by Jessie Ammons
photographs by Nick Pironio
Person Street Bar is about community. “The cocktails are a consequence of spending time with people,” says co-owner and founder Jeff Clarke, above. He and his partners, all close friends, live in Oakwood, walking distance from the watering hole on North Person Street. “I’m not saying we’re the first neighborhood bar,” says Clarke, “but I do think we’re a unique neighborhood bar. It’s a little more Type B, a little slower paced. We spin records. It’s a nice place.”
It was during a particularly crowded night downtown about three years ago when Clarke, attorney Justin Pasfield, and IBM employees Joseph Maxey and Walker Bradham found themselves unable to get another round of drinks. The men envisioned a Cheers-like alternative to the late-night crush, and Clarke, who had learned the ropes of hospitality at hipster haunts like Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill and Kings in downtown Raleigh, had been looking for an opportunity to open a spot of his own. “I’d written a business plan for a bar and a coffee shop and was sitting on them.” The time had come: The foursome decided to go in on it together.
It took a year and the help of still more friends – some from high school and college days – to transform the warehouse into an open space with black panelled walls, a stained wood bar, and lush back patio. The craftsmen they hired were local. The builders were local. The art they chose was local, and now rotates often. When possible, drink ingredients are also local. “People are the reason a place like this happens,” Clarke says. “Get the most creative people and give them a platform. We’re lucky to have so many wonderfully talented friends.”
Today, it’s the gathering place the friends had envisioned. The team behind the bar – a close-knit crew drawn from Clarke’s deep network – keeps it welcoming. “Our staff has driven most of our success,” says Bradham. “They’re well-liked and they brought their own crowds in, too.”
Clarke and his partners are quick to say that Person Street Bar is not a rejection of the downtown scene as much as a refreshing complement, and a reflection of their Oakwood/ Mordecai community. It “really needed a hub,” says Bradham, “a place for the community to come and be social and talk about ideas and politics and sports. People walk, they can bring their kids and their dogs.”
Person Street Bar has a logo on the front door, but no sign. Instead, block letters spell out “Peden Steel Co.,” a nod to the space’s former tenant that jibes with its current mid-century-modern-meets-industrial aesthetic. On any given day, at least one of the bar’s owners is there, alongside longtime neighbors catching up, cyclists refueling from a ride, the suited after-work crowd, creative types brainstorming, and everybody in between. “The foundation of everything we’ve done is focused on the neighborhood, the customers, the staff, and the atmosphere of welcoming community,” says Pasfield. “We started from there, we still start there, and then it takes on its own life.”
Person Street No. 6
Drinks at Person Street Bar lack titles. “When you seasonally rotate a cocktail menu, and we do, that’s a lot of names,” explains Clarke. For simplicity’s sake – and to keep the focus on the drinks’ quality ingredients – they’re numbered instead of named.
2 mint sprigs
2 ounces Redemption rye whiskey
Dash Agnostura bitters
1 ounce Blenheim’s ginger ale
In a cocktail shaker, muddle 10 blueberries, 5 blackberries, and a small fresh mint sprig. Add whiskey, bitters, and ice, and shake. Double strain over new ice in a rocks glass and add ginger ale. Garnish with 2 blueberries, 1 blackberry, and 1 smacked mint sprig.
(Smack the mint by placing it in between your hands and clapping them together. This helps release the herb’s flavor.)