What’s Your Favorite Cocktail in Raleigh?

What’s Your Favorite Cocktail in Raleigh?

Libations Extraordinaire

September, 11, 2009, by Ladye Jane

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With all the wonderful places to wine and dine popping up all over town, Raleigh has no shortage of places to go grab a specialty drink. What is your favorite cocktail around town? Does anyone have a drink they love outside of the downtown area? Here are a few of our favorites…


I was sitting at the bar at The Borough one day a couple of years ago. Bartender Smitty and I were having a conversation about either music or bicycles. I was drinking a PBR. The conversation started to morph from one of those subjects to the packs of Splenda I was thumping around the bar like a paper football. Splenda is about as artificial as it comes. What if we were to put it into PBR like people put it in their unsweet tea here in the South. What would that taste like? The initial thought was disgust, but it began an experiment. Is there anything you could mix into PBR to transform it from the cheapest beer on the menu to a royal cocktail?

The initial test involved only three items: splenda, butterscotch schnapps, and pomegranate (POM) juice. Splenda and PBR don’t mix well. Remember the vinegar/baking soda volcano from middle school? Yup, Splenda and PBR create a similar chemical reaction. The shot glass overflowed on the bar. Next up was butterscotch schnapps. While this was unexpectedly okay, it tasted like dropping a Werther’s Original in a beer. I could see this being a desired cocktail in rural England pubs, but it wasn’t for me. A bit too sweet. But, speaking of sweet, last up was the pomegranate juice that Smitty used in a few of her in-house cocktails. We thought this would taste the best and we had obviously saved the best for last. The PBR with Pomegranate was born and like any great cocktail, it needed a name. P(om)BR it became and word of mouth led to its popularity and eventually being introduced on the menu. To this day, it is one of the more popular concoctions on their list.


The bloody mary at Poole’s is the best in town. The mix is homemade and they are constantly tweaking the recipe. When you think it’s perfect, you have another one and it’s even better. It has a cool spice to it, and isn’t really tomato-y. The drink uses cucumber puree and other veggies (like a pickled carrot!) to give it a freshness that lightens up the spice and makes you feel like you’re doing something good for your body. Any cocktail that pulls that kind of double duty is awesome, but this one is really special.

Ladye Jane

Depending on mood, time of night, season, and general instinct, I have two drinks that tend to be the cocktail of choice. If I want something that’s a little sweet, the Tarheel at Foundation is perfection in a glass. Mixed with sorghum molasses rum and their own homemade cola, it ends up tasting slightly like a pancake (which sounds a little strange for a drink, but trust me, it’s fabulous). If I’m in the mood for something with a little bit of a spicy kick, then it’s the Sting at the Busy Bee. This one is made with Sky passion fruit vodka, cilantro, soda, and the kicker, slices of jalapeño peppers. By the time you get to the bottom your mouth is burning a little bit, but it’s delish.


Landmark’s Dark & Stormy. Some dark rum, some ginger beer and a little lime- one of my favorite drinks.  To get this one right you need ginger beer, not ginger ale- and many of the bars in town don’t seem to understand this and serve it with ginger ale. Landmark has the proper ginger drink and mixes it just right. Gary Poole, drummer for The T’s, and landmark bartender made me my first one that was just right. I was so pleasantly surprised by the balanced cocktail Poole put down in front of me.  Poole could probably tell you the whole history of the drink - but I know it comes from the Caribbean and as summer closes its one way I can make it last just a little longer.

And special guest drinker, Grayson Currin

Let’s count ourselves fortunate that Foundation’s Root Beer Flip—a simple but plenty-rich blend of vodka, root beer and whipped egg whites—costs $9 ($11, at least, with a tip). Smooth and capped with a touch of perfectly dense froth, Foundation’s flips wash down much lighter than an actual float, meaning you might drink two or three without considering the consequences. That is, a night with these could get expensive quickly, and because of the fairly generous amount of vodka supplied, three of these might alter the meaning of flip for you by last call. Also, get rid of the black straw, and sip it like lemonade: Sure, it’s quaint to pretend you’re actually poking through ice cream, but the flavors simply blend best without it. And if you’re into second place, The Remedy has a New Orleans-trained bartender who makes an untouchable Sazerac and doesn’t mind brandishing his bottle of Peychaud’s tableside.

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Entertainment, Other posts by Ladye Jane.


BarsNight LifeCocktailsMixed Drinks


  • Will
    09/11 08:36 AM

    LadyeJane- long time no see..next time you go to the busy bee for the sting, tell them to trade the skyy passion fruit vodka for tequila and to add honey. Its not quite as sweet and the tequila goes so well with the fresh jalapeno and cilantro.

  • Randy
    09/11 08:44 AM

    Being from the south and loving sweet tea…it is hard to beat the Charleston Sour at the Foundation.  You have to be careful, you can drink those things like BoJangles sweet tea and then you won’t know what hit you.

  • dt
    09/11 09:16 AM

    I will “never forget” the first time I had a Root Beer Flip at Foundation, changed everything

  • adrienne
    09/11 09:27 AM

    anything Luke mixes up at Poole’s. i love the Pimm’s pitcher & Wake County Cooler.

  • Wayne
    09/11 09:54 AM

    Sangria @ Porter’s Tavern.  Smooth and refreshing—be sure to get a carafe ‘cuz it goes down quickly.

  • suz75
    09/11 10:10 AM

    Italian mojito at Vivace. Yum!

  • nd
    09/11 10:14 AM

    The Basil Smash at Foundation, like a slice of fried gold.

  • roi
    09/11 10:23 AM

    Hop, skip, and go naked.  Vodka, warm beer, and frozen grapefruit juice with lots of ice cubes.  Great in the summer time around the pool.  The first one will make you hop, the second one you will skip , and the last one you will go naked.  Of course there is nothing wrong with a red neck on vacation…..PBR with a lime slice.

  • arthurb3
    09/11 10:30 AM

    “How do you Q?” from The Borough.

  • dt
    09/11 10:40 AM

    The ukulele at the Jackpot, ask Josh to make it for you, one of a kind deliciousness…

  • Ladye Jane
    09/11 11:15 AM

    Will, that sounds awesome. They should put that one on the menu as The Sting II.

  • VaNC
    09/11 11:32 AM

    Jay’s special Tequila Cilantro cocktail at Zely & Ritz, or whatever he makes up for the night with whatever fruit puree is in season.  Love fruit, but hate sweet drinks and Jay knows how to do fruit drinks right in the summer.  In winter, bourbon and ginger is all I need.

    And Dave Justus makes a great basil/gin thing, but I remember little about it.

  • Richard
    09/11 11:37 AM

    Would it be pedantic to point out that many of the thing y’all have mentioned are mixed drinks but not cocktails? Yeah, pedantic, oh well.

    Fave cocktail in Raleigh is just about anything concocted by the folks behind the stick at Foundation.

  • tc
    09/11 11:40 AM

    Tequila, cilantro, and jalapenos.  That’s crazy, I’ve been making same cocktail at home for a few years, with a few other additions/processes.  I called it an Angry Cilantrini (lame, I know). 

    All this time I thought I was special….eh, still tastes special. 

    Anyway, my favorite cocktail is probably just a bourbon and ginger at Foundation.  Wide variety of bourbon to choose from and a nice spice from their homemade ginger-ale. 

    Also a huge fan of Poole’s bloody mary, nicer when the beer chaser was free.  And ‘Ernie’s Old Fashioned’ is pretty great too. 

    Going to Chapel Hill, the Homeward Angel at The Lantern is CRAZY good.

  • Dan
    09/11 12:31 PM

    I would have to go with the Pear Martini at Cashmere.  If you get Q to make it, you won’t regret it.

  • ab
    09/11 12:45 PM

    Tough one, but I’ll go with a Basil Hayden Manhattan made by Alan Brown at Poole’s.  Just the right amount of everything.

  • Jessica
    09/11 12:48 PM

    I love Delia’s Dirty D martini at 101 lounge and cafe…little sweet, little sour…perfect combonation of the two for your taste buds!

  • b
    09/11 01:24 PM

    Another vote for the JP Ukulele.

  • JJ
    09/11 02:41 PM

    Hands down the best libation I ever had is the Cucumber and Vine at Foundation.  It may be gone now since summer is over but everything they make there is AMAZING!

  • Joshua
    09/11 02:41 PM

    wake county cooler at poole’s. great name. black tea vodka. luke makes them the best.

  • Richard Bacchus
    09/11 04:07 PM

    I need to check out the Ukelele at the Jackpot.

    But what I really wanted to say is that I’m starting to brew my own ginger beer for the Dark & Stormy’s at The Landmark.

  • Farrar
    09/11 04:26 PM

    I would have to say the Queen Bee from Bee! I also like the Bloody Mary at Raleigh Times because it comes with a delicious snack on the side!

  • gd
    09/12 04:23 AM

    Basil Smash Foundation by far.
    THe one “specialty” drink I ordered from the Busy Bee was the worst ever.  It was tohave rosemary muddled, but it tasted like the whole drunk was nothing but rosemary - every sip I got rosemary pieces in my mouth.  Even after having it strained, it was still awful.  I should have requested a new one or it to be off my bill as it was undrinkable.

  • uncwgirl77
    09/12 08:06 AM

    Well, I am a bit of a lush, so declaring just one drink may be too difficult. I think that I’ll have to go with my top three.

    —The Bee’s Knees at the Busy Bee. Who would ever thought about putting Bourbon, pineapple and Rosemary together? I was hooked on these after my first one. (gd: sorry that you found this drink so awful. Obviously, taste is quite subjective. FYI, it is the pineapple that is muddled—not the rosemary.)

    —Cucumber and Vine at Foundation. These are delectable, and I hope that these are still available, because summer isn’t over quite yet. I need to visit ASAP to get one before they are gone.

    —The Big Mama at The Borough. It’s a combo that works well together. And, Liz knows how to make a drink that is tasty yet gets you tipsy.

  • VanC
    09/12 08:10 AM

    I love Foundation, but their ginger ale is just too sweet and heavy for me.  I like a clean, crisp ginger ale.

  • Andy W.
    09/12 09:20 AM

    Big Mama from The Borough.  I have to get it every time I go.

  • RaleighRob
    09/12 03:02 PM

    “Short Little Span of Attention” at the Borough is real yummy.  Love to get it every time.

    “Basil Smash” at Foundation is really great….but because bourbon hits me hard, I can only have one.

    Coquette’s got a drink with vodka, blackberry and rose water…I think it’s called “Black Rose”.  Try it if you’re ever there.

    The “Fraziertini” at Frazier’s is a win too.

    And Red Room’s Bluberry-Lemon Sangria is always a welcome refreshment!

  • Kat
    09/12 06:07 PM

    The Rootbeer Flip at Foundation is awesome as are their Mojitos….they will also send a person to the poorhouse cause you cant drink just one and they are like 9 and 12 bucks each respectively….

  • JK
    09/13 05:36 PM

    1. “Short Little Span of Attention” from the The Borough.
    2. Bloody Mary from Rockford- best in town.
    3. The specialty margs at Jibarra are A-mazing as well!

  • Christian Staples
    09/13 06:06 PM

    How come no one mentioned the bloody mary at Raleigh Times? It’s like a meal in itself… sidecars of PBR and veggies alongside a perfectly blended bloody just spicy enough to kill any hangover. I agree that just about anything at Foundation deserves a spot on this list (basil smash and old fashioned are my favorites), but please give some credit to RT!!!

  • gd
    09/14 05:23 AM

    UNCWGirl:  Not in my drink.  It was the rosemary.  It was terrible.  That was the last straw for the Busy Bee for me.  The food and drinks have been awful except on my first visit.

  • sarah emily
    09/14 08:15 AM

    MEZ (RTP):
    Blood Orange Margarita

  • Ashley
    09/14 10:52 AM

    Whiskey Woman at 101 Lounge!!! Its yummy ~ and i love the bloody mary bar they do every sunday !!

  • jj fad
    09/14 11:01 AM

    The smoker’s phlegm….this thing is legendary.  There’s only a few places in town to get one, but if you do you’re a lucky bastard.

  • schmitty
    09/14 03:49 PM

    jed- i completely forgot about the unfortunate splenda experiment. 

    don’t for get how gross the sambucaBR and tequilBR were.  pernodBR? soooo glad we made history together.


  • Dan from Detroit
    09/16 06:12 AM

    While I agree in the Tarheel sentiment above (actually just about everything - minus the Old Fashioned - at Foundation is awesome).  I have to show some love for a drink I love called “The Garter” @ the newly opened Noir Bar on Glenwood next to Solas.  Not too many Absinthe drinks out there are delicious for sipping but this one is worth it to try.  I also hear they’ll be getting an actual Absinthe fountain soon.

  • AberZombie
    09/16 09:14 AM

    Basil Smash - Foundation
    How Do You Q? - The Borough
    The Sting - The Busy Bee

  • art
    09/16 09:59 AM

    Basil Smash at Foundation. Hands down.  I have never loved a drink as much I love this one.

  • VaNC
    09/18 04:21 AM

    I can’t believe there has not been any love sent out to Dave Justus at Remedy.  He is one of the best bartenders in town.  Drink?  I know Remedy has some popular speciality drinks, I am just glad he makes a great bourbon and ginger.

  • BungalowGirl
    09/20 05:59 AM

    VaNC, I completely agree with you about the lack of love for Dave on this thread.  My favorite cocktail is…well…anything Dave makes.  He is a master.

  • astrozombie
    09/21 12:18 AM

    I wish Justus would have competed at SipSpark.  Dave is and always will be the best bartender in Raleigh.

  • VaNC
    09/21 03:51 PM

    Who won SipSpark?  Had to leave 1/2 way through second “heat”.  I have to admit the one I really wanted to try was the fig one by the JuJube bartender.

  • ty
    09/22 03:26 PM

    According to sipSPARK
    Jordan Hester, bartender at FOUNDATION!

    It was a close race between Chris Powers of Busy Bee
    and Jarrod Gateway of JuJuBe.
    But check out all the folks and some pictures here…

    Look for all the recipes soon too.

  • leahisgreat
    09/22 06:24 PM

    Foundation’s Cucumber & Vine
    I’m lovin’ it.

  • kim
    09/23 09:49 AM

    the bloody mary at foundations impressed me. what a unique take on presentation and flavor!

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