Walking into William and Company, I look around and make a snap judgment. Sofas and upholstered chairs form distinct conversation areas along the wall. The rest of the bar gives off a modern minimalism aesthetic. I assume that when the place fills, it will be swarming with painfully cool hipsters pretending they're drinking in some converted New York City rowhouse.
I was wrong.
Though tastefully hip in form, William and Company is a cozy neighborhood bar in function. Most of the fur in the room is attached to pooches, not beardos. Instead of playwrights rolling their own cigarettes, there are toddlers rolling Cheerios in snack cups.
William and Company offers all of the standard cocktails, with a nice selection of quality liquors such as Woodford Reserve, plus a stable of signature drinks—like a pineapple jalapeño margarita, a coconut mojito and a cucumber martini—that run about $9. The options vary, because, as one bartender put it, "We make a bunch of fresh juices and change our drinks all the time."
If the basil gimlet is available, seize it. The bartender will tailor it to your palate, making it as sweet or dry as you prefer (the default leans toward the dry side, as it should). At the bar a woman next to me tells a newcomer pondering her order, "The gimlet is delicious!"
Beer is secondary, but not an afterthought. Although there are only three taps, one was a DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus porter (Can I get an amen!?). Don't fret. The taps are supplemented by a couple of dozen additional selections in bottles and cans.
Come thirsty, but you can bring an appetite too. I'm initially clueless, but after seeing three people order tamales and having a bar stool neighbor ask if I had tried them yet, I discover there is a coveted stash of tamales for sale. As a bartender explains, "a Mexican lady named Coco" makes them. They're excellent, but don't take my word for it. Instead, let the regular who comes in each week and buys 10 be your guide.
Perhaps inspired by the friendly and conversational bartenders, William and Company is an easy-going cocktail party where you can drop in and out of chats. The only tension during the evening comes from a chihuahua, who, from its owner's arms, tells a much larger breed on the floor below to watch his step. The larger breed looks up, pants, comes as close to a canine shrug as is possible and returns to his own pursuits.
Over a few hours I take part in or listen to conversations about such varied topics as beach driving, the NFL and Wade Boggs drinking 100 beers in a single day—and the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode the incident inspired. We do the math on the latter and the group does a collective headshake in admiration.
The bar opened about three months ago on Person Street next to PieBird, and a lot of the patrons are from the Oakwood neighborhood.
"Do you live near the place that just got leveled?" one gentleman asks another, although considering Raleigh's wave of development that might not narrow it down much.
I live near a different development site, but for this evening I feel as much a part of the neighborhood as the dogs, kids and couples, young and old, that surround me. I will move to the neighborhood often—a few hours at a time.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Get your gimlet on."