The rooftop patio of Solas—Raleigh's gleaming new restaurant and nightclub, whose three levels rise, quite literally, above their present company in the city's low-sitting nightlife hub of Glenwood South—is an orderly assembly: A row of white couches and chairs, covered by a matching canopy of umbrellas, flank a thick glass wall. A man sinks into his cushion, splaying the legs of his black pants open and tossing his head back to laugh, revealing the deep V-cut of his white linen shirt and the shiny chest just beneath.
Young women wear tight black dresses and slinky white things, leaning against the polished marble bar to order $10 chocolate martinis and mojitos that swap rum for grapefruit vodka. Couples and quartets crowd around a middle row of black tables, eating tiny burgers topped with blue cheese, cheddar cheese, shitake mushrooms and Vidalia onions. They place orders with waitresses in short cotton shorts and dark vests and assure the club's sartorial sentinels—holding walkie-talkies, talking into ear pieces, pacing the concrete floor with the authority of former Secret Service boys—that they're enjoying Solas' first night.
And then there's Jason. Standing between the bar and the square black tables, bumming cigarettes he lights himself, Jason wears blue chino shorts, leather sandals with marlins embroidered into the straps, and a cerulean T-shirt from a diner down in Topsail Beach. Black nylon croakies hold sunglasses around his neck, and he wears a wedding ring on his left hand. Standing beside the bar, a pretty woman in a thin beige dress, her dyed blond hair worn in a fashionable bob, asks Jason how much he pays for his haircuts. After he replies $15, she asks if that includes two C-cup breasts dangling in front of him, as she arches her back in exhibition. She smiles and says she's kidding, but it's too late. Like one might expect, he's flustered, laughing nervously.
Jason tells me he's a real estate agent, a hobby chef and a seafood salesman. After he invites me to smell the fish scales on his arm (I regret declining), he points at my bushy brown beard and the tiny sewn fish on his feet. He looks like he's fresh off the pier, and I look like I'm fresh out of a rock show: "Neither of us belong here," he says, smiling and affably grabbing my shoulder. "I like beer and cigarettes and smoke and sawdust and dirt. You probably won't see me in here again."
Jason is right. He—or, more exactly, his attire—does not belong at Solas. They're strictly against the club's dress code, posted multiple times at the entrance with black ink printed on laminated white paper: "Upscale dress attire required. ... Solas will not admit any sports or jersey wear, baggy jeans (dress jeans accepted), T-shirts, tank tops, hats/ baseball caps (male or female), sneakers, flip flops, chains and pendants, or shorts." Jason jokes that he owns the place and admits he doesn't. Instead, he just rattles off the names of most of the management. Meanwhile, in a two-hour span on opening night, at least two men are turned away for their open toes. One politely walks away. The other makes the obvious observations: It's a Monday. In Raleigh. He has money. Don't they want it?
Perhaps you'd expect the gentleman's plight to evoke some level of empathy—maybe from club management, the policeman standing silently behind the Solas security guard who calls himself Big D ("For de-fense?" I wonder), or the patrons sipping upstairs. After all, tonight's crowd is light. What's one dude in sandals and faded but fitted jeans going to hurt?
Apparently, everything. Inside, nearly a dozen people—using words like hip, trendy, upscale, classy, posh and elite—tell me that Raleigh needs a place like this. To paraphrase one patron, Raleigh right now is about progress, and this is a step up the social ladder. Two blocks away, there's a seven-story stack of condos that—even in an economic downturn and with units priced between $200,000 and $500,000—is almost sold out. A mile away, the Raleigh Convention Center—with its shimmer wall and grand entrance—is a month away from an opening extravaganza. So, in a way, the patrons are correct to be proud of their city's upswing and Solas, a club whose attention to detail shows in the warm red, white and black color design of the second floor, and the way the glowing blue neon of the exterior sign splashes across the stone walls. The staff is talkative and mostly attentive, and the dishes are both thoughtfully designed and elegantly presented. It is, as intended, the most cosmopolitan club in the Triangle, bar none.
But there's always a silver-lined underbelly: Two female real estate agents and a developer—self-described Sullivan's Steakhouse regulars who have long been looking for something new—agree that, above all, the sophistication and upscale atmosphere Solas offers make it different. With its dress code, Solas "will be able to separate themselves from the others," one tells me. Another of the agents, "celebrating life and being happy" and sipping champagne from a spotless flute, already has meetings scheduled here with clients for the next two nights. She says she'll be able to bring them here without worrying about a bunch of "girls with their daddy's credit cards, wearing sequins."
After they've left, Jason and I are sitting in the corner they'd called home for the last five hours. We're talking to a sushi chef, an entrepreneur explaining hydrogen engines, and two tourists from Maryland in Raleigh to see Jack Johnson, for whom one of their three children is named, at Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek. Jason is drinking a bottled domestic and still wearing those damned fish on his feet. Good for him. Good for Raleigh.
Solas is located at 419 Glenwood Ave. Visit solasraleigh.com for more information.