Goodnight Raleigh - a look at the art, architecture, history, and people of the city at night

Making a Landing at the Landmark Tavern

above Holga image credit: Ben Spiker

Although my ‘bar hopping’ days are long gone, I do enjoy going out on occasion for drinks with friends to any of downtown Raleigh’s ‘public houses.’ One of my favorites is the Landmark Tavern on E. Hargett Street.

This quintessential neighborhood bar has been open for little more than a year now, yet it has already achieved, well, landmark status. The low-lit interior is cozy and well appointed with wood paneling, stained glass panels, antique-style light fixtures and comfy booths. It is a very inviting space. There’s even a private outdoor beer garden.

above Holga image credit: Ben Spiker

But one of the main attractions of the Landmark is the bar itself. Owners Brendan and Linda O’Reilly brought in and restored the historic bar, originally located in an establishment in Hooversville, Pa. When the massive quarter-sawn oak bar was being reassembled, they discovered an old black and white photograph from 1911 that depicts it in its original location.

In the photo you can see patrons decked out in derby hats and coats and ties. Behind the bar the barmen pose in their long white aprons. In those days women were not allowed in drinking establishments. As public restrooms were scarce then, the face of the bar was equipped with a certain floor-level convenience intended to accommodate the all male clientele. Umm…you’ll have to ask one of the present-day bartenders to explain it to you.

Now for a little Raleigh history.

The 3-story brick building the Landmark is located in is a Hargett Street landmark itself. Long associated with Raleigh’s once thriving early 20th century African-American business district, it has had many tenants over the years. One Raleigh property map indicates that the building has occupied this spot as early as 1881. It first appears on the Sanborn Insurance maps in 1884, and by 1888 the Oak City Manufacturing Co. —a wholesale clothier employing ’60 hands’— occupied the building.

During the 1890s the street level floor was divided into separate storefronts. The Landmark space was occupied over the next few years variously by a grocery, printing establishment and even briefly as a venue for ‘moving pictures’ in 1910. As early as 1903 the upper floors housed the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, a black fraternal organization, and within 10 years black professionals and businessmen occupied the entire building.

From 1911 through the 1930s Mallette’s drug store operated out of the Landmark Tavern space. It was supplanted by the Community Drug Store in the 1940s and 1950s. Later the space was home to the Hargett Street Billiard Parlor.

As Raleigh’s ‘black main street’ faded into history in the early 1960s, the lodge hall was abandoned and the black professionals gradually vacated the building. Although Capitol Barber Shop, once known as Capital City Barber Shop, has remained steadfast in its location at 115 E. Hargett since 1932, during the waning years of the 20th century the Landmark space at 117 was often empty.

above image credit: Raleigh Boy

In this century Empire Properties has breathed new life into the old building and nowadays an art gallery, various small businesses, the old mainstay, Capital City Barber Shop, and the new kid on the block, the Landmark Tavern, are all thriving.

No matter if you drop in at the Landmark after work on a weekday, during peak hours on weekend nights, or on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, the friendly bartenders will greet you and serve you up a remedy for whatever ails you. Oh yeah, PBR is only $2.50 for an imperial pint.

I’ll see ya at the Landmark—and be sure to ask the bartender for a look at the photograph behind the bar.

above Holga image credit: Ben Spiker

Thanks to Linda and Brendan O’Reilly, and bartenders Pete, Gary, Shelby, Sandra, Ricky and Chico for supplying me with information for this article.