Setting the Bar: The Crunkleton
By Kathleen Harrington
Whoever chose the border between Chapel Hill and Carrboro for this bar was a smart one. The location couldn’t be more fitting because it has both the cool factor of hipster-y Carrboro and the pomp of old school Chapel Hill. From the street, any passers-by can see straight through the open front wall and its window bench, past the high tops, bow tie-adorned mixologists and too-deep-for-you art lining the walls, all the way to the back where pool tables sit waiting for old companions to reconnect. The bar itself runs the length of the right wall and is made from mahogany or oak or some other self-important wood. Hundreds of bottles filled the wall behind it and aged boxes that previously housed pricey liquor now sit atop the display like beloved book spines. It felt like every philosophy professor’s favorite spot for brandy and brooding.
Ranging from $10 to $23, cocktails at The Crunkleton don’t come cheap. I was warned before trying this spot could dent a wallet, but I still wasn’t quite prepared for how lavish the drink menu turned out to be. With 45 types of gin and almost 60 types of bourbon, this bar is the dream for any experienced drinker who knows exactly what he or she wants. For the rest of us, prepare to turn open your pockets for the daintiest of drinks and remember: sip slowly. I tried out The Monkey Gland — a fruity pink concoction and one of 26 featured cocktails, each with its own byline. I should have known at the sight of “By Gary Crunkleton” that these cocktails were going to be interesting, but I waited it out to see the result. To be fair, the drink was good. The bartender kindly inquired as to my preference on licorice before including the absinthe and took the time to replace it with a comparable flavor to maintain the integrity of the mixture. As tasty as this drink was, I could not justify spending $15 on such a tiny concoction. The one-time splurge was fine, but prices like that take some of the fun out of social drinking. I’m sure I’ll make my way back to The Crunkleton, but it definitely won’t be my go-to on a normal night.
Somehow, through all of the over-the-top pretentiousness, The Crunkleton’s coolness prevailed. I felt welcomed by the staff and knew this was a great spot to catch up with old friends or ponder possibilities. Its high prices did well to scare away the rowdier of bar attendees, leaving an easy getaway for anyone looking for some quiet and a quality cocktail. Apart from its attitude, what really impressed me about The Crunkleton was the setup of its venue. The large oak windows at the front open to West Franklin Street, creating a summertime sanctuary inside with Chapel Hill’s usual light breeze. This small touch opened up the rest of the otherwise-cabin-esque bar and created an easy place for patrons to sit and relax.
Though not a spot I would pick for just any night because of the prices, The Crunkleton has that certain something that made me want to stay. It may take itself too seriously, but I found myself surprisingly comfortable and welcomed in the hideaway that is this bar. The bartender was more than happy to recommend a cocktail and even checked my preferences before including one of the usual ingredients. These little things made the visit entirely pleasant and I would encourage anyone with an artsy side to check this spot out. My only warning: don’t come if you aren’t willing to dish out a few bucks — this definitely isn’t a cheap date.