Spend a Night on the Town at These Local Watering Holes

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Zach White behind the bar at Belltree Cocktail Club.
by Jessica Stringer | Photography by Beth Mann

 

BELLTREE COCKTAIL CLUB

 
Owner

Nick Stroud

Past credentials

Bartending at Jack Sprat Cafe, general manager at Southern Rail, co-owner of The Baxter

Year established

2016

Open

Until 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday; Until midnight Sunday

Most popular order

Rosemary Collins. It’s gin, St-Germain, cucumber, rosemary syrup and tonic.

The regulars include …

A lot of lawyers, some professors, some doctors, finance people and then we definitely have a nice crowd of grad students.

The look

I ended up going to England for a month, and I spent a lot of time checking out old pubs and speakeasies … and really fell in love with that English-style bar. When I came back, that’s what I modeled our decor after. My wife and I found hundreds of pieces that adorn the walls and the bar space. And we continue to add, subtract and switch things out.

The drinks

We wanted to go strict, Prohibition-style speakeasy at first, and we did a lot of classic cocktails, true to form. That’s really where we started, and since then we’ve kind of twisted it and morphed the cocktails into more of a signature style. We don’t want to be associated as just a strict speakeasy or a Prohibition-style bar. We really want our cocktails to take the center stage. We want to highlight on the new menu that we’re working with local farmers, vendors and producers.

Not so secret

We did have the landlord put in awnings and outside lights. We also installed a window. That’s another reason we’re going for a cocktail club now – we don’t want to be secret. We want people to find us and to fall in love with us.

 

Kelsey Hammersley, Hayes Potter and Darrin Mann at Bowbarr.

 

BOWBARR

 
Owner

Amanda Barr, along with husband John Bowman

Past credentials

Amanda was house manager at The ArtsCenter and a bartender at The Flying Burrito and Provence; John was a bartender at Milltown.

Year established

2010

Open

Until 2 a.m.

Most popular order

The Mezcaltini. That’s a big deal for us because mezcal is from Oaxaca and that’s where my mom lives. The Mezcaltini is mezcal, ginger, fresh lime and worm salt on the rim.

The regulars include …

an artsy crowd. The guys from Midway Barber Shop, tattoo artists from Glenn’s Tattoo Service, Rivers AgencyCarrburritos and Lantern cooks and UNC Art Department.

The decor

I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, and I know how to make things. At the supply store, everything was fabricated for restaurants and we said, “Why spend all this money when we can make it from scratch?” So that’s what we did! Our friend Nora Rogers sewed all the seat cushions, and our friends, who were bartenders here later, painted the ceiling. It’s a classic community effort.

Freshly squeezed

We had been going down [to Mexico] for a long time where there are aguas
– watermelon aguas, lemon aguas, orange aguas
– that’s basically just juice, water and sugar, that’s it.
It tastes so much better than what you get in the store. I applied that to the cocktail making at the bar.

Mix tape

As far as I know, there’s not another bar in the Triangle that does exclusively vinyl. The bartenders are not only bartending, but they are DJing. And we have an association with the Triangle Soul Society, a group of DJs who like soul music. They play on every first Friday and they also play every third Monday, called The Monday Mess-Around.

 

ORANGE COUNTY SOCIAL CLUB

Owner

Tricia Mesigian

Past credentials

Worked for Merge Records

Year established

2001

Open

Until 2 a.m.

Most popular order

Pabst Blue Ribbon or bourbon. Either a shot or on the rocks.

The regulars include …

a very eclectic group of people. Students, professors, artists, musicians, veterinarians. The Chapel Hill/Carrboro community is just so great and we’re a little slice of that.

The soundtrack

There’s a jukebox that has 100 CDs in it. Music is a big deal at OCSC. There are those digital jukeboxes where you can basically pick anything in the world to play; we refuse to get that kind because we do like to have the music curated. Some people come to the bar just to hear new music from what the bartenders play. I’ve learned about so many different bands from being in there on the right night when my colleague is playing a new record.

Eye-popping art

[My husband Charles Chace] did the main color wall when you walk in the door. It’s been there since 2014. It gets a little crinkled, but it still looks cool.

Good to know

The membership thing does throw people off because we really are sticklers about it. It’s a $5 membership fee. You can also come with a member and be their guest. A lot of people aren’t used to that, but once you get past that threshold just sit down and enjoy it. We play really good music and just let people chill out. It’s really no frills in a lot of ways, but that’s what we sought out to do from the beginning. When you walk in, you know what you’re gonna get.

Number of members

16,280

 

Connolly Walker and Vanessa Watson at The Franklin’s revamped banquette.

 

REFUGE AT THE FRANKLIN HOTEL

 
Owner

Jay Patel

Past credentials

Launched and is the caretaker of The Franklin Hotel.

Year established

2007, renovated spring 2018

Open

Until midnight

Most popular order

The Zombie is always fun. It’s a common drink on tiki menus, and we limit it to two because it’s so strong and potent. And there’s two Champagne drinks that are popular: The Beautiful Stranger and The Forgotten Promise.

The regulars include …

It’s less about the demographics of the people and more about their mindset. So anybody who feeds off of the intellectual stimulation that is emanating from the university campus [and the] deep progressive culture we have. We have a very global kind of perspective in the communities here between Carrboro and Orange County and Chapel Hill.

The soundtrack

We want it to be energetic and just really fun stuff that most people will appreciate. There’s a lot of world music and Latin stuff, African stuff, there’s some indie rock, there might be some bluegrass, there’s a lot of hip-hop, there’s some pop, electro pop.

Crafting cocktails

We’re really making a commitment to respecting the craft of the cocktail and making sure everything is well balanced and measured precisely. We don’t free pour. We have crystal clear large ice cubes that we use for the classic ice drinks.

Tiki to come

We’re going to start having a tiki night about once a week or twice a month. We’ll have really cool punch bowl-type drinks, stuff that’ll be flaming and lighting on fire and stuff that we don’t have on a regular basis.

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