The Mecca Restaurant in downtown Raleigh hasn't changed much since it opened in 1930, but in its 71st year, the place hopes to become livelier at night. Mecca (13 E. Martin St., 832-5714, www.mecca-restaurant.com) built its reputation as a lunch spot for the political set, which flocked in for the golden fried chicken and down-home vegetables. On New Year's Eve, the diner launched late-night and bar hours, staying open until 11 p.m. during the week and until last call at 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (still closed Sundays). With the added revelry comes new appetizer specials like Rinky Dinks, bite-size pieces of sausage and ground beef doused with melted cheese over toasted rye bread points, and homemade Greek spanakopita.
Run by the Dombalis family for four generations, the Mecca has been a favorite among politicians and lawmakers since the New Deal era. It pays homage to Franklin Delano Roosevelt with a dusty photograph of the 32nd president hanging above the bar. Current owner Paul Dombalis said "he has no idea why" his grandfather, original owner Nick, placed the picture up there. "Papou said if that photo ever came down, he'd lock the doors." After Prohibition ended in 1933, FDR told the nation, "What America needs now is a drink." To celebrate our nation's subsequent long-standing drinking tradition, on Thursdays you can catch bartender Joe Yerry slinging his New Deal cocktail: a concoction of Dewar's scotch, lemonade and orange juice.
In the ritzier Glenwood South district (that's GloSo, to you hipsters), Mosaic Wine et Lounge (517 W. Jones St., 412-4260, www.mosaicwinelounge.com) heats up winter evenings with free wine tastings and light fare every Wednesday starting at 7:30 p.m. Yep, we said free. Owner Samad Hachby says "it's the best cheap date in town." He started the under-the-radar special about four years ago to satiate his own craving to learn about new wines. Mosaic consistently packs its floor on weekends, serving as an eclectic, hypnotic dancing spot and transforming a somewhat forgettable side street into a lively arabesque patio and lounge.
To continue his tradition of downtown transformation, Hachby is opening Babylon (309 N. Dawson St, www.babylonraleigh.com), which is set to open by March. Hachby converted a 100-year-old space into a restaurant lavishly decorated with Moroccan imports. The menu promises to be Mediterranean in focus, with Moroccan and Southern European influences. "The name Babylon symbolizes a sophisticated, crossover place," says Hachby. "And Moroccan food is a crossover cuisine with lots of influences—African, Berber, French, Jewish." He says the menu will offer local ingredients when possible, with freshly baked bread and house-made ice cream. With the ample patio space, he hopes to host a small farmers market, too.
To promote the Triangle's street food, Durham's Motorco Music Hall (723 Rigsbee Ave., 901-0875, www.motorcomusic.com) has begun pairing free or cheap music shows with mobile eats from KoKyu Korean BBQ truck (www.twitter.com/KoKyuBBQ) every Sunday. Pie Pushers (www.twitter.com/piepushers), a new trailer packed with hand-tossed pizzas, is set to rove the Triangle in March. Check out our Big Bite blog for details.