Arcana: Durham’s Intimate New Tarot Bar

Photo by Esar Aadil and Susie Locklier
Image by Esar Aadil and Susie Locklier

There’s a cozy new bar in town, and it’s opening tonight. Arcana is the creation of Lindsey Andrews and Erin Karcher, two Durham residents who have tons of combined experience working in Durham restaurants. They conceptualized and designed Arcana around the Rider-Waite tarot card deck – specifically around the Major and Minor Arcana. According to their Indiegogo campaign page,

Arcana refers to secret knowledge—the sort that, when shared, creates a community that surrounds it. Arcana also names the two primary suits of the Tarot Deck: the Major and Minor Arcana. Tarot’s history–as a card game, divination tool, and occult practice—represent the aspects of Durham that Arcana hopes to bring together: the fun and pleasure of play, a shared future, and a magical mystery that makes it so special.

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Lindsey and Erin in this dreamy space and hear more about it.

Me: How did you conceptualize Arcana?

Lindsey Andrews: Arcana is meant to be a comfortable lounge and bar that hits a mid-range in terms of price-point and in terms of being a place that is really comfortable. The concept, the décor and all of the inspiration for everything we’re doing comes from tarot. We’re interested in all of the different aspects of tarot, the things we think that tarot represents. On the one hand, it’s this idea of it being a kind of alternative knowledge, alternative reading practice, which is a social and collective activity. So we’re interested Arcana serving as this type of social space. We are also really interested in art and we want to make this a type of place that facilitates the arts in whatever capacity.

You both are well versed in bartending. What drink specials will you offer?

L: We’re trying to come up with interesting and slightly esoteric cocktail and liquors. The same way we’re interested in different types of knowledge practices, a lot of these liquors have that in them too. Herbal, made by monks, super secret, where no one knows the ingredients.

The Magus. Photo by Monica Byrne.

The Magus. Photo by Monica Byrne.

Erin’s done a lot with the beer and wine, she can say a little bit about what those are.

Erin Karcher: You’re getting a really great slice of our day. There’s a constant stream of people coming in. I’m really excited to make some connections with some great beer and wine reps that seem to get the vibe of this place. For instance, our wine rep guy got me a wine called Battle Axe Malbec that is really good. It has been fun to see that our reps have been really working with us on that and getting us some good product.

L: It’s really important to us to think through all of the different aspects of what we want to do, and we’re not just trying to make it like a brand that we sell. It’s been hard for us to think about how to talk about it, although, in some ways, it’s been really wonderful because that means we have more conversations with people about it rather than just a snippet, and I think people really get it. It’s not so much as sentence but more an atmosphere and a vibe and a set of things that we’re trying to put together. A lot of people have been really receptive to that way of talking and thinking about the place we want to create.

L: As far as liquor drinks go, I’ve been trying out different syrups and flavors, trying to work with some herbs and figure out what kinds of things might work. We did a test run with five cocktails last week using those syrups and some more really good ingredients but also make it simple enough to operate with one or two bartenders, so we can keep it a small, tight operation.

E: I think we have a “no fire, no eggwhites” rule.

L: Yes, we try to simplify it so you get a really good cocktail, but also so Erin and I have time to interact with you while doing the work ourselves. We’ve done everything ourselves. We’ve sanded the floors, we’ve painted the walls, we’ve done everything in this space. Everything except the bar, where we had a plumber and our amazing carpenter, Bo, come in. But this is the same way we feel about doing service -we want to be really hands on about it.

There are a few cocktails that we have created that I really like. We’re using names inspired by tarot, so we have one called “The World and The Star” with homemade pistachio orgeat, whiskey, lemon and angostura bitters. The Magus is my favorite, it has black pepper syrup, black rum, demerara and lime.

Where did this amazing menu cover come from?

L: Oh, my mom made those for us.

E: All of our moms are involved. Actually, we had a donor incentive program where you get a drink named after you if you donate $1,000 and my parents did so Lindsey made a drink, Isabella’s Card, for my mom. Isabella is my mom’s cat. Lindsey took feedback on what my mom likes and created the cocktail.

L: So many people have been generous and have really helped us out. People have wanted to get involved and we’ve had people donate items like art and furniture.

Organ behind the bar, photo by Arcana

Organ behind the bar, photo by Arcana

What went into the design of the place? Any special stories about how you acquired the décor in here?

[Erin laughs and points to Lindsey]

L: Well, when we were trying to figure out what to do, we were always talking in terms of tarot, and the Rider-Waite deck, which is what you usually see when it comes up online. This deck has a lot of art nouveau elements, so we started to look for things that weren’t necessarily strictly art nouveau, but would give us that earthy, feminine feel, much more, than say, art deco, which is cleaner and blocky and feels like advertising.

E: We’ve both been to Prague, and are influenced by both Old Eastern European and French Quarter (NOLA) décor. Prague likes cozy – it’s steeped in Communist history and people tend to live with their parents for a long time (well into their 30s), so there’s a lot of public display of affection in Prague, and the desire to have these private places to be intimate with each other (in whatever way intimacy looks like for each person). There are lots of tearooms, bars, and alleyways.

L: In a sense, we want this to be a place where people want to snuggle up and be warm with each other. I think a lot of social places can be anti-social in the way the seating is set up. We want it to feel intimate.

While some of the pieces are donated, such as Alphonse Mucha print, Lindsey acquired most of the pieces you see in Arcana. The epic old organ behind the bar came from TROSA, for instance.

L: When I first was starting to look for what we might do, I didn’t have it fully visualized yet. I went out to an antique store and they were going to have an auction the following week and I picked out three pieces for inspiration. I began looking for the Duncan Phyfe style of furniture on craigslist, and I borrowed my dad’s truck for six months and drove way out, all over the place, to find these pieces.

The bar looks amazing. What went into building the bar?

The bar at Arcana

The bar at Arcana

L: Well I was noticing the ceiling tiles from another bar, and I thought that might look cool. I asked the contractor what he thought and he thought it would actually work. We can put epoxy over it. So those are ceiling tiles inside of the bar top. We got one online that matched with the gold thematic. We had already gotten the organ, and then the idea of the ceiling tiles seemed to compliment that. We picked the one with a pattern that reminds us of either the world or the fortune tarot card – it had a softness to it that a lot of the other ones did not. Primarily, it was just coming up with a cool way on a low budget to get something really beautiful that fit with the space up there.

I really like the staining you did on the floor.

L: Yeah, we pulled up all of the carpet ourselves, which was full of glue, so it took us two weeks to scrape the glue off. We had to scrape it all off by hand, degrease it, and then drop a stain on it and wax it. The walls at that point were painted but there was still a white line around the bottom because we hadn’t had the baseboards done yet. I came in after Erin had just dropped the stain – she was so proud of it and had worked so hard – but then I came in and flipped out because it was REALLY red. But Erin told me not to worry and to just hold to it. I’m glad she stuck to her guns about it, because once she put the sealant and the wax on it, it really softened everything and made this really pretty earthy brown color. And now it’s the feature that everyone asks about. It’s so beautiful.

Do you have any upcoming events or any ideas for future events you’d like to see at Arcana?

L: We’re very excited to provide a private party for everyone who donated to our Indiegogo campaign, so we’ve got that coming up and are aiming for December 17th. And we want to do a grand opening party (open to the public) on the 19th. Beyond that, we haven’t made any plans yet because we are concentrating on getting the doors open, but we definitely plan on having performance art, DJs, dance parties, and more. What we really want is a regular running Friday and Saturday night where there is some chill DJing but where we’ll also be doing readings – we imagine it as a place where you can hear good music but where you can also sit and talk. We definitely want to do some big events too. We have been talking with some different drag performers to get some performances like that because our setup is very intimate and cabaret-like. We’re also open to being set up for hosting private events, especially during off nights or during the day.

Arcana is scheduled to open TONIGHT, so stop by, grab a mystical cocktail, and get cozy.

Arcana is located on 331 W Main St in Downtown Durham
Entrance is in the back next to Beyù Caffè. *
Open from 5pm-12am Wed-Sun, 21+

Check out their website:

*A note about parking: There is parallel parking on Ramseur St, but the parking right behind Arcana in the back is almost always open and free after 7pm and it is never that crowded. Sometimes there’s someone out there charging three dollars for special events at the DPAC, but normally it is free.





Jess Dilday is Clarion Content's current Editor-in-Chief and regular contributor. Jess originally moved to Durham to be a part of vibrant communities centered on music, art, and activism. Jess sees Durham as a place where people don’t just sit at a bar and talk about great ideas and rad projects - we put them into action. Their other alias is DJ and producer, PlayPlay. PlayPlay is in a constant musical conversation with the public, speaking across generation, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality to create an all-inclusive dance floor. PlayPlay has opened for Big Freedia, MC Lyte, TT the Artist, Dai Burger, Double Duchess, Le1f, Jubilee, MikeQ, Cakes Da Killa and others. They are also one of the organizers and resident DJs behind Party Illegal (a monthly dance party in Durham) as well as the creator and organizer of several themed parties at the Pinhook, including the Dreaming of the 90's and Dark Entries parties.

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