On the wall of the Atlantic Lounge, a new basement bar on North Person Street, the words “Don’t serious yourself to death” glow in blue neon.
Owner Jason Howard said he hopes the words balance the expectations that might accompany a members-only bar in Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood that requires a $40 key to enter.
“I thought that line would be perfect,” Howard said. “The key thing, it can come off as pretentious or that we’re a super-duper high-class club. I just want everyone to come in and enjoy themselves.”
The Atlantic Lounge opened its doors New Year’s Eve and has been in a soft opening mode. Wednesday is the bar’s first official day, serving a cocktail menu created by beverage director Dug Wheeler focusing on the classics, like martinis and old fashioneds, flips and fizzes. Beyond cocktails there’s craft beer and wine.
The bar has been in the works for years, moving into the space below Crawford & Son restaurant with room for around 44 people. There’s a long turquoise banquette lined with tables and chairs and an L-shaped bar with seats for a dozen. Art includes a wall-sized print of Johnny Cash showing off his middle finger.
The Atlantic Lounge’s front door is locked, even when it’s open, accessible only to members who have paid the $40 membership fee and received a key.
Private clubs are common in North Carolina for bars that don’t serve food, but most membership fees are nominal.
Howard, who also owns the Cardinal Bar, a Raleigh dive bar that serves hot dogs, said the key-only membership isn’t about exclusivity, but rather an effort to lend ownership of the bar to its customers.
“We want to get the customer base in there and let them tell us what they want,” Howard said. “It’s essentially their bar....I want them to feel like it was their bar.”
Howard points to Glenwood Avenue a decade ago, when he co-owned his first bar, Brooklyn Heights. He said as Glenwood and downtown Raleigh became nightlife destinations, regulars at the bar complained the area’s crowds would ruin what they liked about their favorite bar.
“There was more of a local feel, downtown Raleigh hadn’t blown up yet, we had built a local following up over the first six months,” Howard said. “Then my local patrons would said, ‘I’m not going to like this bar in six moths,’ as it gets discovered by the weekend partier or out-of-towner. I never intended to own a party bar. But how can I control that? You really can’t.”
Howard said the keys are an attempt to keep the Atlantic Lounge’s potential crowds manageable. He started by offering memberships to residents in the surrounding Oakwood neighborhood, going on email listservs, as well as holding open enrollments for anyone who wanted to join. Members can invite people to join, and Howard said he plans more open enrollments in the future. Each member is allowed one guest per night.
Howard also hopes to open another project this year, the modern diner Rainbow Luncheonette at 911 N. West St. In the push to get the Atlantic Lounge open, he said that project has been on the back burner, but still anticipates a 2019 opening.
The Atlantic Lounge is at 620 North Person St., Suite 1. Request keys by emailing TheAtlanticLounge@gmail.com. or through the Instagram account at instagram.com/theatlanticlounge.