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Clockwork, a bar in Glenwood South, feels like a neighborhood watering hole

Cocktails and conversation at Clockwork in Raleigh 

Yeah baby, yeah! The psychedelic decor of Clockwork.

Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

Yeah baby, yeah! The psychedelic decor of Clockwork.

Over the course of a few hours on a recent weeknight, patrons at Clockwork, a bar in the Glenwood South neighborhood, included a man in a three-piece suit ordering champagne with his date, two strangers sitting six barstools apart who discussed showering with hockey players—and later in the evening, a blonde exclaiming in a Southern accent, "I didn't know toe cleavage was a bad thing."

At times Clockwork feels like a neighborhood watering hole. The bartenders seem to recognize two-thirds of the people who walk in. Strangers end up deep in conversations and showing one another cell phone photos. The number of people in the world at any given moment seeking relationship advice from strangers is astounding. The same routine happens with customers and the staff.

"She's got nice boobage," says a female bartender looking at a patron's phone.

Clockwork's crowd "is all over the map," said another bartender. "We get all kinds, except for young kids. We don't get a lot of them."

That is about the only type unaccounted for. A blonde woman enters and asks what sort of mojitos the bar serves. A variety of flavors is available; nonetheless she's a tad disappointed. She apparently hoped for a pineapple one. (We will save the question of just how many flavors a cocktail can have and still answer to its original name for another time. Suffice it to say the correct answer is a very small number.)

She is joined by a friend who requests the wine list. They sit at the bar and ask a gentleman next to them to "Take our picture with our heels in it." They hand him a phone, he kneels on the ground and takes a few shots, then follows up with a close up of their feet. Examining the photos is when they discover the presence of toe cleavage.

With walls of swirling reds and blacks, black-and-white stripes and hexagons, the décor strives for a '60s lounge pad vibe. Behind the bar, looking like Goldfinger victims or oversized Oscar cousins, stand two golden female figures, minus their heads, accompanied by a small row of child-size mannequin heads.

Like the crowd, the bar's music is more varied than a Tarantino movie soundtrack. The night began with squawky jazz horns, which were followed by lounge-electronica reminiscent of Thievery Corporation, which progressed to Daft Punk, which gave way to Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Somewhere about that time a DJ began playing. His selections were quirky—reggae, jazz renditions of Michael Jackson, '70s AM radio hits— but his segues were smooth as sandpaper. Drunken music nerds changing a CD at 3 a.m. while shouting "You've gotta hear this" have created smoother transitions.

Somehow it all makes sense while playing behind conversations with such comments as "She's got this weird thing in her neck; I call it a reverse Adam's apple" and "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a good hangover movie."

Food choices boast local ingredients. An assortment of pizzas look appetizing, and the meat loaf sandwich larded with bacon, onions and peppers is a rich counterbalance to an evening of cocktails.

Between drafts and bottles there are almost two dozen beers to choose from, although most are major labels such as Bud, Corona, PBR with an occasional Fat Tire, Allagash or Lonerider popping up on the list. The selection no doubt contributed—along with the lounge atmosphere—to cocktail drinkers outnumbering beer drinkers 3 to 1.

Long and narrow, Clockwork sounds jumping at only half full. There is a glass-paneled garage door that opens onto the street when the weather is nice, letting the space spill outside. You won't know what to expect if you let it beckon you inside, but an outgoing group of bartenders and an unpredictable mix of drinking companions will make you glad you entered.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Tick-tock back in time."

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