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Bars and Bites in Wake and Durham Counties
Discover rooftop bars and craft cocktail lounges offering small plates and creative sips in Durham, Raleigh and Cary, NC

By Jessica Stringer and Amanda MacLaren | Photo by John Michael Simpson

Wake County

Tiffany Temple and Jessica Lamb enjoy cocktails atop Ava Rooftop Bar.
Tiffany Temple and Jessica Lamb enjoy a couple “Agua de Valencia” cocktails and light bites at Ava Rooftop Bar.

Ava Rooftop Bar

Escape to this elevated (get it?) outdoor oasis atop Sports & Social at Fenton in Cary. With its chic, contemporary, Instagrammable design and cozy seating areas, it’s easy to settle in and relax with refreshing craft cocktails – like mezcal-based “Smokey Rose” or a watermelon spritz with cava – plus wine and Mediterranean-inspired small plates to share while being entertained by local DJs. If you’re looking for an exclusive experience, reservations are accepted for VIP booths beginning at 9 p.m. each night.

Dram & Draught

Offering more than 300 whiskeys from around the globe, hand-crafted cocktails, draft beer and wines from the old world and new, Dram & Draught is the perfect place to grab a drink in a laid-back setting. The bar and lounge has locations across the state, bringing its neighborhood feel to Cary, Durham, Raleigh, Greensboro, Wilmington and Winston-Salem. Relish in a favorite classic drink such as an old fashioned or a gin and tonic (usually made with local spirits, like Durham Distillery’s Conniption Kinship gin), or try something seasonal – the friendly bartenders are happy to help steer you toward something you’ll like!

Durham County

Alley Twenty Six

Shannon Healy can certainly pour a perfect Manhattan or whip up a heavenly strawberry daiquiri. The bartender of more than two decades and owner of Alley Twenty Six is a master of his craft, but he says his true talent lies in being a good listener. Find a bar stool, pick your poison and – whether you ask for a top-shelf whiskey or something fruity and devilishly sweet – he’ll deliver. Alley’s upscale atmosphere is built on a foundation of genuine hospitality, and chef Carrie Schleiffer, who made her debut at Alley in 2016, delivers on that front by pairing elevated yet-familiar American favorites that celebrate local ingredients with the established bar program. The most popular dish on the menu remains the “Alley Burger,” inspired by hearty bacon cheeseburgers but dressed to the nines with black truffle cheddar, house-made bacon jam and an 8-ounce chuck-and-brisket patty that’s ground in their kitchen. Oh, they also produce, package and sell their own extensive line of cocktail syrups (we adore the ginger) – grab a bottle before you leave!

Alley Twenty Six bartender/owner Shannon Healy and chef Carrie Schleiffer.
Alley Twenty Six bartender/owner Shannon Healy and chef Carrie Schleiffer in the bar’s namesake brick alley.
Raspberry Beret paired with the Violet, You're Turning Violet! cocktail from Apéritif
A colorful combo at Apertif: Raspberry Beret paired with the Violet, You’re Turning Violet! cocktail – butterfly pea flower gin, lavender simple syrup, fresh lime juice and muddled basil, garnished with a lime slice and rice paper butterfly.

Apéritif

Located in Durham’s University Hill, Apéritif features an extensive menu of both signature and seasonal cocktails, along with beer and wine, complemented by small plate offerings like charcuterie, canapés and baguette sandwiches. But for the true experience, you’ll want to pair your cocktail with one of the fantastic desserts. Try the signature Apéritif cocktail – made with Aperol and Citadelle gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, grapefruit bitters, egg white and garnished with an orange peel – alongside a “Raspberry Beret,” a dark chocolate and Grand Marnier mousse dome filled with raspberry jam and served atop a brownie.

The Waiting Room

This Durham spot offers its patrons – whether they are there for a quick drink before dinner elsewhere or cozying up on a date – a chance to feel at home, no matter how long they choose to stay. The Waiting Room offers a menu of small bites designed to tide you over. The deviled eggs with chili crisp already have become something of a Bull City legend, and innovative macarons are the stars of the dessert offerings. “Your Buddy,” is the signature (and most popular) cocktail featuring a play on an old fashioned.

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