Poppin’ Bottles: A Different Kind of Bar Scene

Bottles shops offer a watering hole with a shopping twist for a bar scene that’s all about community.
by Catherine Currin | photography by Josha Steadman

Sure, you could go to a wine bar, a cocktail bar, a dive bar or a straight-up “bar,” but Raleigh boasts an abundance of another kind of drinking establishment: the bottle shop.

This hybrid of market and watering hole, a place to shop for craft beer and drink it at the same time, has become a favorite neighborhood gathering spot. Much like a brewery, a bottle shop is typically kid-friendly and dog-friendly, frequently bring-your-own-food-friendly and an opportunity for beer aficionados to taste newly released and limited-edition local brews.

Johnny Belflower was an early pioneer of the trend when he opened his shop, Tasty Beverage, eight years ago in the Warehouse District’s Raleigh Depot. “It’s an interesting phenomenon,” Belflower says, “every shop has their regulars and they all have such a different vibe.” Tasty Beverage has a rotating draft list, with funky flavors like a Cherry Pineapple Sour or a Vanilla Hazelnut Stout, and Belflower says he can flex his curiosity and creativity with beer selection.

Belflower credits a lot of the growth of bottle shops in the Triangle over the past decade to the 2005 Pop the Cap NC initiative to increase the ABV limit on beer in North Carolina. Despite a growing number of bottle shop options in this area, Belflower says there isn’t really a sense of competition‚ it’s more of a celebration of the craft beer scene across Raleigh and all of North Carolina.

Matt Allen, owner of Pelagic Beer & Wine in Oakwood, feels the same way. “We took it as a different route to the industry. We like supporting all the other craft breweries around Raleigh,” he says. “I have a science background and I’ve always been passionate about the environment. This bottle shop thing was an artistic outlet for me,” says Allen, who owns the shop with his wife Amanda (while keeping up his science-y day job).

Dozens of bottle shops are scattered across our city, and Belflower says it’s worth exploring all of them, as each fills its own niche. “I’ve always been fascinated at how different one beer store or bar can be from another. Like, you can’t get a delicious sandwich at Tasty, but you can at State of Beer,” says Belflower. To wit: Mordecai Beverage Co. offers salsa dancing, North Street Beer Station has open mic nights and chess meetups, Green Monkey offers drag shows and bingo, Crafty Beer & Wine offers sports watch parties and Sunday hymn sing-alongs… each caters to its clientele with its mix of products and events.

Bottle shops offer something for everyone, whether you’re a beer connoisseur or just looking to try something new. Says Belflower: “Considering we’re so similar from a conceptual standpoint, everybody really has their own unique thing going on.”