Best Bars in Downtown Raleigh, NC

The 10 Best Bars in Downtown Raleigh, NC

Julia North Carolina Leave a Comment

The capital of North Carolina, Raleigh, offers a thriving nightlife with dozens of fabulous bars. Having called downtown Raleigh home for a while, I want to make sure you seek out some of the most interesting, unusual, and best bars in Raleigh during your visit. From speakeasies to rooftop terraces, you’ll sip your way around cocktail bars, whiskey bars, and even the bar with the world’s largest variety of beers on tap.

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10 Best Bars in Downtown Raleigh

In the heart of downtown Raleigh, you’ll find no shortage of bars to choose from. Whether you’re just visiting or recently moving to the Triangle area (made up of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill), make your night out one to remember by dining at one of the top restaurants in downtown and then visiting some of the best bars in Raleigh.

1. Watts & Ward

Watts & Ward is arguably the best bar in Raleigh offering an expansive and luxurious underground bar styled with leather couches bringing the speakeasy vibe to the forefront. You’ll also find a large outdoor garden with a bar and heaters available. It all sits under atmospheric lighting with string lights covering the whole patio. If you come at the right time, you’ll also have live music on the patio.

Pro Tip: Have $1 in cash as there is a $1 membership fee due at the door.

Unique Attributes: Cocktail bar, underground speakeasy, and outdoor patio seating

Watt & Wards a stunning outdoor bar space in Raleigh
Outdoor seating area at Watt & Wards

2. Raleigh Times

A classic Raleigh bar, the Raleigh Times is located in the old Raleigh Times newspaper building. You’ll find some of the walls are still wallpapered in the newspaper giving it plenty of character. If that’s not enough to tempt you, there’s also a rooftop patio and sidewalk tables available offering plenty of seating options. While they do offer a full bar, they have a great selection of beer too.

Unique Attributes: Rooftop terrace, outdoor patio seating, historic Raleigh Times newspaper building

3. Raleigh Beer Garden

Famous for holding the Guinness World Record for the most varieties of beer on tap, Raleigh Beer Garden features over 400 different beers! This giant 8,500 square-foot bar not only offers a wide selection of beer, but they also offer a full bar, as well as a ton of seating options like a rooftop terrace and plenty of outdoor areas. Despite its large size, it does get crazy busy on Friday and Saturday night, so if you want to have a drink and chill, visit during the day on the weekend or during the week.

Unique Attributes: Largest variety of beer on tap in the World, outdoor seating, rooftop terrace

A small sampling of the many taps at Raleigh Beer Garden
A small sampling of the many taps at Raleigh Beer Garden

4. Foundation

A small underground bar serving up craft cocktails and beer, the Foundation is hidden away on the main Fayetteville Street of Raleigh. There is very little signage so keep your eyes out for it. You’ll be greeted with a cozy atmosphere and bartenders who can really serve up a drink! Note that it does fill-up due to the low occupancy allowed in this underground bar, so plan to get there early to get in without a wait.

Unique Attributes: Underground bar, craft cocktails

5. Boxcar Bar + Arcade

Home to 50+ arcade games, 15+ pinball machines, 175+ console games, 24 draft beers, and a full bar, Boxcar Bar + Arcade is Raleigh’s only barcade. Head there for an interactive night out with friends, or alone! You can spend your time in the bar playing games, or hang out on their patio. Don’t forget to take advantage of the free popcorn machine.

Unique Attributes: Barcade, outdoor patio

6. The Green Light

One of the better kept secrets and best bars in Raleigh is The Green Light. Hidden behind a bookcase in a local club, The Architect Bar & Social House, The Green Light sits in an old architect’s office and offers a vintage vibe. It definitely holds the title on the most hidden bar in Raleigh, but once you’re there, try their craft cocktails that are some of the best in town!

Pro Tip: Due to its tiny size, its best to book reservations ahead of time.

Unique Attributes: Hidden speakeasy behind a bookcase, cocktails

7. Brewery Bhavana

An award winning establishment, Brewery Bhavana is a one of a kind place offering a brewery, dim sum restaurant, bookstore, and flower shop all-in-one. Stop in to try one of their craft beers and admire its unique concept that helped land Brewery Bhavana on Bon Apetit’s 2017 Best New Restaurants of the Year, Forbe’s 10 Coolest Places to Eat in 2018, and Conde Nast Traveller’s 2019 15 Most Beautiful Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries around the World lists. It does get crowded but the bar area is first come first serve, so step on up and try their unique beer varieties.

Pro Tip: If you want to try their fantastic food, you’ll need to make reservations for Brewery Bhavana a couple of weeks in advance.

Unique Attributes: Brewery, dim sum restaurant, bookstore, and flower shop all-in-one, one-of-a-kind craft beer options

8. Fox Liquor Bar

One of the best cocktail bars in Raleigh, which also serves world-class snacks is the underground Fox Liquor Bar. It’s owned by famed Ashley Christensen who owns a number of amazing restaurants around Raleigh. In fact, she was awarded the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Southeast” in 2014, the James Beard Award in the “Outstanding Chef” category in 2019, and Chef of the Year by in 2017.  Soak up the chill underground atmosphere with luxurious couches, try the delicious hand-crafted cocktails, and taste as many of the appetizers as you can!

Unique Attributes: Underground bar, cocktails, delicious eats

9. Dram and Draught

Dram and Draught of Raleigh is another membership bar, but it was established with a clear purpose and tries to live up to it. That is to be best neighborhood bar possible. Situated a bit out of the central bar districts, Dram and Draught offers over 300 whiskeys from around the world, hand-crafted cocktails, draught beer from North Carolina (and beyond), and wines. You’ll find both indoor and outdoor seating available and a super friendly and casual atmosphere.

Unique Attributes: Huge whiskey selection, small outdoor patio

10. Whiskey Kitchen

Both restaurant and bar, Whiskey Kitchen offers one of the largest outdoor patios in Raleigh. It also features a trendy garage-door for the building which they open in nice weather. Try one of over 140 whiskeys, sip a craft cocktail, or simply grab a beer. If you’re hungry, you can order one of their many appetizers to tide you over!

Unique Attributes: Big whiskey selection, large outdoor patio

The outdoor patio of Whiskey Kitchen, one of the best bars in downtown Raleigh

BONUS: Trolley Pub

A great way to take in the nightlife in Raleigh is to start off on the Trolley Pub. Book one seat or book the whole Trolley to explore some of the best bars in Raleigh, all while having additional drinks, music, and fun as you pedal around the city! It’s perfect for locals and visitors alike.

Check the Trolley Pub’s availability.

Raleigh, North Carolina

Things to Know about Going Out at Night in Raleigh

If you’re headed into the city for a night out, you might have a few questions beyond the best bars in downtown Raleigh. Let’s take a look at the details of what you need to know for a great night out in Raleigh.

Where is there to go for a night out in Raleigh?

The prime nightlife in Raleigh for 21 – 30+ year old’s is focused around the Glenwood South area. Here you’ll find one of the best bars in Raleigh, Raleigh Beer Garden, as well as a number of other popular bars, like Cornerstone Tavern and Milk Bar, and of course the two-story Irish Hibernian Pub. They are all clustered together and easy to walk between. Most bars do not have an entrance fee, and if there is a line, they tend to move pretty quickly.

The Fayetteville Street area also offers some great nightlife in Raleigh and is only about a mile away from Glenwood South. It is safe and walkable in between, or you can grab a quick Uber, Lyft, or even scooter. Fayetteville Street has a bit more upscale bars where you’ll find a wider range of ages hanging out. These include many of the above best bars in Raleigh as well as some other classics like Isaac Hunter’s Tavern, a historic bar in the area, Bittersweet, a fancy dessert bar, and the nearby Barcelona Wine Bar. (What’s a city without a wine bar?)

How do people dress for a night out in Raleigh?

You’ll find mode of dress for a night out in Raleigh is a bit all over the place. Most places you’ll be fine with jeans and a nice shirt or a sundress and sandals. Although sometimes you’ll find younger women wearing short, tight dresses with heels. A few bars or clubs may have a “dress code”, but it’s certainly not Miami or Las Vegas. Wear what you feel comfortable in and look great in!

What time do bars stop serving in Raleigh?

Last call in Raleigh is at 2am. If you’re planning to take an Uber home, I recommend you leave at least 15 minutes early as demand and prices will spike around closing time.

Is parking in downtown Raleigh free?

Most parking garages in downtown Raleigh are “$5 after 5” on nights and weekends. You may also have luck finding free street parking, particularly around the Glenwood South area. Just head a street or two off of the main strip of bars.

Is Raleigh safe at night?

In general, Raleigh is a safe city. However, like in any city, you should be aware of your surroundings, follow general safety precautions, and be assertive when walking alone at night. You may encounter some homeless people in the downtown Raleigh area, but they are typically harmless and keep to themselves.

What else should I do while in downtown Raleigh?

Plan to get into downtown a bit early to explore some of the best things to do in downtown Raleigh. Being the state capital and just a generally beautiful city, you’ll find there’s plenty to do outside of the bar scene.

Hit some of the museums, walk through the historic neighborhoods and “central park” at Moore Square, and swing by the famous acorn, which best represents the City of Oaks, for a small sampling of the city. If you’re short on time, you can even visit some of the sights while you’re out bar hopping, like the State Capitol which is lit up at night.

Where should I stay in downtown Raleigh?

If you are planning to go out bar hopping in Raleigh, you may want to book a hotel and stay downtown. Choose to stay in the Fayetteville Street region at the Raleigh Marriott City Center Hotel or Residence Inn by Marriott Raleigh Downtown or in the Glenwood South neighborhood at the Hampton Inn & Suites Raleigh Downtown. If you’re looking to stay longer, check out these other great hotels in Raleigh.

Raleigh Beer Garden
Raleigh Beer Garden

Explore More of North Carolina

The best bars in downtown Raleigh, NC will help you get a feel for the capital of North Carolina, but there’s a lot more to this beautiful city and incredible state. Visit the beaches in the Outer Banks or spend your time in the mountains of Asheville. North Carolina really does offer something for everyone.

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Best Bars in Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina
10 Best Bars in Raleigh, North Carolina
10 Best Bars in Downtown Raleigh, NC

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