Welcome to the neighborhood
by Mimi Montgomery
photographs by Keith Isaacs
“It’s really all in the name,” says Dram & Draught co-owner Kevin Barrett, looking around the interior of his new bar, housed in a 1930s-era building that sat empty on Hillsborough Street for eight years.
The previous gas station and automotive shop Barrett and his business partner Drew Schenck have turned into their new bar is a draw in itself, with exposed brick, a throwback Esso sign, old junkyard car benches as sofas, headlight-style ceiling lamps, whiskey barrel seating, and garage doors that roll up to an outdoor patio. But the real emphasis is on what they serve.
For those wondering, a dram is a measurement of liquid usually associated with types of whiskeys, and a draught is a pour of beer. So, naturally, the bar boasts an impressive whiskey collection and a variety of beers on tap. “I love whiskey,” says Barrett, for its versatility in cocktails and for the variety of types available. “I’m always in the mood for (it) … dangerously so.”
His bar, which opened in late July, prides itself on a large and eclectic mix of whiskeys and draft beer. But the partners aren’t wedded to just those two libations. “We’re going to have a little bit of everything,” says Barrett. “I’ve worked at other places that have focused on one thing to the point of excluding other things … we’re trying to accommodate everybody.”
When conceptualizing the space, Barrett drew on previous experience in the hospitality management and bartending worlds. He has plenty. The Philadelphia native moved to Wilmington as a teenager, eventually opening a wine shop. When he made the move to Raleigh, he spent several years at Foundation as the manager and barman, working at other haunts like C. Grace Cocktail Bar and Fox Liquor Bar, too. “I think bartending is like a mental illness,” Barrett says, adding with a laugh, “you either have it or you don’t.”
Clearly he has the touch, without the illness. “Those experiences, and all the experiences I’ve had at all the bars and restaurants I’ve worked at before I moved to Raleigh, gelled into this,” he says. “I tried to take the best parts of every place I worked at and create a spot like this.”
He’s careful not to call it a cocktail bar: He doesn’t want it to seem fancy or pretentious, and instead says he wants it to be “a good neighborhood bar that also has really great cocktails.” And he’s excited about the location: “Everybody in Raleigh has looked at this spot,” he says. Across the Char-Grill on Hillsborough, it’s walking distance from downtown, Glenwood Avenue, Boylan Heights, and the Cameron Village area. Barrett calls it a good “in-between” place, and says that he’s just happy he and Schenk get to make it their own. “It’s this key location that people walk by, they drive by … Everybody’s had an idea about what they could do in this spot, so everybody’s anxious to see what we’ve done.”
He is too. “It’s everything. It’s exciting, it’s stressful, overwhelming, joyous … It’s everything. It’s a ton of work, and hopefully it’s rewarding.” After all that elbow grease, Barrett is ready to go. “I can’t wait to make a drink and sell it to somebody,” he says with a laugh. “It’s been a long road.”
1 ½ ounces jalapeño-infused Exotico Blanco tequila*
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
¾ ounce strawberry simple syrup*
Mint sprig, for garnish
Splash of soda water
Add all ingredients except soda to a cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake and strain into a collins glass over ice and top with soda water. Add a sprig of mint for an aromatic garnish that adds a nice color contrast. Impress your friends with your literary and mixology prowess: Tell them you invented it, and call it a “Tequila Mockingbird.”
*Exotico Blanco tequila infusion
Cut the stem off 1 medium-sized jalapeño and discard. Slice the jalapeño and place in sealed container with 1 bottle of Exotico Blanco tequila for approximately 24 hours. To make infusion less spicy, leave jalapeño in for less time or exclude the seeds. One bottle, one jalapeño, one day.
*Strawberry-infused simple syrup
Mix 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water and heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove stems and slice in ½ cup of strawberries. Allow simple syrup to cool slightly, then add strawberries. Do not add strawberries to boiling or near-boiling water. Use a hand blender to puree strawberries for 1-2 minutes. If you don’t have a hand blender, use a potato masher, your trusty muddler, or whatever creative, safe tool you can find. Strain the whole concoction through a mesh sieve and use a whisk to gently push the solution through the sieve. Feeling epicurean? Add a few sprigs of mint to the syrup and let steep for 5 minutes before removing.
623 Hillsborough St.; dramanddraught.com