Cocktail bar and coffee shop join forces in an unexpected location
by Catherine Currin
photographs by f8 Photo Studios
Between the sunny yellow bar stools and ample natural light, you’d probably never guess that Hummingbird, the new coffee shop-restaurant-bar on Whitaker Mill Road near downtown Raleigh, was formerly a men’s bathroom.
There’s evidence, though, in the seafoam green tiles that are chipped in places; in the cracked unfinished concrete walls; and in the exposed galvanized pipes connecting bar to kitchen. The building, Dock 1053, was formerly the produce warehouse for A&P grocery stores and then Winn-Dixie. Refurbished today to include a co-working space, brewery, distillery, and modern furniture store, Hummingbird’s corner location is tight and it’s run like a ship. It’s also bursting with color and texture. Chef and owner Coleen Speaks says the place inspired its own name: It is beautiful, small, and efficient, just like a Hummingbird.
Speaks is a self-taught chef, she says, with years of experience honed in the kitchens of restaurants in New Orleans. She came to Raleigh in 2000 and worked at local establishments like Bloomsbury Bistro and Enoteca Vin before opening her catering company, PoshNosh in 2008. All the while, “I’ve always known I wanted to have a restaurant,” Speaks says. “This (Hummingbird) has been in my head for 25 years. It’s an extension of my catering (approach). We’re serving food that you would expect to get in a bar, but stepped up a notch.” The menu includes, for instance, ricotta fritters, chargrilled oysters, and buttermilk fried quail.
Hummingbird’s setting is likewise what you would expect to get in a bar, but stepped up a notch. The bar’s adjoining portrait room is a moody, quirky spot with mismatched paintings hanging on dark refurbished walls. And it is one of the only places in Raleigh open 8 a.m. – midnight, Monday to Saturday. (Cocktails all day, Speaks notes, lends a “very New Orleans vibe.”)
The ambitious hours have been well received: Since its January opening, Hummingbird is nearly always lively. Speaks says she is thrilled to have a space that makes people feel at home and linger, whether it be for breakfast, lunch, or a nightcap. In the spirit of going big or going home, down the back hall of Hummingbird is Speaks’s other new endeavor, event space Whitaker & Atlantic. W&A is open to Hummingbird guests on vacant weekends, but more regularly used for receptions, pop-ups, and gatherings.
Speaks says she’s proud of her female-owned business, a pride she emphasizes with cheeky drink titles like “Someone to Watch Ovary,” and with floral inspiration, from a drink’s pink shade to an edible flower garnish. Take, for instance, the Petal Guru. A mixture of gin and rose water, when stirred into vintage glassware from Speaks’s extensive collection, the drink is as pleasing to look at as it is to consume.
Head bartender Tal Collins, who moved to Raleigh two years ago and got his start at Fox Liquor Bar downtown, says he’s excited about Hummingbird’s evolving, intimate environment. He feels encouraged to create and experiment, he says. “Coleen wants things to keep rolling. She’s the type of person who says ‘let’s make it happen’ when there’s a need for something new.”
The Petal Guru is a new, floral take on a gin martini. Using Durham Distillery’s Conniption Gin, it’s a liquor-forward mix with vermouth and a dash of Peychaud’s bitters to give it a subtle, pale pink shade. Fragrant rose water is stirred in, and the vintage coupe glass topped with an edible flower.
The drink is a study in contrasts: fresh and delicate, but potent and spirit-forward. Much like the place where it’s served. “Because it took me so long, I got to iron it all out,” Speaks says of Hummingbird. “When it opened, it felt like it’s been here forever.”
1 ½ ounces Durham Distillery
Conniption Navy gin
1 ½ ounce dry vermouth
One dash rose water
One dash Peychaud’s bitters
In a mixing glass, add gin, vermouth, rose flower water, and bitters. Stir with ice and strain into coupe glass. Garnish with dried rose petal.