Raleigh cocktail bar The Blind BARbour
wants to be the place where everyone—or at least the bartender—knows your name.
It's the passion project of Joey Barbour and Michelle Palacios. Barbour says the place draws inspiration from the speakeasies and watering holes of old. The name, which Barbour credits Palacios's brother for suggesting, stems in part from the Prohibition-era practice of buying a ticket at some discreet location to “see the blind pig” or “see the blind tiger” and then exchanging the ticket for a drink. (It's also a play on the name Barbour, of course.)
“I want it to be very homey,” Barbour says. “I want to be a place where you know the people working here and they know you. We're not going for some crazy night clubby feel. We just want to be an intimate place with really good drinks. And we're trying to make drinks with really good ingredients that not a lot of other places are doing.”
They've had a trial run with a couple of evenings for friends and family. Now, they're opening to the general public Friday (Feb. 12) with a soft opening. They plan to have a “grand opening” in another week or two, after they've worked out any initial kinks. Alongside a bar's standard libations (with an expanding emphasis on bourbons and gins), expect to find an assortment of specialty cocktails ($10–$13) plus a small mix of beers ($3–$7) that include craft and mainstream choices.
Among the cocktails, I can vouch for the City of smOAK, a well-balanced combination of mezcal, cilantro, habanero, pineapple, and lime that delivers heat while being simultaneously refreshing. The B.O.B. (bourbon over bourbon) is enticing as well, mixing Evan Williams single barrel with overproof bourbon, sugar, bitters, and flamed orange peel. They also hope to eventually offer bourbon flights.
Barbour, 28, has been in the service industry since high school, starting out in restaurants before becoming a barback about nine years ago. “I just like hosting people, showing people a good time. A bar is a really good place to do that,” Barbour says. “Plus, I pretty much grew up in bars. I know that sounds funny, but my dad has been involved with a bunch of bars in Raleigh since the early nineties."
When they signed the lease on the space a year ago, it “was nothing more than a shell,” Barbour says. So they went to work. He ripped the drop ceiling and floor tiles out. He built cabinets and other necessities. Barbour's father and a couple of friends helped along the way. There were days when it seemed overwhelming. One such moment was when Barbour walked in, looked around, and realized they had invested their life savings into a room that at the time was empty except for the trench and mounds of dirt created by a plumber running pipes to the bar.
“I stood there and thought 'What have I done?'” he says. “But it's all done, and we're really excited.”
Just as Barbour does when talking about what a good bar can be, Palacios lights up explaining how they acquired the lamps and various design elements. Very much a DYI project in some respects, they didn't simply sit and leaf through a supply catalog, ticking off boxes for what they wanted. They scoured auction houses, Craigslist, and other sources, rambling down the roads of North Carolina to fetch a set of lights here, possible tables there. Palacios is a 2006 transplant from San Diego, so for her the scrounging adventures were a fun way to learn more about the state.
The result is a place that can comfortably handle about twenty-five people and achieves the classy throwback vibe the couple seeks. They did all of this while maintaining their “day jobs”—Barbour has worked at Cornerstone Tavern for the past three years, while Palacios is a grad student at UNC studying microbiology–and
planning a September wedding. “It's been an interesting engagement period,” she says.
You too can help build the bar, in a manner of speaking. If there's a particular liquor out there that you love, let Barbour or Palacios know.
“I don't want to just put liquor up on the shelf and say 'Here's your choices, go for it.' I want to get a feel for what people want so that John down the road can come in and know we have his Glenlivet or Glenfiddich," Barbour says. "I want people to know that their drink is here."
The Blind BARbour, 3055 Medlin Drive, Raleigh. www.blindbarbour.com Hours: 4 p.m. - midnight, Wednesday – Sunday