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Raleigh on the rocks 

A drinking man's tour of Raleigh


Me: "No per diem? No budget?"
My editor: "I'll give you an extra 50 dollars."
Me: "Man, I can go that in an hour."
Editor: "You wanna do it?"
Me: "OK," I sigh. "I'll do it."

Twenty bars in five days. The whole concept makes my head hurt.

8 p.m. We want to go to Enoteca Vin, which everyone says is especially groovy, but don't count on the fact that it's closed on Mondays. So while we're in the Glenwood South row, we hit The Rockford, one of the few there I frequent--tidy upstairs bistro, beautiful copper bar. Jon pours a mean gin and tonic. Michael DeMelio--a legend--founded the Rockford and other Raleigh stalwarts--the old Five-O (his splendid collegiate dance club) and the Jackpot, a properly sepulchral liquor dungeon.

"So you get attacked and you're the one trespassed?" says Marlys. "That makes absolutely no sense."

"It's good--irony, timing. The change'll do me good."

* * *

Dumped back at the house, three to go; my heart isn't in it. I doze on the couch. Somebody's in the house! Cedarose! We hit the Jackpot around 11. Your basic alternarocker liquor lounge. Crowded, noisy, loud, loud music, folks lined up at the bar. Great--but like a shark, gotta keep moving. We slam a PBR and split.

Abe's working The Capital Room, lunch joint almost to a sports bar catering to night crawlers. It's empty, Monday and all. We slug a PBR so we can say we did, and another at Slim's, a pioneer downtown liquor club/music venue, part of the Chris Bender universe--Five Star and the now sadly defunct Lizzy's. Loud metally rawk on the stereo, pool tables upstairs.

We wander over to White Collar Crime, newish club: nice, nice place--airy, well-made bar and tall, tall windows looking out over the patio seating. I meet Tor and Carolyn. We chat about the ins and outs of starting a new club in Raleigh.

"We didn't want a sign at all."

The city finally made them put one up: a big, blue fingerprint--that's it.


12:03 p.m. Mitch's Tavern, wonderfully cluttered, wood-paneled Hillsborough Street college joint featured in Bull Durham--kitchen and full bar service. Lisa pulls me a Guinness.

"Fuck bars. I drink at my neighbor Jolly's now," I say to Jen.

"You can crawl home."

* * *

"OK, this is for the raging alcoholic who misses meals: Ensure, your choice of flavor. I suggest Swiss Chocolate ..."


" ... plus Beamish Stout, Kahlua, Amaretto with a floater of Vodka on top, over chipped ice in a great big ..."

" ... like at a gas station."

"A Big Gulp."

2 p.m. We hit the Bell Tower Mart for ingredients, substituting Yoo-Hoo for Ensure. Grubby, dear, dirty little Hillsborough Street. A pathetic, faded little shadow.

"Once we throw the Bailey's and the Vodka on top of it ..."

" ... it's chocolate, it's chocolate."

"Right. Just to check the viability of the concept, to see if you can actually drink the shit."

"This is like a beige Russian."

When I first drank the Ensure-by-Proxy thing, it seemed like a pretty good idea, but when I got a little deeper--gritty bits of Yoo-Hoo and undertones of anise or something. Vile.

* * *

4:49 p.m. We're washing the taste out of our mouths in this wonderful parking lot of Raleigh's cardboard cut-out Rodeo Drive, Cameron Village, at The Village Draft House. The Incontinent, as it is now called, makes Cecile, our waitress, "squeamish." I have a Rogue "Charlie" Ale, almost an India Pale, but dark--massive bitterness, a firm malt backbone.

"Look! That Suburban!"

It's my son. "I invented the London Bombing: jiggers of Bombay and Red Bull, cranberry. Pack ice into a highball glass with a coating of crushed Pop Rocks on the rim."

"Where you make this?"

"At Kings."

Of all the assets associated with having a son, having him work the door at one of the premier music venues in the area is one of 'em.

* * *

East Village doesn't have a London Bombing, but it does have Midori Sours, Chocolate Covered Cherries, Apple Martinis, Fuzzy Navels, Buttery Nipples, June Bugs, Blue Crush, Kamikazes, Bass, Guinness, Stella, Purple Haze, a Turmer Pils, Widmer Hefe, Blue Moon, Jack Rabbit Porter and the crap beers. Jager bombs are the special. That is nuts. I settle on Stella Artois. East Village is technically a college bar, one that does a non-collegiate trade afternoons.

"Come, buy my beer and then go off somewhere and die. There'll be other fools to follow," says another refugee. "It's Lord of the Flies. If you're different, you're on the lowest strata and everyone else is so solidarity, they jump in on ya."

Overheard: "Pop, pop, right in the head with a nail gun, throw him in the goddam void. How much lime you reckon it'd take? 150 pounds?"

* * *

12:47 a.m. "Cand-rilly dell. Vuh' vee lef Sharlz 'n Nannuz mmm, mime [strangling noise] drashed. Mmm. Zee yuh. [trickling noise, giggling]. I go duh Kings ... [tape unintelligible].


9:15 a.m. Eight bars and I am already sick of this shit. I'm at Ashley's house. He's broken out Kahlua and soy.

"You drink that fucking thing, you won't be able to drink beer. We are doomed," I moan.


"Only to vomit in their bathroom."

At the Flying Saucer, terrazzo floor, saucers covering the walls, coffered ceiling--one big crash. What I really want is a spring pistol and to start shooting plates.

I get a Flying Dog Doggy Style. Ashley waits.

"Sure they got the order?"

"Maybe he thought I said Hell no.' But I don't think ull right' sounds like hell no.'"

"Failure of service. They're probably smoking crack. It's 11:22. Let's get the fuck out of here."

* * *

We bolt into Aries. Kinda West Coast, kinda goth, full of attractive young people mostly in black. Crushing rock.

"What's the special?"

"Jack and Coke."

I drink a cocktail I had grown to loathe years ago.

* * *

At The Berkeley Cafe, it's the weekly "Josh and Turner Blues Jam." In the sepulchral, smoky gloom, I pour down Nukes, transfixed by this phenomenal hip-hop act on stage, a capella, no beats, no spinnin', just four kids smokin' the place.

1:54 a.m. "Oh shit, oh shit--RUN. Five Star," I yell, kicking the Sears into high. We make it with 3 minutes to spare.


I drag in at 8:30 a.m. I've lost my keys, my glasses and bitten my tongue. If someone approached me with an open flame, I'd probably just go up.

12:10 p.m., up in his aerie, Bobby hands me a Vicodin and a rum and Pepsi.

After a three-hour warm-up at East Village, I retrieve my lost possessions from the late-night, then downhill.

6:17 p.m. The Office Tavern, home of mullet haircuts and cheap, American beer. In a town full of cookie-cutter, Disneyland, bullshit bars, the OT is one of the last legitimate places in this whole, rotten city.

"Why do you paint your nails purple?"

"Cause I can."

"This place is all mullets and NASCAR, arguably one of the most redneck bars in the city--and they have room for a freak like you?"

"Right! Nobody has any problem with it."

"Pool tables ..."

"A great juke box ..."

"... and a cardboard Dale Jr. over there. And the Grateful Dead."

"So you can be weird ... "

"And it's cool."

"And no draft?"

"Bottles and cans. No tabs, no issues, no attitudes and a dollar seventy-five for PBRs. No credit, no ice."

"No ICE?"

"No ice," says Jen.

"... a REAL dive bar."

"Unlike the Dive Bar up Glenwood ...."

"Right ..."

" ... that displaced a real, true shit-hole of a bar--Mary Lou's."

8:07 p.m. Up past the plasticized wonderland of Glenwood South, the Golgatha of BarWorld: Sullivan's, Hibernian, the Dive Bar, Red Room. All about murder, I reason--bleached blond ninnies and their useless boyfriends. All these humans and their snortin', drinkin', their fuckin', and damn, it's so unconscious. They're not even human, more like cans of Spam with superior hair products. You don't wanna know them and they don't wanna know you. They don't wanna know each other--don't wanna know themselves.

8:20 p.m. I roll up to the compound. Dramatis personae: Spoon Girl, Jolly and Mindy.

Ninety-nine cents for 24 ounces of Blue Ribbon--don't ever need to leave the porch.

"We stole Ronald McDonald from Cameron Village. Three days later, my buddy and I left the Five-O around four in the morning and rode our skateboards with Ronald McDonald and hung him at the N.C. State brickyard. The newspaper said Hamburgler had done it."

"It's decided, we're going to Yancy's."

"I don't want to go," says Mindy.

"Too bad. Besides, we're just gonna drink one beer." (See "Nobody does it like Yancy," below.)

* * *

In a car with three strangers. "So we're going to the Foxy Lady, Juicy, right? Juicy and Mika and Kaz (I think) ... "

"Going to pierce the corporate veil--Juicy wants to dance at the Foxy."

In car, general laughter, woman's voice. "I aim to keep it like it is, you my, you my friend; we need to keep it like that."

"I'll be your manager."

"Well, we can work with manager material. Good idea."

The Foxy Lady. "I'm working, but the rules have changed a little bit. I dunno what I'm doing now. As long as everyone has a good time, right?"


"It's just work."

"That's the way I'm gonna look at it."

Recorder put away upon orders from management. Mika and I sit inside and watch bored chicks wiggle. Juicy negotiates.

Back in car.

P: "These are debilitated redneck morons."

M: "We know, Peter."

P: "Show 'em anything they haven't seen before, they will love you ..."

J: "I love that outfit."

M: "One day a week, it'd be fine."

P: "But these rednecks, you know, they raised they whole damn life, you know, be all about that shit, you know, what they wanna do is go down to the bar and look at the forbidden shit."

* * *

We return to Yancy's and take ourselves upstairs to Club Kiroco for some smoove, live R&B. Cory, the owner--nice guy. We finish the evening out with some slow dancing and ritual booty spankin'.

"You wanna hit that shit?" dude asks. Juicy's bent over a table.

"I've always been an ass man."


Friday morning, I'm feeling pretty good. Sixteen bars in four days. What seemed insurmountable a short day ago now was within my grasp. Chop the motors and float on in. Nobody's gotten hurt, nobody's gotten arrested.

The point here is that if you blow a .09 when you hit the first bar, that's a liability out the ass. That was a rough moment; I honestly thought I couldn't do it, that I was not physically capable. But when I rolled into Kiroco I realized I'd done all four without even trying--like a Zen Master. You're not trying to do anything; it's just happening.

* * *

The editor: "You sure 20 is enough?"

"You trying to kill me?"

* * *

8:31 p.m. ShabaShabu is this ultra-lounge, 'bout as high end as they get, outdoor seating in a picturesque parking lot almost outside the Beltline. Wall-sized video images--can't look at anything else--some crackwhore. Oops, Pamela Anderson. Pretty good selection. Kinda thin on the high-end bourbons and taps. We order Kirin--tastes like Milwaukee's Best.

I've got this thing about restaurants that play the music too loud. This is one of those places. There's this kid spinnin'. Kinda weird, trying to eat at 120 beats a minute.

"Synchronized eating," says Eric.

"The next place is definitely outside the Beltline."

"Is it inside the outer Beltline?"

"Inside the outer Beltline."

"That's like a different dimension."

* * *

The Angus Barn has this mind-blowing wine cellar. Cellar master Jim McGovern gives us the tour.

"We usually have 26,000-27,000 bottles in inventory, 1,200 selections of wine and about $1.8 million worth of wine. Wine Spectator called it one of the greatest wine lists in the world. Great verticals, wonderful cabs, Bordeauxs. Not only do you have to represent every major wine growing area, but you have to have enough depth and breadth in your wine selection, as well."

Upstairs, it's woody, it's dark, it's the Wild Turkey Lounge. You just walk right in here, whoever you are, however you're dressed, ball caps, whatever. You'll be very well treated.

"What's your name, hon?"


"What's a Turkey?"

"Five and a quarter."

Five and a quarter for a Turkey is a very reasonable price.

* * *

Horniblow's Tavern is in this inhospitable, barbed-wire industrial area where you dispose of the corpses. I mean, they've got a five-bay truck dock and this concrete block and metal building--not like anyplace you'd get a beer; like a furniture factory or something. You really have to know where you're going or you're not going to find this place. Look for the dumpster.

Inside it's like a YMCA full of good looking 20-something designer types--fake paneling and crappy motel-style wall treatments. Baby shit green, banana puddin' yellow. Crazy good beer. Horniblow's Tavern Ale is a complicated beer. Lotta subtones. You can't really tell initially if it's sweet or what it is, and then the hops start building in the back of your throat. A good, balanced ale.

* * *

I don't care where I go at this point.

Fenway's, says Joe.

Fine. I've never heard of this place.

We've just passed the Raleigh city limits--outside the Beltline but not that way.

We're in Garner, now, man. This is all wrong.

Fenway Sports Bar and Grill is your basic parking lot patio thing--jumpin'. White people, black people, Hispanics. Last bar and I'm with two one-eyed men. Fenway's is all Chicago--big TVs and biceps. What my old redneck buddies called a drinkin' and fightin' club, only no gravel lot. Your average Klan man would wanna come in here with a shotgun because of how well everybody's getting along. This is wigger culture, only redneck wiggers.

Woman grabs us: "Aw yeah, aw yeah," she hollers.

I'm tired. All drugs are boring and all bars are ultimately boring.

But this is a not-boring, boring bar. Big goddam gin and tonic. The bar stools are about four inches too low, like you're in kindergarten. You can't put your elbows on the bar.

Subliminal inadequacy, says Eric.

I've been a little harsh on this place I'm never going to come to again, but I love it. When worlds collide. Gin and the Nuclear wings and, finally, a Jager-Bomb--the last drink of this tour. I think I'm gonna throw up.

Nobody does it like Yancy

click to enlarge Yancy, which is all anyone ever calls him - PHOTO BY ERIC SCHNEIDER

Yancy is the original OG: mid-60s, big man, wears hats, beat-up Cadillac. This blues bar downtown, Yancy's Juke Joint, is almost a soul version of the Office Tavern. Most democratic place I've been; anybody can come in the place. Like Beale Street should be, used to be. Utterly legitimate: Ice-cold beer, a bitchin' blues band--white kids--mixed clientele, killer, killer jukebox, crappy art--they've got everything.

Feature drink is a Triple XXX: tequila, rum, cherry brandy, orange juice, 151 rum and a splash of Sprite. The liquor line-up: Courvoisier, Hennessy, Crown Royal, then the white liquors. I'll bet they sell a lot of Courvoisier.

"Hennessy is actually the preferred brandy over Courvoisier," says Meena--the most captivating woman I've seen this whole mission, kinda gal that makes you want to buy a liquor drink from her.

"What's the most important lesson you've learned in the bar business?" I ask Yancy.

"How to be yourself and don't be afraid to entertain people. You have to find out what their niche is. Once you find out what their niche is, you'll enjoy yourself. And the people enjoy themselves. That's a niche, there's always a niche. Niche is, number one, your customers. I call it the Juke Joint, 'cause it reminds me of Cheers--when you walk in, everybody knows your name. Everybody knows somebody. You can say anything to anybody. It's just like one big family."

"Corporate has come about ... people really have driven the little man out of business. Can't even afford to get in this stuff--the rent, the taxes, the laws. The everyday man can't do it anymore. Family-owned business--your family got to have a hundred, two hundred thousand dollars just to keep up. It just blows out. What's the difference between this and the farmer? I work 15, 17 hours a day."

"Doin' what?"

"Everything, every day."

"What do you think the city's attitude toward the small businessman is?"

"Lemme give you a perfect example. My customers can't come down. They're still givin' out tickets at 10, 11, 2 o'clock in the mornin' cross the street. Bus stops runnin' at 10 o'clock. What sense's that make? I've asked, I've pleaded, Why? And the answer always is, We'll take care of it.

"How was your trip to Raleigh?' Well, it was OK, 'cept we got the $20 ticket.' Last two weeks, they've stopped four or five cars right in front of my door and I don't know why."

"It looks pretty bad for business, don't it?"

"It's very bad for business ..."

"You got blue lights in front of your place ..."

"Right, blue lights, and police inspectin' the people. They just stop 'em. I don't know why."

"Six nights a week live entertainment and they don't like it, do they?"

"Blues, jazz, six nights a week. Nobody does it but me. And I get respectable people down here. An' people tell me, they say, Yancy, this place was in Houston or Memphis or New Orleans, the place would be packed.' But not with the blue lights like this all the time. Where are these people gonna go?"

A selection of Raleigh bars

Enoteca Vin, 410 Glenwood Ave., 834-3076
The Rockford, 320 1/2 Glenwood Ave., 821-9020
Jackpot, 1303 Hillsborough St., 821-8422
Downtown Capital Room, 112 Fayetteville St., 833-1722
Slim's, 227 S. Wilmington St., 833-6557
White Collar Crime, 319 W. Davie St., 828-0055
Mitch's Tavern, 2426 Hillsborough St., 821-7771
Village Draft House, 428 Daniels St., 833-1373
East Village, 1 Dixie Trail, 821-9985
Kings, 424 S. McDowell St., 630-9382
Flying Saucer, 328 W. Morgan St., 821-7468
Aries, 400 W. Morgan St., 449-0433
Berkeley Café, 217 W. Martin St., 821-0777
Five Star, 511 W. Hargett St., 833-3311
Office Tavern, 710 W. Johnson St., 833-5165
Yancy's Juke Joint, 108 E. Hargett St., 833-7049
The Foxy Lady, 1817 Capital Blvd., 833-5886
Club Kiroco, 108 1/2 E. Hargett St., 833-5599
ShabaShabu, 3080 Wake Forest Road, 501-7755
Angus Barn, 9401 Glenwood Ave., 787-3505
Horniblow's Tavern, 1249-A Wicker Drive, second floor, 834-0045
Fenway Sports Bar and Grill, 1490 Garner Station Blvd., Garner, 661-0888

More by Peter Eichenberger


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