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Shannon Healy: Mixologist, Restaurateur & James Beard Finalist

Estimated Read Time:
4 min

Durham's Alley Twenty Six is the first bar in North Carolina nominated for Outstanding Bar Program.

Behind the doors of every successful restaurant is a restaurateur surrounded by a hardworking team of people. Together, they make sure the food that brings us joy on our birthdays, breaks up the conversation on a first date and helps us celebrate anniversaries, graduations, and victories is delivered to us at the right time – with the right flavor. The entire experience can be the highlight of someone’s day or lifetime.

Following a decade as general manager and head bartender at the award-winning Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, Shannon Healy followed his passion to downtown Durham, where he opened Alley Twenty Six in 2012. From the fresh house-made ingredients to the eye-catching garnishes that make up the drinks, Healy’s goal was to create a bar in which crafting the perfect cocktail was an art form. Five years later, he expanded the bar and added a dining room, an open kitchen, and seasoned chef Carrie Schleiffer.

Alley Twenty Six has received numerous local awards – including “Best Bartender in Durham County,” “Best Place to get Speciality Cocktails in Durham County,” and “Best Neighborhood Bar in Durham County” by INDY Week. As the restaurant approaches its tenth anniversary, Healy celebrates another great honor: Alley Twenty Six is a finalist for the Outstanding Bar Program in the James Beard Foundation Awards (JBF).

Established in 1990, the JBF “highlights the centrality of food culture in our daily lives and is committed to supporting a resilient and flourishing industry that honors its diverse communities.” Alley Twenty Six is the first NC bar program nominated in the bar category.

“I reread the James Beard Awards email a few times trying to comprehend it,” said Healy. “As the first folks from North Carolina nominated in this category, it is an incredible honor to represent Outstanding Bar Programs all over the state.”

Being a bar and restaurant owner is certainly not for the faint of heart. Like many restaurants, Alley Twenty Six had to pivot numerous times and rely on a mix of takeout, delivery, and Covid-19 safe dining to stay afloat during the pandemic. While every restaurateur who made it through the brunt of the pandemic deserves an award – and maybe a vacation – a nomination by the James Beard Foundation, the “Oscars of food,” is one of the highest achievements for a restaurant.

“I am lucky to lead an excellent team of hospitality professionals as we try our best to steer a course through these very interesting times,” said Healy.

In addition to an extensive selection of cocktails, wine, beer, and other spirits, the Alley Twenty Six bartenders are happy to customize your drinks. The signature Scofflaw cocktail contains Wild Turkey 101 Rye, dry vermouth, lemon, pomegranate, and orange bitters. Or you might be interested in their best seller: the Mexican Herbalist with dried hibiscus and fresh jalapeños.

Healy and Schleiffer often collaborate on food and drink pairings, so exciting things will happen on your palate. Try the French toast with fresh berries or the shrimp and grits for brunch. The dinner menu doesn’t disappoint either with a classic Alley burger, dressed with black truffle cheddar cheese and bourbon-bacon jam.

When asked what makes Durham beautiful, Healy replied, “The hospitality community is incredibly supportive of each other in Durham. It is great to be a part of a community that feels collaborative.”

Healy and his team have some exciting things on the radar. Whiskey fans and novices can head to Alley Twenty Six every Wednesday for Whiskey Wednesday to learn about premium whiskeys without breaking the bank. On the last Whiskey Wednesday of every month, Che Ramos, The Black Bourbon Guy, joins the Alley crew behind the bar.

You can also shop from their online cocktail store, sign up for virtual classes, and bookmark them for future catering opportunities. Weather permitting, the alley adjacent to the restaurant is always a great space to enjoy a quintessential downtown Durham experience. Subscribe to their newsletter and follow them on social media for special events and updates.

Our local bars and restaurants illuminate the city and make up the essence of Durham. We cherish spots like Alley Twenty Six that are weaved into our celebration stories. Congratulations to Shannon Healy and his team for this extraordinary achievement.

The James Beard Foundation Awards will be broadcast live via the organization's Twitter feed. Winners will be celebrated at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony on Monday, June 13, 2022, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.