beers abound.
The Rockford, 320-1/2 Glenwood Ave., 821-9020
Known for its array of superb sandwiches and sides, once the kitchen closes, the lights come down and the music goes up. You’ll find your favorite local musicians and artists on both sides of the bar, which is why the music is great. A mellow, convivial atmosphere, in stark contrast to the amped-up intensity of Glo-So’s surrounding meat markets.
Sadlack’s, 2116 Hillsborough St., 828-9190
If you went on a guided tour of Raleigh, you’d probably be told that Mitch’s was the locals’ favorite drinking hole, and that would not be incorrect. But if you were to approach that somewhat strange-looking guy on Hillsborough Street and ask him where the locals really hang out, he’d point you to Sadlack’s. The clientele can be described only as diverse–bikers, hippies, bohemians, college students, artists, musicians, families, construction workers, professionals–who enjoy a pleasant evening, sitting outside, drinking cold beer and watching cars cruise by. Beer is cheap, sandwiches are good, but bar space is limited, especially on bingo night.
The Cave, 452 W. Franklin St., 968-9308
Head down the stairs for the as-advertised cave, a smoky dive if there ever was one, with craggy decorations, low ceilings and the sort of grizzly philosophers that populate the two pool tables and loud ’80s rock jukebox. Great folk, jazz and rock bands frequent its cramped performance space, and the taps are full of up-scale local brews and elite national brands.
Hell, 157 Rosemary St., 929-7799
Garishly over the top and proud of it, Hell is like Ozzy’s wonderland, with blood-red walls, pool tables and furniture, decorated with grisly Halloween favors. If you wear black or seek a stellar jukebox that favors Joy Division, make the descent into this great bar, which requires a cheap membership.
Henderson Street Bar and Grill, 108 Henderson St., 942-8440
When searching for an escape from the throngs of undergrads scurrying up and down Franklin Street, look no further. Henderson Street, with its dark hall, above-average kitchen, and unassuming friendliness, has become one of the last strongholds for graduate students and thirtysomething locals hoping to have a drink with a friend in relative peace. Can-crushing beer-bongers need not apply.
Henry’s Bistro, 403 W. Rosemary St., 967-4720
Casual cool for the Greenwich Village crowd, Henry’s class doesn’t stop with its French menu. Out of the way on Rosemary Street just before the Carrboro line, the intimate bistro becomes a popular nightspot, especially the packed courtyard in good weather (and even bad). Show up Tuesday night, when some of the best local jazz talents play at random. Music on other occasional nights, including the chilled-out DJ sets from the Honey Machine on Mondays.
Linda’s Bar and Grill , 203 E. Franklin St., 933-6663
Easily the best of the after-work, neon-sign, plastic-cup, blasted ’90s rock hang-outs, thanks to its two friendly bars–the street-level, oft-busy drinking bar, and the basement dive with space for local bands and detectable ambience. All T-shirts, shorts welcome. Lower prices, but smallish cups and pitchers.
Orange County Social Club, 108 Main St., 933-0669
Sleek and modern but with no chic agenda, this laid-back lounge has a great jukebox and solid local support, so popular for gang meetings that it really is now a social club. There’s a membership fee of $10, but it’s worthwhile for anyone looking for a no-frills, feel-good regular watering hole that welcomes all sorts, from locals to older students and artists.
The Speakeasy, 100 E. Main St., 929-6881
Still a veritable Carrboro secret next to the Open Eye Cafe and behind Tyler’s Taproom, what the little speakeasy lacks in size it makes up for in atmosphere, with a few red velvet pool tables (at $8 an hour) and a fantastically cozy couch lounge. Don’t be fooled by the miniature bar; it boasts an impressive international beer selection. Keep away on game nights, unless you enjoy the projection TV’s large crowds.
W.B. Yeats, 306 W. Franklin St. Suite G, 960-8335
A better Irish pub than you’d imagine, this dark, wood-trimmed tavern will help ease the pain of anyone visiting from the Isles. Get a pint of Guinness, Murphy’s Irish Red or Bass, grab one of the posh wooden booths and pretend it’s the real old world thing. Good for a sort of pace change (and a reprieve from all things Lite).
Anotherthyme, 109 N. Gregson St, 682-5225
If you’re looking for quiet, drop in after 8 p.m. most nights. Durham’s best-kept bar secret, with a friendly regular bartender, plush hotel-esque booths, and soft, tinkling jazz on the speakers. Almost never too smoky, too loud, or too crowded.
The Green Room , 1108 Broad St., 286-2359
Cheap pool and free shuffleboard table. A jukebox rivaling most others in the city–includes a Curtis Mayfield double album, The Pixies, and Steely Dan live. Diverse crowd of grad students, blue-collars and older college kids. No liquor, relatively small draft selection, cheap bottles.
48 Hours, 2825 Roxboro St., 317-1600
Pool, shuffleboard, sports and karaoke. Further out than most Durham haunts, but you may find the different crowd — more after-work professionals, less Duke affiliates — more pleasing.
Joe & Jo’s Downtown, 417 W. Main St., 688-3322
More professional crowd, small and cozy, serves food. Mostly beer, but is increasing its liquor selection. Generally quiet and laid-back; excellent for a relaxed or intimate atmosphere, another top-rate jukebox.
Down Under Pub, 802 W. Main St., 682-0039
Pool, foosball, darts. Boasts the largest selection of beers in Durham, domestic, imports and microbrews–90 choices in all. Serves food from 11:30 a.m. until late evening. Crowd is generally local and after-workers, but also a regular spot for grad students.
Satisfaction’ s, 905 W. Main St., 682-7397
First and foremost a sports bar, Sat’s is a perfect setting for watching basketball. Wide variety of beer, laid back setting, good pizza. During the school year, Duke students pack in for away games and regularly on Thursday nights.
List compiled by Lincoln Hancock, Lauren Hooker, Brian Millikin, Heather Perkins and Ben Spiker.