For those looking for a go-to speakeasy to hide in from the cold weather, look no further. Watts & Ward acts as Raleigh’s very own 1920’s inspired bar, with all the classic tropes associated with your favorite speakeasy: a warm, accepting atmosphere, an impressive array of cocktails, wine and brews, and a friendly staff dedicated to serving not only exceptional drinks, but also an experience one is unlikely to forget. Here’s everything one should know about the much talked about hidden gem:
As with the best-hidden spots around town, Watts & Ward is located underground, just beneath Caffe Luna Italian restaurant in downtown Raleigh. After descending the metal staircase and making it through the intimate entryway, customers are immediately transported into the past. Dark chocolate-colored leather couches and futons line the bar’s interior, along with lavish armchairs and lamps, complete with leafy plants and a shelf full of vintage looking books running across the wall. Situated along the back wall lies the bar, fully stocked for creating the best of cocktails.
Down the hall lies another, larger space filled with just as many cozy spots to kick back and enjoy that much-deserved Manhattan. Here lies more romantically dimmed lighting, leather accents and another full bar equipped with the good stuff. Perfect for an intimate date or a night on the town with close friends, Watts & Ward’s aesthetic is simply exquisite.
While the interior space is aesthetically impressive, it is the accepting atmosphere that stands out the most when taking in all the local hotspot has to offer, an idea Watts & Ward’s co-owner Patrick Shanahan reinforced.
“We don't ‘tell’ people how they should be,” Shanahan said. “We create an environment for patrons to explore whoever they ‘want’ to be.”
What makes the speakeasy stand out among the rest of Raleigh’s thriving bar scene? The cocktails. With an impressive lineup of specialty drinks such as the “Carolina Lily” blend of vodka, sparkling rosé, strawberry rhubarb syrup and lemon, have become house favorites. Additionally, the fruity “Pamlico” — a must-try for those looking for the full Watts & Ward experience — features aged rum, bourbon, pineapple demerara syrup, tiki bitters and grapefruit zest. Essentially, it’s all the musings of a tropical summer vacation in a cup.
Shanahan noted that the cocktail list is dynamic in nature, frequently changing to encompass seasonal variety. It is, he explained, a craft that continues to grow and develop daily.
The menu also hosts an impressive palate of wines, from classy chardonnays to pinot grigios to the sparkling Hillinger Secco Rose. Other sparkling options include a wealth of champagne options for those looking to celebrate — whether it be for a new promotion or, simply, because it’s Friday.
The cozy speakeasy has no shortage of local Carolina brews, either. With selections like Bold Rock Cider — which has become known as a go-to North Carolina cider — to White Street Emmalynn Blonde Ale, a Wake Forest-based ale, to the Appalachian Mountain Spoaty Oaty Pale straight from the mountainous Boone, North Carolina, Watts & Ward has a beer for just about any set of taste buds.
Watts and Ward’s inclusive atmosphere is almost palpable. Customers of all kinds frequently inhabit the local hang out, which is made possible by the faces behind the magic. Shanahan described the spot’s community-centered mission as a whole.
“Watts & Ward was always intended to be a meeting place that welcomes people from all backgrounds and walks of life,” Shanahan said. “Being an underground cocktail bar lends itself to having a speakeasy feel which is bolstered by our craft cocktails, but we don't want to be too secret or exclusive. We really see Watts as having a welcoming, cozy environment where patrons can come in and have a unique experiences.”
Niall Hanley, co-owner of Watts & Ward, descried the bar’s versatile usability.
“Watts & Ward offers that cozy table with an incredible drink perfect for conversations, relaxation and meeting people,” Hanley said.
For a new business, the bar’s success is impressive, as more and more locals are hearing about the space. For Hanley, watching this growth flourish has been especially rewarding.
“It’s been great to see how people interact with the space,” Hanley said. “It’s been an amazing first year so far just seeing how well Raleigh has received us and comes to visit.”
Every good drink deserves a just-as-tasty bar snack to go along with it. For those craving a classic spread, opt for the pickled plate, which hosts stuffed sweet peppers, pickle brined olives and beet pickled eggs. Other viable options include the Caprese Skewers, a classic Italian appetizer that consists of tomato, basil and mozzarella.
For a more individualized food-related experience, an order of the shrimp & crab ceviche won’t disappoint… and with a unique blend of shrimp, crab, mango, peppers, lemon, lime, cilantro and additional spices, how could it? Another possibility for hungry bar-goers is the Butcher’s Board — a take on the ever-popular, and delicious, charcuterie trend. The board features sliced meats, cornichons and chutney, making it perfect for sharing.