It's Saturday night on Glenwood South, on the streets of the future Hospitality District.
You may rightly be asking what the hell is a hospitality district? Are there many hotels? (No, only one, a Hampton Inn). Are people friendlier than in other districts? (Possibly, but they're also drunker).
Is this yet another ploy by Raleigh leaders and their benefactors to foist a new identity onto a popular area of downtown Raleigh that doesn't need re-branding? Or is it a legitimate attempt to establish a system to allow businesses and residents to compromise on noise and safety concerns?
The designation allows the district's bars and clubs to apply for a Hospitality District Entertainment Permit. With a permit, businesses can play music (subject to decibel limits) until 11 p.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends. There will be a public complaint registration system, and violators will be subject to penalties.
I toured the Glenwood South Hospitality District to grade several of the area's venerable institutions on just how hospitable they are.
My first stop was at one of Glenwood South's oldest and tallest trees at the corner of Glenwood Avenue and West Jones streets. At this time of year, it's hard to ignore Glenwood's trees, mostly because they are wearing sweaters.
Glenwood artists knit yarn onto trees in the winter. After the trees have worn their sweaters but before they become tattered by the elements, volunteers knit them into blankets, which are donated to local charities. Glenwood's trees get an A+ for being the most hospitable ones in Raleigh.
Further north, I pass the Rockford. This classic sandwich shop opened in 1994, when it was the only dining establishment on the Glenwood strip. The Rockford has recently drawn the ire of city leaders for its signage, large and hand-painted onto the red brick building where the eatery is nestled in on the second floor.
It occurs to me how inhospitable the City of Raleigh is to small businesses that want to advertise with signs. It's difficult for businesses to get a sign permit. The signs have to be small and can't take up more than 30 percent of window space. A task force is considering whether to make sign restrictions even more stringent. I give the City of Raleigh a D- for its uncongenial, business-discouraging sign laws. The Rockford, naturally, gets an A for its sandwiches.
Onward, it's the battle of the Irish bars. In one corner, there's the Hibernian, best known for burning to the ground in 2012, and then catching on fire again within the year. In a basement across the street, there's the space formerly known as the Downtown Sports Bar and Grill. The sports bar received bad publicity when a Raleigh student posted on Facebook that the watering hole allegedly kicked him out because he was black. A social media frenzy ensued, prompting complaints from black patrons about other Glenwood South establishments and their predilections for racial profiling.
The Downtown Sports Bar is gone, and is now Napper Tandy's, although the ownership remains the same. Napper Tandy's didn't kick me out on this particular evening, but then again I'm white. That's like saying the Hibernian, which emerged from the ashes twice its original size, is safe because it's not on fire right now. I give both bars a hospitality grade C, for former sketchiness. Let's hope they've changed their ways.
C. Grace is my go-to for the most delicious cocktails in Raleigh. Last month, C. Grace was damaged when it was hit by debris from a nearby building demolition, just another inhospitable casualty of the Raleigh hyper-development era. The venerable jazz lounge has made a full recovery and wholly deserves its hospitality grade of A. (Check out the kimono Christina Aguilera wore in Burlesque. )
Cornerstone Tavern and its counterpart, 606 Lounge, have been name-dropped in noise complaints by neighbors, but tonight, neither is noisier than nightclub behemoth Solas. If barely legal women, hair-gelled bar brawlers and Vodka-Red Bull-fueled techno-music dance parties are, for some reason, not your scene, skip Solas—hospitality grade B-. Cornerstone Tavern gets a B+ for its cozy patio fire-pits and strong pours, though the stiff drinks might have a direct correlation with the noise complaints.
It's 2 a.m. and the bars are closing. Like many Glenwood revelers, I head up to Peace Street, to the Sahara Hookah Café, whose neighbors have wanted it shut down for its the late-night rabble-rousing.
"They eat, drink, play loud music, engage in sexual activity on the playground equipment behind the church, they urinate on the lawn, and they leave beer bottles and trash on the lawn," pastor Linda Harris of nearby Jenkins Memorial Methodist Church wrote of the late-night partiers, in a letter to the city council this year.
Ahem. I promise I just wanted some Arabian tea. Hospitality grade D to Sahara, for a pattern of its patrons throwing beer cans into Partnership Elementary School's parking lot.
At 4 a.m., with Sahara finally closing, I pull out my phone and dial numbers until a yellow cab appears to whisk me home. As I'm being driven back to my pad in the pretentiously named Warehouse District, I leave you with this thought, reader. In Raleigh, we should try to be more neighborly. We should not pee in public, or litter or hook up on church playgrounds. We should accept that, as adults, we decided to live in an area that is widely known for its nightlife. We should stop complaining about other people's houses, and we shouldn't stifle businesses with unnecessary sign restrictions.
The Glenwood South Hospitality District ordinance is a good idea because it could encourage residents and businesses to engage directly with one another, instead of through third-party kvetching. We just wish the district had a less ridiculous name.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Pass, fail."