Raleigh is a sleepy city—full of charming coffee shops and Southern comfort food bites. Bustling nightlife and Raleigh don’t exactly sound like they belong together, but nestled in local neighborhoods and clustered around downtown, these cocktail bars in Raleigh come alive when the sun goes down.
The best cocktail bars in Raleigh range from a vibrant mezcaleria to a whimsical dessert bar with craft cocktails perfect for a girls’ night out. There’s a neighborhood bar with an imaginative menu and a casual outdoor patio with skyline views.
Unfortunately, as I was only in Raleigh for a few days, I didn’t get a chance to visit all of these bars myself (I personally made it to Bittersweet, Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing, and Dram & Draught).
The bars in Raleigh I didn’t get to visit come recommended by local friends, or have unique appeal and exceptional reviews from critics and customers alike (4.5 stars or over, please). Many were on my list to visit, and I’m still hoping to get back next time!
213 Fayetteville St Ste 010, Raleigh, NC 27601
Open 4 pm to 2 am daily on Fayetteville Street, FOUNDATION is one of Raleigh’s most reliable late-night haunts. The wood-clad bar’s low, exposed beams make the space feel like a gastronomic secret reserved only for those who know, which, considering the volume of reviews FOUNDATION has compared to other popular cocktail bars in Raleigh, it just might be.
Elegantly garnished cocktails are served alongside menus from rotating pop-up kitchens that visit the space.
FOUNDATION is known for having one of the best Old Fashioned cocktails in Raleigh, as the bar boasts an extensive bourbon and whiskey menu that’s just as worthwhile straight as it is stirred.
3055 Medlin Dr, Raleigh, NC 27607
Don’t let this bar’s nondescript, strip mall locale dissuade you from going—locals describe the Blind Barbour as one of the best hidden gems in Raleigh.
The down-to-earth, speakeasy-esque bar serves a menu of specialty cocktails that reviews have compared to art, such as the Nectar of Summer, made of Lunazul Tequila Blanco, mango, guava, elderflower, lime, Peychaud’s bitters, and grapefruit bitters. The bar puts its own spin on a Brazilian Caipirinha with a drink aptly titled the Kai-purr-REEN-yah, consisting of cachaca, kumquat, ginger, and lime.
If you’re a whiskey connoisseur, dive into the Blind Barbour’s lengthy list of Japanese whisky.
The Blind Barbour appears to be walk-in only, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue. Customers have expressed that because the Blind Barbour remains an under-the-radar favorite, it’s hardly crowded and easy to visit.
Fox Liquor Bar
237 South Wilmington Street Entrance on, E Martin St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Fox Liquor Bar’s basement taproom is quintessentially Raleigh. It’s down-to-earth, cozy, and so loved by locals that the post-pandemic reopening was considered newsworthy by local press.
Located under Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, one of the best Southern restaurants in Raleigh, Fox Liquor Bar’s cocktail menu feels lighthearted and fun. Rum, gin, and mezcal make frequent menu appearances paired with tropical flavors like mango, pineapple shrub, agave, and lemongrass syrup.
For alcohol-free guests, Fox Liquor Bar has four mocktails available crafted out of similar ingredients to the cocktail menu. Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits make an appearance in lieu of traditional liquor.
Fox Liquor Bar is a great cocktail bar in Raleigh if you’re also in need of a bite. The bar features large bites consisting of Southern-feeling plates like a deviled egg salad toast with tobacco onions, pickles, and a jammy egg; a maple-glazed chicken and waffle sandwich with bacon, and a fried bologna sandwich; alongside small plates meant to be shared of elevated bar favorites.
If you’ve ever wanted to try the mythical Carolina Reaper pepper, Fox Bar may be one of your best options in North Carolina. The bar offers a Green Reaper salad topped with Carolina Reaper ranch and Carolina Reaper fries with buttermilk.
Fox Liquor Bar does not accept reservations.
16 E Martin St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Bittersweet is hands-down one of my favorite cocktail bars in Raleigh. The conveniently-located dessert bar in downtown Raleigh is known for their robust menu of coffee cocktails (Bittersweet will fulfill all your espresso martini needs, and then some), along with playful cocktails inspired by familiar candies and desserts.
Coffee cocktails remain constant, while Bittersweet’s signature non-coffee cocktails seem to rotate seasonally. I loved that the Champagne & Gummy Bear cocktail, made of Avareil plum gin, lemon, orgeat, prosecco, and Angostura bitters featured a sour-sugar rim to double down on the candy inspiration. It almost felt like a French 75 vacationed in Candy Land.
Finish the night (or open it) with a Lavender Lemon Drop shot. If you’re feeling something bolder, try the Smokescreen, a blend of mezcal, lime, raw sugar, and Zucca rhubarb liqueur.
Bittersweet is walk-in only. As a group of three, we were able to walk in on a Sunday night without issue.
William & Company
616 N Person St #1214, Raleigh, NC 27604
Nestled in Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood lies William & Company, a cozy neighborhood bar popular for its seasonally-inspired cocktail menu.
The brick-lined space features eclectic decor and fruit-forward, colorful drinks. Classic cocktails receive fresh flair, like the mezcal negroni and basil ginger gin gimlet.
Ingredients are locally sourced and highlighted through drinks that feel far from expected. A margarita takes on new life at William & Company through the bar’s Onza Margarita, made of Vida mezcal, yellow chartreuse, dill, salted jalepeño agave, and cucumber lime.
William & Company just might be among the best Raleigh nightlife. Guests frequently state that the bar has some of the best vibes in Raleigh and that a live DJ frequently makes an appearance with a set that hardly misses.
Gallo Pelón Mezcaleria
106 S Wilmington St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Community-focused Gallo Pelón Mezcaleria self-describes as a “come as you are, rock and roll cocktail oasis.” Located in the heart of downtown Raleigh, the quaint cocktail joint has been praised as “all you could ever want from a mezcaleria” by Condé Nast Traveler.
North Carolina’s first mezcaleria, Gallo Pelón’s cocktail program is undeniably Latin, balancing fruity and spicy flavors. habanero blanco is cut with guava and strawberry cordial, while jalapeño-infused mezcal is brightened with curaçao and citrus.
Pair your mezcal with the bar’s food—a far cry from the tiny small plates sweeping most of the country’s top cocktail bars. Instead, you’ll be greeted by hearty burritos, tacos, and a torta corona, none more than $12.
Reservations for Gallo Pelón Mezcaleria and Centro, the bar’s sister cantina serving organic Mexican cuisine, can be made via Resy.
519 W North St, Raleigh, NC 27603
Clockwork’s hours are like the bars name—like clockwork. This mod bar in Raleigh is open 5 pm to 2 am daily with the exception of Mondays.
In reality, Clockwork’s name has nothing to do with its reliable late-night hours, and everything to do with the bar’s timeless approach. Cocktails feel simple, approachable, and inspired by the beach.
The bar’s food mirrors the same mentality, featuring made-from-scratch pizza using organic, local ingredients, and shareable plates of bar bites like deep-fried cauliflower and nachos.
Locals cite that they frequent Clockwork for its stylish, club-adjacent feel that often features a live DJ.
Clockwork reservations can be made on OpenTable.
Dram & Draught
1 Glenwood Ave Suite 101, Raleigh, NC 27603
Typically, you wouldn’t catch me in a chain bar, but Dram & Draught’s glowing praise drew me into the bar on my first night in Raleigh.
Dram & Draught has the sexy, cosmopolitan feel of a cocktail bar in New York, with none of the pretentiousness.
The neighborhood darling in Raleigh serves some of North Carolina’s most interesting cocktails but strives to remain a place where all feel welcome. The website states that the bar is designed for “the whiskey fanatic, the craft beer fan, the cocktail enthusiast, and the wine tipper.”
Lined to the ceiling with bottles, Dram & Draught’s Raleigh location is its original (the bar also has locations in nearby Durham, in addition to Wilmington, Greensboro, Cary, and Winston-Salem). The bar offers over 300 different types of whiskey from around the world, local craft beer, and mocktails in addition to its cocktail program.
Immediately after setting in for the night, I noticed that the bar is people-forward, giving credit to the creator of each signature drink on the menu, and listing out the ABV for each cocktail (I’ve never seen this at a bar before).
My favorites of the night were the Hellfire Club, a drink with a little zing thanks to the base of Szechuan and jalapeño-infused tequila, and the Blackberry Smoke, a savory and sweet balance of mezcal, salted blackberry agave, and Ancho Reyes.
The bar doesn’t accept reservations, but you probably wouldn’t need one if they did. Though Dram & Draught gets busy, the spacious bar was able to accommodate me without any wait.
555 Fayetteville St #115, Raleigh, NC 27601
The Haymaker is a different type of cocktail bar in Raleigh. Looking at the bar’s stylish floral interior, it may not be obvious that The Haymaker is inspired by fights and 90s rappers (though those familiar with boxing may immediately identify the connection through the bar’s name).
As you start to look a little closer, the inspiration comes through. For example, the bar’s bathroom wallpaper was designed by a member of the Beastie Boys. The blue toile wallpaper features images of icons like The Notorious B.I.G. and the New York subway.
Signature cocktails also follow the bar’s theme, with names like “Sing Like a Bee.” Prices are accessible and with such a convenient location, it’s easy to see why The Haymaker is a knockout with the post-work crowd in downtown Raleigh.
The bar doesn’t have live music but does offer a DJ from 9 pm to 1 am every Friday night, and open mic comedy on Wednesday nights from 9 pm until midnight.
Boxcar Bar + Arcade
330 W Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Boxcar Bar + Arcade might not be Raleigh’s premier destination for elegantly crafted cocktails, but it is one of Raleigh’s most fun bar concepts.
If you’ve read my guide to the best cocktail bars in Minneapolis, you know I can’t resist a good arcade bar (because really, they’re the perfect non-pretentious nightcap to a refined cocktail lounge). Boxcar Bar + Arcade is Raleigh’s top arcade bar, with additional locations in Durham and Greensboro.
Within Boxcar Bar’s Super Mario-painted walls are over 70 classic and modern arcade cabinets and more than 175 console games. You’ll also find over a dozen pinball machines (my go-to). TVs line the walls broadcasting various sports games, but in this bar, the game feels secondary.
On draft is a rotating menu of 24 American craft beers. The bar’s cocktail menu is inspired by video game and cartoon culture, giving drinks names like “The Leonardo” and “Donatello.”
Boxcar Bar + Arcade prides itself on being an affordable nightlife spot in Raleigh, offering daily specials like $2 mimosas and $12 champagne bottles on Sundays, and $3 Fireball Fridays.
Step into the bar’s covered patio for live music, or join one of Boxcar Bar’s free weekly skeeball tournaments to show off your competitive side. The carefree bar’s event calendar also includes trivia on the first Sunday of the month and a monthly pinball tournament.
Watts & Ward
200 S Blount St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Watts & Ward’s cavernous, library-esque speakeasy is one of the best-known cocktail bars in Raleigh. The popular bar has been dubbed “Best Overall Bar” by Raleigh Magazine three times since opening its doors in 2017.
Named after the Watts Act of 1903 and Ward Law of 1905, key Prohibition legislation in North Carolina, Watts & Ward is dedicated to the underground spirit of Prohibition, citing it on their website as an idea, era, and lifestyle.
Located under Caffe Luna, the 6,000-square-foot basement space is made cozy with book-lined walls, inlaid woodwork, and plenty of tufted couches for lounge seating. The space is home to three different bars, in addition to a large patio for guests looking to stay above ground.
Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing
201 S Boylan Ave, Raleigh, NC 27603
I’ve never seen a bar positioned quite like Wye Hill. The brewery and cocktail bar is located at the end of a bridge, giving the bar one of the best views of downtown Raleigh’s skyline.
Wye Hill might be beer-focused but doesn’t throw its cocktail menu to the side, like many breweries. Zac, the brewery’s beverage director cites the Bittersweet Symphony, a clarified tequila and mezcal cocktail concocted using 14 different ingredients. The bar doesn’t list the drink’s ingredients by name, playfully stating “We did it again, we are not sure how any of it works, but we did it again.”
Menus for Wye Hill’s small-batch craft beer, cocktails, and food rotate seasonally (more frequently for beer). The kitchen’s food leverages familiar New American flavors, and is hearty and filling.
We settled into Wye Hill after a night of ballet and loved the bar’s laid-back atmosphere. The Brussels sprouts are a must and Smoked Local Mushrooms were a surprising favorite. The Wye Hill Burger is popular with locals and offered with the option of a gluten-free bun for those with dietary restrictions.
The bar also hosts community events and workshops such as Sip and Script, a national chain of calligraphy workshops.
Reservations for Wye Hill’s patio or tap room can be made on Resy.
116 N West St, Raleigh, NC 27603
Killjoy’s sobering name pokes fun at the bar’s purpose. This colorful cocktail bar in Raleigh is the city’s first bar to give spirit-free mocktails the same importance as those inclusive of alcohol, encouraging guests to “be the spirit.”
The bar rightfully takes sobriety seriously, requesting that guests who are alcohol-sensitive or practicing sobriety order directly through a manager to ensure that their drinks are absolutely alcohol-free.
The eccentric bar’s outdoor space grows herbs used in both Killjoy’s cocktails and mocktails. Guests can choose to order off the bar’s seasonally-rotating cocktail and mocktail menus, or build their own custom cocktail.
Killjoy is also one of the best places in Raleigh to try your hand at mixology. On Wednesdays at 7 pm, the bar offers cocktail classes for $45 (a perfectly timed and priced date night idea in Raleigh). The class includes a welcome drink and two drinks you’ll learn to make with Killjoy’s resident cocktail enthusiast, which the bar claims can be replicated at home.
101 Park at N Hills St, Raleigh, NC 27609
In all honesty, Level7’s 4-star Google reviews would typically disqualify the bar from a mention, however, the bar’s large rooftop terrace and view of Raleigh earns it a spot on this list. The white, plush seating and airy, sprawling space makes it easy to imagine happy hour or a sunset at the hotel bar.
Level7 emphasizes small-batch distillers, locally brewed craft beer, and single vineyard labels. Guests have cited cocktail quality as being inconsistent, so I’d consider sticking to wine.
In addition to drinks, Level7 has a food menu of Spanish-inspired tapas to be shared by two, small plates, salads, and flatbreads. Every Sunday and Thursday, the bar offers a rotating “Experience Menu” for $7 a plate.
Located in Raleigh’s North Hills neighborhood, Level7 may not be convenient for a night out in Raleigh if you’re downtown, but makes for a decent post-work stop for business travelers looking to imbibe. If you’re lucky, you might catch live music on the patio.
The Green Light
108 E Hargett St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Hidden behind a bookcase door, above The Architect Bar & Social House in downtown Raleigh is The Green Light—a popular speakeasy bar in Raleigh nestled in what was once an architect’s office.
Like Level7, The Green Light’s mediocre Google reviews typically wouldn’t earn it a spot on this list, however, this bar is such a local favorite that I’ve been instructed I can’t leave it off.
The dimly lit bar is cozy and lowkey, though it can feel busy and crowded on weekends. The Green Light’s cocktail menu emphasizes classically-inspired signature cocktails, in addition to a robust menu of just the classics.
Reviewers rave about the bar’s drinks. It seems like the only negative feedback pulling The Green Light’s ratings down are the bar’s hit-or-miss service, and squished space (tip: the bar is perfect for couples and singles due to the intimate space. Skip bringing the whole squad—groups frequently report feeling overcrowded).
Due to the size and nature of The Green Light, reservations are encouraged, if not nearly mandatory. Reservations can be made on Tock.
The Raleigh Times
14 E Hargett St, Raleigh, NC 27601
This bar is best known for its Belgian and microbrewed beers and standard pub fare, but it’s such a staple in Raleigh’s nightlife scene for tourists that it needed to be included.
The Raleigh Times claims it’s the “craft and Belgian beer mecca of Central North Carolina,” but the bar’s true appeal might be its historic digs. The bar is located in the former home of the city’s now-defunct local newspaper of the same name.
Expanded twice in a 100-year-old building, the expansive bar features an indoor space, rooftop bar, and curbside patio. Old newspaper clippings from The Raleigh Times hang on the local watering hole’s walls.
Prices are right—bar snacks and sandwiches are solidly in the $10-15 range, while cocktails are right around $12, frequently featuring fresh, fruity ingredients for a sippable drink.
Beer aficionados will be happy to hear that each member of The Raleigh Times’ staff are Cicerone Certified Beer Servers, allowing them to expertly guide guests through the bar’s draft list.
Cocktail Bars in Raleigh: FAQ
Raleigh may not have the nightlife of Miami or New York but does have several bars, restaurants, and live music venues for locals and visitors to enjoy at night. Several bars in Raleigh are open until 1 or 2 am.
The Cherry Bounce is the most popular drink in North Carolina, made of cherry vodka, cranberry juice, and lime juice. Cheerwine and Pepsi are also popular beverages in the state.
The Green Light is located above Architect Bar and can be accessed through a door disguised as a bookcase. Previously, the light above the door to the bar would be green when the bar had space for new guests, however users have reported the light staying red regardless of the bar’s capacity more recently.
Cocktails to-go are still allowed in some areas of Raleigh and can be consumed openly within the city’s social drinking district, Sip n’ Stroll Downtown, along with beer and wine.
You can walk around downtown Raleigh with alcohol such as beer, wine, or cocktails within the city’s Sip n’ Stroll social drinking district. Boundaries for the neighborhood are defined with street and sidewalk signs.
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