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As we’re leaving from a dinner at Brewery Bhavana last week, we pass a suited fellow at the front of Watts & Ward. Looks like they are doing a friends and family event and I test the security up front as to what it would take for us to get into this cool new speakeasy. The security man, Jarvis, shakes his head no and reminds us that Watts & Ward will be opening up on Thursday. Lucky me, because their media preview comes a day early, before their grand opening!
Thankfully, Wednesday night rolls around pretty quickly and I head on over to the corner of Hargett and Blount. Located underneath Caffe Luna, just look for the two iron railed gateways around the corner to visit Watts & Ward! Stepping downstairs, I find myself in a narrow hallway with entrances on both sides. Watts & Ward is a BIG speakeasy with over 6,000 square feet of space and three bars. Up front they have a small bar area they call the mud room with the Watts & Ward signage stenciled on the wall. To the left there are two lounge rooms with stuffed couches and chairs to relax in.
But I’m immediately drawn to the center bar area which is the showcase of Watts & Ward. It’s a beautiful bar covering the length of the room and has some lovely inlaid woodwork on the face. Metal tractor stool type seats line the front and you’ve got some couches in the center. I grab a menu and scan through it, Watts & Ward offers up cocktails in the $12 range and they all sound pretty interesting. But I’m going to start with my fave, gin and tonic. The lighting at Watts & Ward is perfect for a cozy and/or romantic evening if that’s what you’re looking for. They’re playing a bit of classic pop rock over the speakers but not sure what they’ll do on popular evenings.
In terms of comparable speak-easy type bars, I’d say that Watts & Ward is most similar to Circa 1888. Like Circa 1888, it’s got a large cavernous space along with a side patio for some sunshine air. Heading on back to the third set of rooms, I find another nice marble top bar. This space is a bit lighter given its proximity to the patio and it’s paired up with a nice lounge area. A vintage cash register sits in the corner, a reminder of simpler times. The staff is all dressed in black slacks and white shirts, the classic service look.
Working to the outside edges of Watts & Ward are all the sitting rooms by the patio. They are a bit tight, full of furniture and chairs so hopefully they will spread things out for a bit of space. I head back to the center bar and grab a Pamlico cocktail: rum, bourbon and pineapple syrup. It’s a solid drink although I probably prefer more classic cocktails in a speak-easy! And I’d guess that given Watts & Ward is run by Niall Hanley from the Hibernian Group, he’ll make sure that the beer, drinks and cocktails are up to snuff.
My one curious question is how Watts & Ward will do given all the competition in the area. It’s a LOT of space to fill right near Moore Square and you’ve got the Architect, Greenlight Bar, London Bridge Pub and Landmark Tavern right around the corner. Overall I think it’s got a chance to be an excellent bar and meeting spot for downtown Raleigh. I can definitely see an older office crowd here at Watts & Ward. Welcome to the neighborhood!