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Belltree creates unique speak-easy experience in Carrboro

When Nick Stroud decided to open a bar, he wanted to create a speak-easy that mirrored the atmosphere of the Prohibition era, but lacked the exclusivity of speak-easies from the past. 

His speak-easy, Belltree, opened in Carrboro in October and specializes in craft cocktails, which range in price from $9 to $14. The menu features drinks like the “Ol Gunner,” which consists of bourbon, lemon, jalapeno syrup, an egg white, Aztec chocolate bitters and activated charcoal.

The hidden bar is tucked behind a car wash in a nondescript brick building near the intersection of Merritt Mill Road and East Main Street. It replaced another speak-easy, Peccadillo, that closed in April.

Stroud, who is also a co-owner of The Baxter Bar and Arcade in Chapel Hill, saw an opportunity to satisfy the area’s demand for craft cocktails and bring something new to Carrboro’s bar scene when Peccadillo closed

“What’s the point of opening a bar if it’s just going to be another bar that plays UNC games?” Stroud said. “With this level of service and creativity and skill, there is a much larger slice of the pie that we can grab in terms of the clientele.”

Stroud said he saw ways to improve the atmosphere of Belltree from that of Peccadillo by adding more lighting, as well as artwork and antiques that reflected the Prohibition era, which lasted roughly from 1920 to 1933 in the United States when it was illegal to sell alcohol.

UNC senior Navina Venugopal, who has been going to Belltree about once a week since it first opened, said she likes the Prohibition-era feeling. 

“It makes every college student feel more mature than they really are,” she said.

Stroud, 31, said business has been steadily improving and meeting its numbers. He said the clientele ranges from graduate students to old Peccadillo regulars to people who have no knowledge of craft cocktails.

He wanted Belltree to be an atmosphere where there wasn’t a strict rubric for drinks, and bartenders have the option to customize drinks based on customer demands. 

“Cocktailing can easily get ridiculous, and cocktailing can get really pretentious,” Stroud said. “We want to avoid that — we want to have fun with it; we want to be goofy.”

Zach White, a bartender at Belltree, said he has enjoyed experimenting with drinks, something he wasn't able to do while working at other bars. 

“I really enjoy getting the creative license back which I didn’t necessarily have before,” White said.

Stroud said in the future, there will be more events to drive people in during the weekdays, and people have really adapted to the Prohibition-era atmosphere.

He said some have arrived dressed in clothes from the 1920s, and one customer started showing people how to dance the Charleston. 

“The allure of a speak-easy is being transported to an environment that you were only able to imagine because there really are no true speak-easies anymore,” Stroud said.


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