Photo by Jessie Gladin-Kramer
Today’s Durham City Guide Update comes from Django Haskins, a musician and author who has lived in Durham for over a decade. Django is the singer and songwriter of the Durham-based band The Old Ceremony, whose fifth album, Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide, was released on Yep Roc Records in October 2012. Today, Django shares his deep love for his adopted hometown through this updated guide. Thanks, Django, for such a wonderful guide! — Stephanie
Read the full guide after the jump . . .
Photo by Jessie Gladin-Kramer
Durham is actually many cities at once: gracious southern city of stately residential architecture framed by old-growth oaks; post-industrial tobacco town whose brick warehouse district has sprung back to life, thanks to a ballooning creative class; gritty urban landscape that bears the marks of historic poverty even as it boasts a vibrant culture built around its African-American middle class; and cradle of the neo-gothic academic cloisters of Duke University. It all depends on what you bring to Durham.
Check out the Google Map with all of the below listings.
Toast: 345 W Main St, (919) 683-2183
A true mom-and-pop restaurant, Toast packs them in for the lunch hour with an assortment of incredible crostini, tramezzini, panini, and soups. My only complaint is that I love the five or six different crostini and soups I always order so much that I can’t bear to order anything else. Most of the year you can sit outside and people-watch. As the Five Points area continues to bloom, the people-watching gets better all the time.
If your idea of a bartender includes suspenders and a waxed mustache, you have come to the right place. Partying like it’s 1899, Whiskey ably takes up the mantle of the classic “man’s bar,” with dark wood paneling, hunting trophies, and cigars. This is the spot for specialty cocktails or a good single malt. You have to be 23 to get in, and they will make you remove your hat. If all that sounds too democratic, there’s a private club room upstairs that you can rent out to reenact the nomination of Warren G. Harding with your buddies.
Dame’s Chicken and Waffles: 317 West Main Street, (919) 682-9235
I know that Harlem and L.A. both had chicken and waffles before Durham. I’ve eaten at Roscoe’s, and I can tell you that Dame’s puts them all to shame. How? A light, crispy skin; juicy, tender meat; and shmears of Nutella-infused butter. The last time I was in there — a Sunday — the AC was busted on a 90-degree day, and the line still went out the door. It’s that good.
Photo by Jessie Gladin-Kramer
Pinhook: 117 W Main St, (919) 667-1100
Pinhook is a great neighborhood bar with live music. Everyone knows everyone, and the welcoming atmosphere makes you feel at home. It’s like Cheers, if Ani DiFranco starred instead of Ted Danson. Representing the best of Durham’s community-building, they often host fundraisers and themed dance parties.
Lilly’s Pizza: (919) 797-2554
Lilly’s Pizza started in Raleigh, but soon enough, like all good things, it came to Durham. Try any of the bewildering array of pies — you can hardly go wrong. The Sir Walter, with porcini mushroom oil, prosciutto, smoked gouda, roasted garlic, cremini mushrooms, mozzarella, parmesan, and oregano might be a good place to start on your exploration of the New World.
West End Wine Bar: 601 W Main St, (919) 381-4228
Another expansion, this time from Chapel Hill. If you prefer to woo your paramour with a well-selected grenache, this might be your scene. Comfortable couches upstairs and clean, sleek lines make this the spot of choice for the upwardly mobile. They also serve liquor next door in the Cellar.
Bull McCabe’s: 427 W Main St, (919) 682-3061
Trivia night is the best part of this neighborhood pub. Come in on a Wednesday and witness the dark wood-paneled booths come alive with founts of useless knowledge from ’80s movies to Olympic skiing records. And yes, you can get a good room-temperature pint of Guinness.
Old Havana Sandwich Shop: 310 East Main Street, (919) 667-9525
The recently opened brainchild of Roberto Copa Matos and Elizabeth Turnbull, Old Havana aims to bring authentic Cuban food to an area saturated in down-home Mexican cuisine. Most of the sandwiches offer variations of slow-roasted pork, ham, cheese, pickle, and mustard. Add a side of plantains, and you’re likely to want to start growing a beard.
Scratch: 111 West Orange Street, (919) 956-5200
Seasonal bakery, cafe, low-key hangout (if you can get there when they’re still open; our first two times they were closing when we got there at 3pm), Scratch is situated in a charming back alley of downtown. The fact that it thrives in this out-of-the-way location just underscores how much Durham loves its food.
Respite: 115 North Duke Street, (919) 294-9737
No-frills cafe with plenty of comfortable seating. It retains some of the former office space vibe that it inherited, but it’s a nice unpretentious hang.
Dos Perros: 200 North Mangum Street, (919) 956-2750
Durham is blessed with constellations of authentic Mexican food (thanks to a growing Latino population), but Dos Perros occupies its own space as an authentic Mexican restaurant that has internalized the ethos of the localvore artisanal food movements. It’s a rare spot where you can chomp on a burrito while simultaneously having a romantic night out.
Mateo: 109 West Chapel Hill Street, (919) 530-8700
A recent addition to the downtown food scene, Mateo Tapas is all the rage, and rightly so. They offer an array of carefully selected “Spanish small plates with a Southern inflection.” Hard to argue with that.
Revolution: 107 W Main St, (919) 956-9999
Do you like really fancy food served in what looks like an immaculate spaceship? Do you like your drinks to have fun names that sound like Sex and the City episodes? Welcome home, sir or madam. May I take your stole? This high-end futurama of a fine-dining restaurant — just down the block from Dame’s Chicken & Waffles and the Pinhook — shows the breadth of downtown Durham’s appeal: It provides Upper East Side glamor to contrast with the down-home eats.
Rue Cler: 401 E Chapel Hill St, (919) 682-6879
This Parisian-style bakery, cafe, and restaurant offers reliably delicious French fare, including beignets for brunch. This bright, sunny space opened in 2006, thereby counting among the early wave of Durham’s recent downtown renaissance.
Blue Coffee Cafe: 202 Corcoran St, (919) 682-7000
Located in a central square downtown, Blue Coffee Cafe keeps ‘em percolating. Their biggest claim to fame is that President Obama once stopped here for a cup a joe.
It’s a salon. It’s an art gallery. It’s an event space. It’s a source for homebrew. Actually, Rock Paper Scissors is all of the above: You can taste their homebrew while getting your locks sheared and admiring the rotating exhibits on the walls. Up there with Brooklyn Bowl (NY bowling/rock venue) and Sudsy Malone’s (OH laundromat/rock venue), this place brings multitasking to a (friendly, pleasantly hip) new level.
Carolina Theatre: 309 W Morgan St, (919) 560-3030
This art deco masterpiece houses both movie theaters and live performances from national touring acts. It also hosts the terrific annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
A complex of old tobacco buildings converted to an urban campus, the ATC houses restaurants, bars, the local NPR station, and plenty of office space. Right across the street from the new Durham Ball Park, the ATC starts bumping in summers after ball games or during their “Music on the Lawn” concert series, where a thousand or two folks come out with their lawn chairs and coolers and turn this tobacco district into a sea of good vibes.
L’Uva Enoteca (American Tobacco Campus): 406 Blackwell Street, (919) 688-8181
This newly opened bistro offers excellent authentic Italian cuisine and a small, delicious menu. Located right in the middle of the ATC, it manages to maintain a semi-private patio where you can dine al fresco.
Durham Bulls Athletic Park: 409 Blackwell St, (919) 687-6500
When wooing visiting friends with the charms of Durham, a sure-fire bet is an afternoon at the minor league ballpark where the Durham Bulls ply their athletic wares. Tickets are cheap, games are fun, and they have fireworks on Friday nights.
Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC): 123 Vivian Street, (919) 688-3722
DPAC is the crown jewel of Durham’s cultural renaissance. From a distance at night, this world-class performing arts center looks like an enormous, elegant ant farm, where bescarfed and beshawled arts supporters scurry from floor to floor in search of their balcony seats. DPAC draws in some of the greatest performers alive, from Leonard Cohen to Paul Simon to Elvis Costello (we won’t talk about the recent Ted Nugent show), and gives them a suitably classy joint in which to hold forth. It also hosts touring Broadway shows, where the scarfs really start flying.
Another example of thoughtfully repurposed tobacco buildings, Brightleaf connects the Duke-centered hub of Ninth Street and the blooming Five Points/Downtown area with plenty of shops and eateries.
Fishmongers: 806 West Main Street, (919) 682-0128
A downtown icon. Serving up the scaly stuff since 1983, this Durham institution is a great place for both super fresh seafood and tablecloths you can draw on.
Federal Lounge: 914 W Main St, (919) 680-8611
The Fed anchors the Brightleaf District with the always-crowded front patio seating and some of the greatest bar food in the South. The carnitas, veggie sliders, and mountainous nacho plates provide the culinary soundtrack to many a Durhamite’s after-work hang.
Parker and Otis: 112 S Duke Street, (919) 683-3200
If Cracker Barrel had a top-notch deli case along with its southern knickknacks, then P&O could have grounds for an infringement suit. As it is, P&O (or “Pando,” as some of my friends call it) offers yet another pleasant place for patio dining, this time with memorable chicken salads and heaping helpings of boutique old-time candies and sauces for Grandma’s stocking stuffers. And you don’t have to walk uphill both ways in the snow to find them.
Photo by Jessie Gladin-Kramer
James Joyce Irish Pub: 912 W Main St, (919) 683-3022
Another standby for a tipple of the old Irish ale. They host an excellent trivia night and occasionally have live music, as well.
Morgan Imports: 113 S Gregson St, (919) 688-1150
If Pier 1 mated with an old-time general store, they’d be the proud parents of a lovely place like this. Need a Chinese bicycle? Greeting cards? Candles? Kitchenware? Step right up. It’s located right in the Brightleaf area, so your one-stop quirky shopping just got simpler.
Casbah: 1007 West Main Street, (919) 687-6969
The smaller of Durham’s two recently added music venues, Casbah offers an intimate setting for rock bands or solo acoustic performers. Casbah’s Steve Gardner came to the club with plenty of experience, and it shows in the national acts he regularly ropes in.
Central Park District
Motorco Music Hall: 723 Rigsbee Avenue, (919) 901-0875
A renovated car repair shop in Durham’s booming Central Park District, Motorco Music Hall finally presents a proper space for mid-sized touring bands to play in Durham. An excellent sound system and classy layout reinforces Durham’s growing status as a rock-n-roll mecca apart from its nearby cousin, Chapel Hill.
Geer Street Garden: 644 Foster Street, (919) 688-2900
Another example of defunct car service centers making for great hangouts, Geer Street brings gastro-pub stylings to the classic beer garden. Try “The Pile,” which includes fried chicken, French fries, jalapenos, bacon, cheese, and gravy. Then plan on leaving your car to walk home.
Piedmont: 401 Foster St # B2, (919) 683-1213
Great place for brunch or a romantic evening of reliable upscale locally sourced southern fare.
Daisy Cakes: 401 Foster Street, (919) 389-4307
Like cupcakes? Sure you do. But you have no idea what kind of state you’re going to be in when you try Daisy Cakes’ cupcakes. They started out as a food truck, and now they’ve got a brick-and-mortar store with great coffee and brunch to boot.
Full Steam Brewery: 726 Rigsbee Avenue, (919) 682-2337
On sunny late afternoons, Durhamites spill out of this local brewery onto the street like beer-loving Jonahs to Full Steam’s well-stocked whale. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they offer Whale Ale. If they don’t, they should.
Durham Farmer’s Market: 501 Foster Street, (919) 667-3099
Every Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon, this massive farmer’s market appears in the heart of Durham, just down the block from the old Durham Bulls stadium. It’s here that you start to sense just how many conscious, community-minded people there are in this town. Also, how many different types of tomatoes.
Manbites Dog Theater: 703 Foster St, (919) 682-4974
Home to experimental and edgy local theater and multimedia projects, MBD is a non-profit theater right around the corner from Motorco and Fullsteam Brewery.
Thai Cafe: 2501 University Drive, (919) 493-9794
Good Thai food is like a well-loved pair of jeans. It doesn’t work for every occasion, but more often than not, it’ll do the trick. Thai Cafe does this and then some.
La Vaquita: 2700 Chapel Hill Road, (919) 402-0209
This little-known taco stand attracted some big-name attention over the past five years or so (including the NY Times and Gourmet Magazine), and now it is a perpetually crowded and slightly less dirt-cheap taco stand with some of the best authentic Mexican fare around.
Local Yogurt: 2501 University Drive, (919) 489-5900
Remember TCBY? Well, if TCBY was run by local yogurt connoisseurs who stocked their toppings from area farms, it still wouldn’t be as delicious as LoYo’s creations. Also, you really wouldn’t want to call it TCBY (which, incidentally, I believe should be reserved for “Takin’ Care of Business . . . Yesterday!”). There are now two locations, including one on Erwin Road, so you can TCB on two sides of town.
Q Shack: 2510 University Dr, (919) 402-4227
Live Bluegrass, delicious beef brisket, and fried okra. There’s not much not to like about the Q Shack.
Guglhupf Bakery & Patisserie: 2706 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd, (919) 401-2600
Bratwurst and sauerkraut plates, fresh brot, guglhupf, and custard pastries. If this doesn’t appeal to you, Guglhupf may not be your jam. But if all that fails, try the chocolate double-fudge cookies, which will make you forget that you just ate six kinds of sausage for lunch.
Foster’s Market: 2694 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd, (919) 489-3944
Great place for classic Southern deli fare, brunch, shabby chic decor, and sunny patio down-home dining.
Nana Taco: 2514 University Drive, (919) 493-8545
A new addition to the Rockwood area, Nana provides big helpings of guac and tasty handmade corn tortillas along with their “dirty meats” or fish tacos.
Classic Treasures: 2659 Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, (919) 401-5777
I hesitate to even include this furniture consignment shop because I don’t want to have to share it with anyone. A great place for funky, traditional, mod, antique, and virtually any other kind of furniture and framed art, I’d still be sitting on egg crates and moving boxes if I hadn’t found them.
Bull City Craft: 2501 University Drive, (919) 419-0800
A recent addition to the Lakewood/Rockwood district, the mom-and-pop-run Bull City Craft caters to the stroller-and-pantsuit set, offering quirky arts supplies and children’s gifts, as well as scheduled arts-and-crafts sessions.
Ninth Street Area
Ninth Street is home to both old Durham establishments and the kind of rotating knickknack/head shop fare you’d expect in a shopping district so close to Duke campus.
Chubby’s Taco’s: 748 9th St, (919) 286-4499
Chubby’s allows you to select from an impressive spread of different salsas, making their already tasty tacos that much better.
Bean Trader’s: 714 9th St, (919) 968-9292
You can commune here any time with the cream of the local laptop huggers while enjoying your jolt of fresh-brewed coffee.
Mad Hatter: 1802 West Main Street, (919) 286-1987
Next to Whole Foods, the Mad Hatter has plenty of electrical outlets, coffee, and fresh-baked goods, ensuring it’s always crowded.
Vin Rouge: 737 9th St, (919) 416-0406
Fine provincial French dining with an impressive wine list and warm atmosphere. Great for a date.
Regulator Bookshop: 720 9th St, (919) 286-2700
Among the last surviving members of a breed of endangered cultural meccas, the Regulator shows us what bookstores used to be: places to luxuriate in well-chosen real-life books with a staff of well-read enthusiasts to help guide you. A place for author readings and other things lit’rary. I don’t care what Apple tells you; there ain’t an app for that, people.
Photo by Jessie Gladin-Kramer
Ox & Rabbit Soda and Sundries: 732 9th St, (919) 286-7850
Great place to have an old fashioned fountain soda or milkshake while browsing their well-curated stock of quirky, hip gifts.
Zola Craft Gallery: 626 9th St # B, (919) 286-5112
Excellent crafts/gifts shop on Ninth Street.
Francesca’s: 706 9th St # B, (919) 286-4177
Francesca’s cafe is a great place to hunker down with a cappuccino and study — quiet, comfortable, and pleasantly dark.
Locopops Gourmet Popsicles: 117 Market Street, or 2600 Hillsborough Rd, (919) 286-3500
These frozen treats (“paletas” is the actual term) keep Durham smiling through the summer with flavors like Mexican Chocolate, Mojito, Mango Chile, and Raspberry Hibiscus.
Broad Street District
Watt’s Grocery: 1116 Broad St, (919) 416-5040
An old standby — loved both for their farm-fresh brunch (and Bloody Marys) and farmhouse-chic dining.
Green Room: 1108 Broad St, (919) 286-2359
The best place in town for billiards, the Green Room exists in a comforting time warp, evoking a simpler world of Bud Light, Mad Dog 20-20, and broken curfews. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, this is a great spot to meet up with old buddies, partially because it’s been around — and cool — since before Durham really turned the corner.
Broad Street Cafe: 1116 Broad Street, (919) 416-9707
A warm, friendly place for local open mics and homemade pizza. Right next door to the local favorite Watt’s Grocery.
There has been an explosion of food trucks in recent years, and it’s hard to keep up with them (literally!), but here are a few of the favorites: Chirba Chirba (savory Chinese dumplings), Pie Pushers (fresh homemade pizza pies), OnlyBurger (The Greatest Burgers Ever), Bulkogi Korean BBQ (check out the duck-fat tater tots), and The Parlour (artisanal ice cream — try the salted caramel).
Eno River State Park: 6101 Cole Mill Rd, (919) 383-1686
You don’t have to go far from downtown to get in touch with your primal side. The Eno State Park offers swimming, hiking, and tree climbing aplenty.
Golden Belt: 807 East Main Street, (919) 967-7700
This textile factory built in 1900 was converted in 2008 to mixed-use space consisting of affordable artist lofts, gallery space, retail, and artists’ workshops. Golden Belt brings new vibrancy to East Durham and hosts frequent events that draw in large crowds. A beautiful example of the successful reuse of old buildings.
The Scrap Exchange: 923 Franklin Street, Bay 1, (919) 688-6960
Home to barrels full of wine corks, massive piles of photo slides, reams of scrap wallpaper, and virtually anything else you can imagine. The Scrap Exchange is a wonderland for the imagination, complete with an arts-and-crafts area for kids and an artists’ gallery to demonstrate the unlimited potential of a warehouse full of cast-off oddities in the right hands.
Nasher Museum of Art: 2001 Campus Dr, (919) 684-5135
Duke’s contribution to local fine arts, the Nasher hosts small but impressive traveling exhibits from Picasso to Warhol.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens: 426 Anderson St, (919) 684-3698
A wonderland of a botanical garden. Great place for picnicking or just pensive leafy rambles.
American Dance Festival: June and July
World-class dance companies gracefully descend on Durham every summer in the ADF.
Festival on the Eno: Annually; July 3–5, 2009
Three-day music and arts fest that supports the protection of the lovely Eno River.
Another annual cultural explosion in downtown Durham, this documentary festival affords first looks at an incredible range of new films, along with filmmakers’ discussions and events.