I’m always on the hunt for a bar that can satisfy both my preference for strong drinks and my friends’ for cocktails that are fruitier and easier going down. Bowbarr is a club right on the edge of Carrboro and Chapel Hill that’s garnered a reputation for interesting cocktails, which made me think it might satisfy all our alcoholic hankerings.
In addition to libations, Bowbarr offers a small selection of assorted snacks like cheese and cracker sandwich packs, wasabi peas and pistachios. Beers are available by the bottle and draft. Foothills was the only local brewery we recognized on the small draft list.
The Location: From the sectional couch that takes up the first half of the room to the photo booth tucked in a corner and the shiny cymbals stuck on the wall, Bowbarr gives off an arty and fun vibe. The ceilings are painted in thick black and white lines and squares, and the seating is illuminated by a green backlight. I won’t lie, there were a lot of hipster beards and plaid in the room. Indie rock floated from the speakers, notably getting louder as the crowd grew thicker around 9:30 p.m.
The Company: My husband, who is always willing to be the guinea pig for my new cocktail quests. With a deck of a cards and a drink in hand, we can easily conquer a Friday night.
The Drinks: Bowbarr has a small chalkboard to the right of the bar that lists six to seven specialty cocktails and their draft beers. Those cocktail choices are heavy on the bourbon, comprising the main spirit in at least half of them. My husband tried the Blood Orange ($8), made with bourbon and blood orange and lemon sodas. It’s a good drink for an introduction to the world of bourbon, a gateway cocktail if you will. The bourbon is made mellow and approachable by the soda presence and the abundance of ice cubes. The citrus is sweet rather than tart.
I tried the Pom Collins ($7) first, a mixture of gin, pomegranate juice, sour mix and lime. This would also be an approachable choice for fruity cocktails fans. The pomegranate juice dominated the glass, obscuring the gin flavor. There was just enough lime to make it interesting, though it was too watery for this potent cocktail enthusiast.
The Renegade was more up my alley ($8). It is made with bourbon, bitters, sweet vermouth, apple juice, Blenheim ginger ale and a “most expensive cherry.” The drizzle of cherry juice on top made the presentation pop. Overall, it was a successful apple-cider riff on a manhattan with the bitters and ginger ale mimicking spice. The tart cherry made for a striking last sip.
The Service: Drinks were made fast. When my husband discovered a layer of unidentifiable debris on the bottom of his Victory pilsner, it was replaced swiftly.
The Final Bill: For three cocktails, one beer and one bowl of pistachios, we paid $34. Not too expensive as far as cocktails go, but I expected a little more bang for my buck, and by bang, I mean alcohol content.
The Verdict: Bowbarr has a modish, yet entirely unpretentious, vibe. Lightweight drinkers and fans of more powerful concoctions will all find something to sip, although the draft list is a bit short and the cocktail list rather bourbon heavy.
Rebecca Gomez Farrell is a Durham-based fantasy, horror and romance author and a freelance editor. She reviews the Triangle’s restaurants and cocktails on her blog, the Gourmez, contributes to the food blog Carpe Durham and writes television commentary for All My Writers.