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Wine, walks, and hops: New pilot program lets folks in Raleigh drink in downtown streets

Alexandria Taylor, owner of Unorthodox Vintage in downtown Raleigh.
Jason deBruyn
/
WUNC
Alexandria Taylor, owner of Unorthodox Vintage in downtown Raleigh.

Margie Jones sat with her friend at the bar of the Big Easy on a Friday afternoon. Both had a glass of red wine in front of them.

Jones is a regular around Fayetteville Street, and in Big Easy specifically. The bar and restaurant features New Orleans flair, and has been near the heart of downtown for 16 years.

Now, for the first time, Jones and other patrons of Big Easy get to legally take those glasses of wine out of the bar and into the street to sip, just like they might if they were out in the actual city of New Orleans.

That's thanks to an initiative affectionately called Sip n' Stroll Downtown. Jones is a supporter of the new social district, which allows people to take an alcoholic drink they bought at one bar, and drink it outside while staying in a defined area.

"I think people should be able to walk with a beer or whatever," she said. "Have a good time, as long as they're not hurting anybody."

Restaurant and bar owners are largely supportive of the program. Participants can roam with a cocktail in hand around Fayetteville Street and the Warehouse District from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. every day of the week.

Steve Hunt owns the Big Easy and has seen crowds migrate between that area, Hillsborough Street and Glenwood South.

"Even if it doesn't amount to a ton more sales, just to bring a little more awareness that Fayetteville Street is still here and downtown is still here, not just Glenwood Avenue," he said.

Amber Echevarria, left, and Jaime Radar, co-owners of Munjo Munjo in downtown Raleigh.
Jason deBruyn
/
WUNC
Amber Echevarria, left, and Jaime Radar, co-owners of Munjo Munjo in downtown Raleigh.

There has been some criticism that this could lead to more public drunkenness. But to Hunt, that shouldn't be a concern.

"We're not going to sell to people that are already intoxicated," he said. "They're just getting one more drink. They can walk around enjoy themselves outside having a cocktail. I don't see any problem with it."

There's a clear benefit especially on crowded nights, says Ruhan Rahman, who runs the host stand at the Italian restaurant Gravy.

"When you have to tell them to wait for their table — either we're cleaning it or a party is finishing up — we usually have to tell them to sit at the bar and wait. But now we can tell them to grab a drink and walk around while they wait," he said. "And I think people, from what I've seen, prefer to do that."

Munjo Munjo in downtown Raleigh
Jason deBruyn
/
WUNC
Munjo Munjo in downtown Raleigh

Shop owners are more cautious about the pilot program, but many were in favor of it as well.

Alexandria Taylor owns Unorthodox Vintage, a boutique thrift shop near the corner of Wilmington and Hargett streets. She says it will bring more shoppers into her store. Since they have to clean all their clothes anyway, she wasn't too concerned about the occasional spilled beverage.

"I think that people are more mindful about it than we think," she said. "Because it's a privilege, right? You don't want it to be taken away."

Unorthodox Vintage in downtown Raleigh
Jason deBruyn
/
WUNC
Unorthodox Vintage in downtown Raleigh

Next door at another boutique, Munjo Munjo, co-owner Amber Echevarria said she's in favor of attracting people downtown, but she will still ask people to leave their drinks at the store's entrance.

"Pretty much a lot of our stuff is one-of-a-kind things," she said. "And so if someone does come in with an open beverage and spills it, that just costs us a lot of money because we still have to pay all of the artists for everything."

Echevarria says it's something they already deal with during downtown festivals and other events, so it's something they're used to.

"My dog doesn't drink beer, so he's just hanging out here, he doesn't want to clean it up," she said with a laugh.

Greensboro has also launched a new downtown social district earlier this year. Durham is also considering something similar.

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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