Alley Twenty Six
320 East Chapel Hill Street, Durham, 984-439-2278, alleytwentysix.com
This summer, Alley Twenty Six—which is located directly below the INDY’s HQ and thus dangerous to my liver—went in heavy on the tiki trend, which is all well and good, but I’m more of a traditionalist, and herein Alley excels with an ace whiskey selection and refined, sharp takes on the classics. But get that daiquiri if you want. It’s probably great.
105 South Mangum Street, Durham, 919-973-3000, barvirgile.com
Bar Virgile also does the classics well, as well as a coterie of inventive craft 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.
320 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, 919-969-1125, thecrunkleton.com
The bar is dark and packed with grad students and professors. The bartenders wear bowties. It feels wrong that you’re not allowed to light up a cigar in the place. But what really sets The Crunkleton apart are the five hundred bottles of liquor 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, 919-956-6760, countinghousenc.com
On the bottom floor of the 21c Museum Hotel, the bar’s menu is heavy on Kentucky bourbons and rye whiskeys but also features a variety of locally crafted spirits.
213 Fayetteville Street, Raleigh, 919-896-6016, foundationnc.com
Small and dimly lit, this underground bar on Raleigh’s main drag gets crowded on weekend nights but is the perfect spot for an after-work drink. Focusing on local and American spirits (they carry nothing that comes from outside the U.S.), Foundation crafts smart, inventive, sometimes surprising cocktails using only top-quality ingredients.
Fox Liquor Bar
237 South Wilmington Street, Raleigh, 919-322-0128, ac-restaurants.com/fox
Ashley Christensen’s foray into booze has every bit of the commitment to excellence as her restaurants. Spacious and comfortable, this underground spot offers a book full of creative cocktails and comfy couches where you can chat with friends.
The Green Light
108 East Hargett Street, Raleigh, 919-833-4949, architectbar.com/the-green-light
The idea of a regular bar having a tiny speakeasy that’s supposed to be some kind of secret that everyone knows about is admittedly pretentious. But once you’re in, The Green Light really is a cut above, with great drinks and a chill, throwback vibe.
The Oak, Kitchen & Bourbon Bar
4035 Lake Boone Trail, Raleigh, 919-787-9100, jmrkitchens.com/oak
The Oak, near NCMA, 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 excellent entrées.
The Roof @ The Durham Hotel
315 East Chapel Hill Street, Durham, 919-768-8830, thedurham.com/roof
The cocktails are good, if pricey. The crowd is fine, if sometimes overwhelming. The views of downtown Durham, especially on a crisp autumn evening, are spectacular.
Watts & Ward
200 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 919-896-8016, wattsandward.com
The newest entrant in the highbrow cocktail club, Watts & Ward is slick and stylish, with plush brown leather couches and dark wood galore. The drinks are solid, and the service is excellent.