We asked some of our writers to consider their favorite spots for a top-ten list. Above ground or below, new or old, humble or extravagant, the resulting assortment was, we felt, satisfactorily surprising.
THE CAVE: Descend down a set of stairs on the west end of Chapel Hill's Franklin Street and find yourself in a small, dark, cozy Cave. The décor lives up to the bar's name, with bumpy, protruding walls and ceilings that have been decorated by Sharpie-wielding patrons. It's a finery-free dive where no-bullshit bartenders sling cheap drinks. Your cellphone might not work at this depth, but a big stock of booze and a strong slate of shows certainly do. (452 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill)
C. GRACE: In a Raleigh full of modern-day speakeasies, C. Grace woos with ease. The understated spot, tucked off the generally not subtle Glenwood South, is at once dark, mysterious, and inviting, a balance of dispositions judiciously achieved. The staff is warm and passionate, the cocktails classic and seasonal. (Try the Champagne-infused Aperol Spritz.) Vintage chaise longues, a stage for nightly live jazz, and a winding floor plan lend C. Grace an authentic air of romance. While away the hours here, or head upstairs to the Empress Room for some similarly atmospheric imbibing. (407 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh)
CRAFTY BEER SHOP: Hidden away in North Raleigh's Lafayette Village (the one with the little Eiffel Tower), Crafty Beer Shop offers draft choices that rotate often. Still, they always include a mix of North Carolina beers and more far-flung representatives, like Ommegang's Game of Thrones Take the Black Stout. Thanks to the open space of its retail end, the room is comfy, not cramped, and the small scale sparks conversation. One recent visit featured enthusiastic recollections of Hasil Adkins and The Cramps; another afternoon involved petting puppies while talking Sith Lords and Jedi. Crafty has hundreds of bottles and cans for creating your own six-pack, too—when you're done talking near the Tower. (8450 Honeycutt Road, Raleigh)
CRITERION: Located in the Bull City's bull's-eye, Criterion, formerly Whiskey, is a no-holds-barred kind of bar. It's not as debauched as its adult movie theater namesake, but between any one of the week's rye specials, cheap Foothills deals, or the smokiest Dark and Stormy in the Triangle, owners Ben Fletcher and Rhys Botica have engineered an environment that pulls the taboo from Dirty Durham. You'll find revelry with the regulars outside on the sidewalk seating, but if you're feeling frolicsome after a few Victory double-deuces, crash one of the wooden booths and join some strangers' Tinder date. (347 W. Main St., Durham)
DAIN'S PLACE: During a recent trip to Dain's, surrounding conversation included a farmer talking about breaking chickens' necks and a stylish couple speaking French. Such is the charm of Dain's, arguably Durham's sturdiest and most welcoming neighborhood bar. The space is meager—fifteen belly-up barstools, five hard booths, a couple of high tables in a room the size of a studio apartment. But the unpretentious appeal is vast, the bar food above average (with lots of tater tots), and the beer list solid. What more do you really need? (754 9th St., Durham)
THE PLAYERS' RETREAT: In the Players' Retreat—the venerable PR—we trust. Like your trusty mitt that you've oiled so faithfully over the years, the PR gets better with age. Every community needs a gathering place. In West Raleigh, that's the PR. It's good for everything from beer to single-malt Scotch, burgers to steaks, politics to sports. (Go, Wolfpack!) It's built up so much trust that when you come in, regular or newbie, you'll be with friends. (105 Oberlin Road, Raleigh)
SKYE TOWER: The Holiday Inn's beige rotunda, like an old-school film canister, might be the first "modern" fixture of the downtown Raleigh skyline. Ever been inside? The city's crow's nest, the Skye Tower Bar & Restaurant, sits atop the twentieth floor. The freshly redesigned lounge is dotted with flat-screen TVs and offers decent cocktails, craft beer, and inoffensive Southern cuisine. The finest amenity, of course, is the stunning panoramic view of the city, which sparkles beneath the floor-to-ceiling windows. (320 Hillsborough St., Raleigh)
THE SPOTTED DOG: What if the bar that feels most like home to you is more of a restaurant? At Carrboro's Spotted Dog, you can drink wine, local craft beer, decent but excessively ornate house cocktails, and respectable classics. And you can follow it all with tasty vegan-friendly bar food in an upbeat, friendly atmosphere. That will do. (111 E. Main St., Carrboro) STATE OF BEER: The constantly cycling tap list at State of Beer—the Triangle bottle shop with the best actual bar—emphasizes, above all, range. Local, national, or international; seasonal or evergreen; low alcohol content or percentages that power into double digits; rather ordinary lagers and ales or extraordinary barleywines and stouts: the state of beer, the place asserts, is infinite so long as you're willing to explore. Between flipping records on the turntable, the bartenders are happy to guide. Have a few of those upper-limit ABV brews, and soon you'll stare at the crowler machine, which affixes metal lids to enormous take-home cans of whatever's on draft, like it's the latest world wonder. (401-A Hillsborough St., Raleigh)
SURF CLUB: Steps away from the more family-oriented scene at the corner of Geer and Rigsbee, Durham's Surf Club is the more grown-up offering. Bocce courts, shuffleboard, a pool table, and ample seating inside and out provide many options, even when the place is packed on a warm day. Decent prices and specials, along with a solid soundtrack, make this a great spot for starting, ending, or spending an entire evening. (703 Rigsbee Ave., Durham)
Compiled by: Grayson Haver Currin, Tina Haver Currin, Curt Fields, Bob Geary, Brian Howe, David Hudnall, Allison Hussey, Jane Porter, Eric Tullis, and Chris Williams
This article appeared in print with the headline "Our Well"