A dive bar, a wanna-be speakeasy, and the restaurant of a James Beard Award winner. There’s no shortage of options in and around North Carolina's Triangle — otherwise known as Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill — for any type of eating of drinking experience.
The Triangle gets written up all the time for its food and drink scene, but it doesn’t have to be trendy or pretentious to be just plain enjoyable.
Here’s a look at a few local favorites:
Players' Retreat | Raleigh
At the edge of the N.C. State University campus sits Players' Retreat, a college dive bar in the truest sense, but one enjoyed by students, faculty and families since its opening in 1951. Beer steins, cans and bottle line the walls, and on a warm and sunny day, there is no shortage of folks enjoying food on the outdoor patio. Or maybe having a drink at the bar. Or playing pool in the back room.
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But the PR, as it’s called by the locals, also holds a few surprises, like its extensive offerings of both scotch and wine, and colorful fish tanks.
“We go for the food, atmosphere and definitely the dive bar-like experience,” said Holly Ashby, who frequents the PR with her husband. “We like that we could walk in dressed up or in baseball clothes and fit in.”
Not sure what to drink? No problem at Fox Liquor Bar, where bartenders will craft a drink based on likes and dislikes. (Photo: Lea Hart)
Fox Liquor Bar | Raleigh
Walking into Fox Liquor Bar is like taking a step back in time. It has that speakeasy feel to it, almost hidden away at the bottom of a short set of stairs at basement level just off Raleigh’s Martin Street.
Patrons either gather at the bar or on over-stuffed leather sofas situated around the interior while bartenders craft drinks from an extensive cocktail menu. Or choose the “bartender’s choice” — simply tell the mixologist what you do or don’t like and a drink that suits your tastes will be crafted.
In a college town, Fox Liquor Bar is a breath of fresh air for Diego Rodriguez.
“It’s not your usual college crowd bar where you literally have to fight your way into the bar and hopelessly wait for a drink,” he said. “The bartenders enjoy their craft. Being able to sit with friends and have drinks in a dark atmosphere with good music lets you forget the stresses of the day.”
Lantern | Chapel Hill
It’s possible to visit Lantern three different times and enjoy three different experiences.
There’s the main dining room for a more traditional evening out, and there’s Lantern Garden, a secluded patio on the back corner of the building that offers a laid-back atmosphere for dinner or drinks on a beautiful North Carolina evening. And then there’s the back bar — enter from the main dining room, or the alley just to the left of the building — and enjoy beer, wine or cocktails in the dimly lit, Asian-themed area.
“It’s a gorgeous gem of a bar with intimate seating and fabulous drinks,” said Julie Zola, a frequent guest.
Yes, chef/owner Andrea Reusing has been recognized with all kinds of accolades, including a James Beard Award, but Lantern is as much about the atmosphere as it is about the food.
Lea Hart is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C.