Raleigh, North Carolina: Under The Radar

As we pulled out of the airport, I racked my brain trying to envision the downtown area of Raleigh, where we were headed, and would stay for three nights to perform our Holiday show with the North Carolina Symphony.  We have performed in this city, and in many small cities in the U.S. like it, several times, but I can rarely remember the names of the best places I’ve been to here, or exactly where they are. Thus, one of my main motivations for starting this blog; to have a place to refer to in these kinds of situations.

Besides the fun of watching Storm Large, one of our two female lead singers, shock some of the older audience members with her buxom self, fitted nicely into a teal blue silk dress that reminded me of a Christmas tree ornament, the three shows in Raleigh last weekend were fun, bet relatively uneventful from my perspective. We do like playing with the North Carolina Symphony, though, because this group seems to really enjoy playing music, as I witnessed many symphony members tapping their toes, and smiling throughout the show.

Storm Large, in her Christmas tree ornament dress
Storm Large, in her Christmas tree ornament dress

Between shows over the weekend, a warm thought occurred to me as I searched downtown for places to re-fuel my body; I saw evidence, once again, that the love of good food and drink in the U.S. has reached a remarkable high. Even in the smaller cities, there is a restaurant whose chef has an unflinching dedication to quality ingredients, a wine bar with a wine list lovingly curated by a sommelier, and a hip bar with a tattooed mixologist who smiles through his hip moustache as he guides you through his list of hip, handcrafted libations. I love it!

Here is a short list of great spots, all within a few block radius of each other, in downtown Raleigh:

Foundation (www.Foundationnc.com)—one of the best whiskey bars I’ve ever been to!  With about 50 Bourbons, the selection is not as impressive as some, but it’s the combination of the secret, underground feel of the location (it’s literally a subterranean space), the warm, intimate interior (with five tables and ten bar stools), the knowledgeable, friendly staff, and, my favorite feature, the Jefferson Ocean Aged Bourbon. Plan to go on the early side to get a spot at the bar.

Oro (www.OroRaleigh.com)—The modern, tasteful interior boasts a two-level dining room, with crisp white furniture everywhere.  I thought the “American Cuisine” small plates menu was on the expensive side, until I tasted the food—a lot of work and ingredients went into each of the four dishes I had, and they were all delicious. Nice, small wine list.

Zinda (www.ZindaRaleigh.com)–“New Asian” fusion, a stylish restaurant that transforms into a wildly popular nightclub later.  The happy hour food was to-die-for, and the cocktail menu is designed to go well, with great success, with the Asian flavors in the food.

The Raleigh Times Bar (www.RaleighTimesBar.com)—Housed in what appears to be three former retail stores, they have achieved a nice loft-like feel to it somehow.  Also very popular with an under-30’s crowd, and the seating situation always seems unorganized, but the staff is nice, the drinks and beer selection are good, and the food is better than the average bar.  Don’t go on a weekend night after 8pm…it gets crazy and loud.

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