by Mimi Montgomery
photographs by Eric Waters
Joey Barbour and Michelle Palacios met when Barbour was a bartender at Glenwood Avenue’s Cornerstone Tavern and Palacios came in for a drink.
“I played the whole cool-bartender-role type thing,” he recalls.
“And I played the girl that likes drinks,” says Palacios, with a laugh.
The couple bonded over their interest in spirits and mixology.
When Barbour decided to put his many years in the bar and restaurant industry to work by opening his own place, Palacios, a Ph.D. student in microbiology at UNC-Chapel Hill, decided to join him as his partner in business and in life – the couple is getting married in September in Raleigh.
They both knew they wanted to open something a little different from the crowded, loud bar scene where people jostle each other for a Bud Light. “We like going out for nice drinks, not the crazy scene,” says Barbour. “We wanted it to be more quiet, just really a relaxing type of place.”
The Blind BARbour is that. The duo opened it Valentine’s Day weekend on Medlin Drive off Dixie Trail. It’s a reflection of their mutual love for craft cocktails, vintage-inspired design, and the customers that sit across the bar. “Coming up with this place and the feel, it was like ‘Where would we want to go? Where would we want to hang out?’” says Palacios. “It has this sort of feel of somewhere we’d want to go on a date night.”
Prohibition -era vibes define the space. Barbour has a fascination with the 1920s, and the bar’s name is a nod to that time’s speakeasies, when patrons would buy a ticket to see a “blind pig” or a “blind tiger,” hand it to the bartender, and get a covert drink instead.
No one is coming in here to get a haircut, after all.
Prohibition -era-style wood paneling covers the wall, chandeliers hang from the ceilings, and rows of glinting liquor bottles are reflected in an ornate, gilded mirror. Barbour and his father, a carpenter, did almost all of the work themselves, fashioning the wooden bar, booths, and walls by hand. “Everything you see we touched,” he says.
That the bar isn’t located downtown adds to its hidden-gem status. Barbour and Palacios wanted to provide craft cocktails and high-end ingredients in a neighborhood where regulars could walk over in the evenings and everyone could get to know one another on a first-name basis. The approach is working: The couple cites a handful of loyal, weekly regulars from the immediate area. Some have even crafted their own bitters which Barbour serves on the menu, and if someone has a particular brand of spirit that isn’t on the shelf, he’s sure to order it for them. “It’s not just customers,” he says. “We’re making friends with people … We want anyone that walks in to feel like it’s their bar.”
They’re also happy for Walter readers to turn their own kitchens into makeshift speakeasies with the Blind BARbour Hornitoad cocktail recipe. Incorporating tequila that’s been aged in Maker’s Mark and Jack Daniel’s barrels for a smooth, oaky taste, the concoction is perfect for the tequila-averse. Paired with Fernet-Branca, yellow Chartreuse, bitters, and a lemon peel, it’s a simple drink; refined with a twist. Hey – sounds just like this bar we know down on Medlin Drive.
2 ounces Hornitos Black Barrel tequila
½ ounce yellow chartreuse
⅛ ounce Fernet-Branca
2 dashes Crude Ginger No. 2 bitters
2 dashes Scrappy’s or Fee Brothers’ cardamom bitters
In a mixing glass, add tequila, Chartreuse, Fernet-Branca, and both bitters. Add ice and stir for 10-15 seconds, letting the drink chill and dilute. Pour the drink into a rocks glass without ice. Squeeze a lemon peel over the drink and discard the lemon.
Visit The Blind BARbour in June, when the Hornitoad cocktail will be featured: 3055 Medlin Drive; blindbarbour.com