Upon the first stumble in, it is easy to mistake the Black Flower for a homey, but unlikely frequent destination of the casual passer-by in the diverse vibrancy that is the downtown Raleigh nightlife scene. Located just off the northern gates to the Glenwood party district, the bar is small, shrouded in darkened windows plastered with the scrappy comradery of dozens of bold-faced bumper stickers. It embodies the definite vibe of a music venue -- which it is -- but deserves more appreciation than your ordinary punk dive normally merits.
The deciding factor which ought to ultimately sway one's opinion of an alcohol-delivering establishment such as this one is, of course, the totaled effect of the quality and price of the alcohol in question. And Black Flower undeniably and consistently takes the cake when it comes to this effect. No one behind that bar is messing around. Picture this:
The first -- or last -- stop of the night. Doesn't really matter which, because you know they'll have the necessary arsenal to quench your thirst and dazzle the somewhat intoxicated brain with enticing neon colors and abstractly-playful decor.
"Welcome folks. What'll it be?"
(playing it safe and/or fighting crippling indecisiveness amidst the swath of worthy choices) "PBR."
A 24-ounce tallboy. Starting things off right.
"Try the Sex Panther. Contains alcohol. LOTS of it -- trust me."
"Yeah...60% of the time, it works every time."
Except that second exchange isn't spoken, it's printed provocatively on the side of a pink liquid vat which fulfills, thankfully, its provocative promise of something that is every bit "party juice", or the revered P.J. brewed shamelessly at all the best college parties.
There is something oddly heroic about that perfectly cozy, grimy bar whose drink selections evenly match the setting's projected swagger. No overtly boastful barkeeps whose uncouth mixing expertise is matched only in messiness by their grubby tattoos. No blaring XM radio ads -- instead, metal and rock and garage-punk tomfoolery, situated within playlists crafted deftly to complement local art adorning the walls and the smooth, curved black lines of leather booths. Character drips from the industrial criss-cross of the bar's cavernous ceiling.
Every now and then, you discover a place on account of blind surveying of an area, looking for a good time in a new city based on Yelp reviews alone. This is how I came across the Black Flower at the start of this year, on a chilly night looking for brews and a little live music. A Friday night in a college town, on a neat little strip surrounded by good eats and southern city folks growing tired of an enduring southern winter. We went in, close to 9:00 and found it empty, its broad bar a beckoning palace for just us two. It was a good night.
Every now and then, you give that cute-looking spot a shot, because why not? There's allure within mixed reviews, in this case prompting you to wonder, Is the joint really just a cliché, a dive only enjoyed by people fitting its apparent stereotype?
With a place like Black Flower, a first-time visit should be treated with a wholly open mind and an agreed-upon mission to have a really good damn time -- because that is what it wants to give you. If you're looking for a full-bodied glass of wine or a tray of artfully displayed appetizers, you might be disappointed. Fortunately, those sorts of options are available, not too far down the road and when you're ready, the Black Flower will be there to satisfy your every drunken need with unbeatable specials and good company.
What sorts of needs, exactly? Depending on your mood, it could be an autumn-flavored N.C. draft, served with a spicy-sweet brown sugar rim dust. It could be a shot of minty Cold Spell whiskey, presented with icy precision in a souvenir frosted-glass cup. Or maybe a $10 double Red Bull vodka...you know, for one of those beginning-of-the-night types of situations. Or maybe it's a Sex Panther sort of soirée because you can do what you want.
Wherever the beverage-based palate takes you, Black Flower carries the choices and atmosphere of beautiful, adventure-filled potential. So next time you visit Raleigh, save some time for a visit. After all, there's a life-sized Elvis grooving on the bathroom wall who thinks that you -- yes, you -- deserve another drink.