An ability to transport you elsewhere can be the best thing about a bar. After all, forgetting the mundane weight of everyday life for an hour or two is often why we go to bars, right? The new Anchor Bar in Raleigh plays that role well.
Open since late January, Anchor feels like a bar in a real city, conjuring memories of cozy neighborhood joints in Philadelphia or Washington, D.C. It's small, a little dark. There's no glitz, no pretensions at being a club or a lounge. It's a bar, comfortable with that badge, proclaiming it serves "cocktails without the attitude."
Its drink menu highlights an array of cocktail classics such as the Side Car, Ramos Gin Fizz and Moscow Mule at $10 each. Order the Whiskey Sour and you'll be told, "We do it the traditional way, with the egg white and with rye whiskey. Is that OK?" My favorite was the Whiskey Smash. Made with Bulleit bourbon, simple syrup, mint leaves and lemon, it is dangerously delicious. Trust me, you will want more of them than you should have.
Rather have a beer? There are a reasonable number of craft selections available. Cans of brews including Dale's Pale Ale, Old Chub Scotch Ale and Brooklyn lager run about $4 a pop. Two were available on draft for $5—a pale ale and an IPA from Highwire. The bar's draft system was a MacGyvered contraption consisting of a couple of kegs, some tubing, a cooler and loads of ice. It looked like what an enterprising Dad would rig up for weekends in his suburban garage. Keep in mind, the bar had been open only a week, so a more official-looking set-up may be in offing. Personally, I hope not, because I found it charming.
A large window facing Fayetteville Street lets you watch passersby. Some of them may even watch you. A couple pushing a stroller walks by, spies two friends sitting at the bar, and pops in to say hello.
A trio takes seats at the corner of the bar. They're apparently having a post-work drink. The woman in the group finishes a phone call that involved her asking "Are you talking about your husband or your son?" and then regales her companions with a multi-layered, densely populated story about an incident at work that featured someone reporting someone else for something. Sadly, there were too many twists and characters to follow it from the other end of the bar, though from the laughter that ensued, it ended well.
A lone, muted TV shows college basketball above the bar. Music from Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys and other selections from the alt.classic playlist soundtracks the night.
People come and go. Many ask how business has been, evidencing a hope for Anchor to succeed. Two women take a seat at the bar. One tries the Hemingway daiquiri (soon to be leaving the menu). A guy sips a beer and watches the game. A man and woman arrive. She tries the Mezcal Mule, a potent-sounding concoction of Vida mezcal, ginger beer, chili powder and a few other ingredients, and pronounces it a winner.
Of course, real cities aren't Pleasantville. They have noise, grit and uncomfortable moments. A gentleman wandered in, and in a too-loud voice, begins effusively talking about how that person is "beautiful" and this person is the "finest specimen of humanity ever." The bartender quietly gives him a warning. He goes silent for a few minutes and then resumes his extremely external monologue. "That's it," the bartender says, "Time to go, buddy." Kudos to the bartender for his deft handling of the incident—he was consistently respectful and firm, maintaining control without escalating the situation.
It was a very city moment, one that bolstered my feeling of being somewhere else. As it continues getting its sea legs (there had to be one nautical reference), Anchor Bar will maintain a spot on my travel manifest whenever I want to get away.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Anchor aweigh."