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Best Raleigh Nightlife

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Not long ago, downtown Raleigh was all tucked in and ready for bed at 5PM. Not anymore. Various downtown revitalization projects have turned the historic city center into a nightlife hotspot, with several dozen bars, cafes and nightclubs open into the wee hours. Nearby, the Glenwood South area crawls with upscale dance clubs and martini bars. If you go, dress the part—don't forget a spritz of cologne. Weekends can be crowded, so try going out on a Wednesday or Thursday if you're looking for a lower-key atmosphere. Durham and Chapel Hill are equally interesting after dark. In recent years, Durham has become the center of the Triangle's gay nightlife scene, with a handful of bars and dance clubs attracting a mostly gay and lesbian clientele. A college town, Chapel Hill has its share of noisy sports bars, but the west end of Franklin Street has become a weekend destination for a slightly older crowd of hip 20-, 30- and 40-somethings. The Triangle has a long tradition of local music. To hear some live rock, Raleigh is probably your place, with several big arenas and large nightclubs. For indie rock, head to the dive bars and arty coffee shops of Chapel Hill. If you're interested in edgier fare—punk, underground hip-hop—try Durham. Archaic North Carolina liquor laws say that any bar that doesn't serve food has to be a "private club." Most bars use the term very loosely, allowing guests to purchase "memberships" at the door for a few dollars.

Whiskey

Neighborhood: Durham
Durham's favorite new bar aims to recreate the atmosphere of a 1920s Chicago speakeasy. Think dark mahogany walls, coffered ceilings, dim light, and long wooden bar. Fitting with the theme, the bar specializes in Prohibition-era cocktails. Try a Corpse Reviver #1 (Hennessy, sweet vermouth, Captain Applejack) or a Monkey Gland (Bombay dry gin, fresh orange juice, absinthe and pomegranate grenadine). The crowd, ranging in age from late 20s and up, tends to be urban and sophisticated. Late afternoons are a good time to read the paper or chat with the bartender while sipping a scotch; late nights can be crowded and scene-y. You must be 23 or older to become a member.

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Whiskey  

Cats Cradle

Neighborhood: Carrboro
In Carrboro, a tiny town attached like a burr to the side of Chapel Hill, the Cat's Cradle is one of the South's most legendary live-music venues. Everyone who's anyone in the independent music scene has played here, from Nirvana and Pearl Jam to John Mayer. The interior is charmingly grubby, with graffiti-covered walls and worn pool tables. The crowd depends on who's playing that night—an emo band might mean a gaggle of screaming teenage girls, while a classic folk-rock act draws sedate middle-agers. Ticket prices range from $10 or $12 for small local bands to more than $30 for big-name stars. Most shows are all-ages.

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Cats Cradle  

Longbranch Entertainment Complex

Neighborhood: North Raleigh
Want to learn how to line dance? Sure you do, sugar! Head straight for the Longbranch, one of Raleigh's oldest, wildest nightclubs. The 40,000-square-foot building contains multiple lounges and bars, so find the one that best suits your taste and level of noise-tolerance. Weekend nights bring local and national country bands to the stage, so get ready to do some boot stompin'. The free line dance lessons happen on Thursdays. The clientele is loud, Southern and eager to do some serious drinking—you'll see a lot of bachelorette partiers and ex-frat boy types. It ain't tasteful, but it sure is fun.

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Foundation

Neighborhood: Downtown
This new underground (literally) Raleigh bar has become the go-to spot for the kind of drinker who wouldn't be caught dead with a Bud Light. Down a flight of stairs, the dim, cozy bar has a speakeasy atmosphere, with stone wall and exposed wooden beams. The menu features an extensive variety of North Carolina microbrews and small-batch local liquors made with quirky ingredients like elderflower. Try a Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout, made in nearby Farmville, North Carolina. Elaborate cocktails made with local ingredients like summer peaches and fresh basil are always a good bet too. Teetotalers will appreciate the homemade sodas. Crowds range from suit-clad young professionals in the early evening to hard-partying hipsters late at night.

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Foundation  

Tir na Nog Irish Pub & Restaurant

Neighborhood: Downtown
Named after the mythical Irish land of eternal youth, this cavernous pub is one of downtown's most popular hangouts for Raleigh-ites both young and old. Don't be put off by the atmosphere, which might be described as "Disney does Ireland"—faux stone walls, a fake thatched-roof cottage in the middle of the room. The decor might be artificial, but the rollicking atmosphere is 100 percent real. Soccer fans shout at the TV during weekend matches, trivia teams scream out answers on Wednesday's Quiz Night, Celtic bands fiddle away at Friday jam sessions. While the beer is clearly the main event (have a Guinness, naturally), the food is surprisingly good—we’re partial to the lamb sliders.

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