On Friday, November 22, Morgan Street Food Hall celebrated the opening of Aunty Betty’s Gin and Absinthe Bar, Raleigh’s first gin-focused bar. Named for owner Niall Hanley’s Irish aunt, and one of his favorite spirits, the “botany bar” aims to showcase different styles of gin as well as absinthe, vermouth, and tonic with an emphasis on regional terroir.
It’s not Hanley’s first foray into the world of interesting watering holes. Hanley is also the brains behind three other unique bars downtown, including Hibernian, a traditional Irish-style pub; Raleigh Beer Garden, a multi-level beer bar holding the world’s largest draft beer selection; and Watts and Ward, a swanky cocktail lounge located in the basement of a historic building. Alongside mixologist and managing partner, Greg Ewan (Watts and Ward), the two worked closely to bring another interesting bar to Raleigh.
“With over 30 different gins from Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States paired with 10-plus styles of tonic from around the world, you’ll never run out of variations on one of the world’s favorite beverages,” Ewan says of the popular gin and tonic cocktail. “Our menu is part tribute to the glory days of London’s gin palaces, part love letter to vermouth and its varying roles in different iterations of the iconic Martini, and part modern craft — including an in-house ice carving program,” he adds.
Patrons have the opportunity to taste local products from North Carolina like Durham Distillery’s award-winning Conniption gins, Sutler’s Gin, Southern Artisan Spirits’ Cardinal Dry and Barrel Rested gins, Chemist gin, and Alley Twenty Six’s hyped tonic syrup. Expect rare and exciting gins from around the world to pop up on the menu, too. Tanqueray Bloomsbury (only 100,000 bottles produced in 2015) and Xoriguer Gin de Mahon (a gin from Menorca, Spain) are two current standouts.
Ewan also recommends checking out Bittersweet, a longtime standing cocktail, dessert and coffee bar in downtown Raleigh with an impressive gin list and cocktail program.
Hanley also notes that many of the great gins of the world were a plot to create cash flow for distillers while whiskey matured. “It’s a testament to the distillers that the gin market, in particular, has blossomed into its own huge sector,” he says.
The vibe is inviting and fresh. A mural on the entire back wall, painted by Wilmington-based artist Byran Stacy, serves as a noteworthy backdrop to the space and artfully pairs with vibrant green and purple velvet couches and dramatic silver wingback chairs. Color changing lights play a crucial role in the bar’s overall ambiance. “When I design a bar, the space will dictate what it wants to be,” says Hanley. “From a layout standpoint, the space tells you what it wants. The elements that we used in the design, with the absinthe and gin, we wanted to go with the greens and grays.”
While part of Morgan Street Food Hall, Aunty Betty’s has its own entrance next to Iyla’s Southern Kitchen, with an additional entrance on Morgan Street. “Our cozy space can comfortably accommodate up to 50 people and is hidden in plain sight,” Ewan says.
Hours are 4 p.m. to 2 p.m. daily, but Ewan recommends arriving early to claim a spot, and for a view of one of the best shows in town.
Hanley will continue to roll out new vendors inside the food hall. Pazza Pasta, from Raleigh’s Samad Hachby and Umbria Restaurant Group, will bring fast-casual pasta and Poadina to the mix, while Epic Axe will offer additional entertainment for guests. Check Instagram for announcements and events.
Open daily, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
411 West Morgan Street, Raleigh. auntybettysbar.com.