For all of you coming into town for the Bull City Swingout who are unfamiliar with Durham, NC, we are a food town – a foodie town, if you will. You will have the utmost advantage because much of Durham’s foodie food is located within walking distance of all the venues for this workshop and swing dance weekend. I’m not here to tell you where to eat because it would take too long, there are too many good options – pull up Yelp and figure out what type of food you want to eat and just go.
Three pro tips: 1) If you want to eat at Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, you need to make a reservation in advance and prepare to either have leftovers or be destroyed in the best possible way. 2) Get the ribs at Blue Note Grill on Sunday night for John Dee Holeman’s show from 6-8 p.m. 3) There’s a small grocery store a block from the Armory called the Bulldega if you need to grab drinks (regular and alcoholic), snacks, or something quick to eat.
Late night food can be hard to figure out and I’d also like to highlight some of my favorite cocktail places within the walkable area, so let’s take a little jaunt around downtown Durham to some of my favorite haunts:
LATE NIGHT FOOD
Jack Tar Diner (202 Corcoran Street) – this is a 1/2 block from the Armory and they serve food until midnight. Both main dances end at 11:30 p.m., so you’d have to go directly there to get seated and fed, but it’s worth it if you need a full meal after the dance. The menu is diverse and delicious, they serve breakfast all day, and the cocktails at their adjoining bar, the Colonel’s Daughter, are excellent. This is a two-for, since it’s also a cocktail recommendation – say hi to Kenny Smith the bartender for me, we went to college together.
Pie Pushers (117A W. Main Street) – the restaurant space itself isn’t open, but on Fridays and Saturdays they have a pizza window on the street level that’s open from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. where you can buy slices.
Parts & Labor (723 Rigsbee Avenue) – serving until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, this is the restaurant attached to Motorco Music Hall, which used to be an automobile dealership. They offer a number of small plate style to-go foods (1 for a snack, 2-3 for a meal), everything from poutine to Bahn mi to vegan tacos to cheeseburger sliders. Step up to the bar and order, opt to dine indoors or outdoors on their picnic table patio (or they may have the doors open and really everything becomes outdoor eating). This is across the street from the Living Arts Collective.
Hutchins Garage (402 W. Geer Street) – serving pizza and beer until 2 a.m., large table seating. I am less familiar with this place because it’s the newest, but the pizza I had there was good! It’s also next door to the Living Arts Collective, just walk past the Crossfit place and the unoccupied portion of the building, which also used to be an automobile dealership.
The Accordion Club (316 W. Geer Street) – maybe you need a little cocktail and a late night snack and want to do it like a local? Several of my friends claim this as their favorite bar in Durham, but what sold me on recommending this place is the Frito pie. Open until 2 a.m.
If you’re looking for something outside of downtown, go to Cosmic Cantina (the one on Perry Street, open until 4 a.m.) for delicious burritos and nachos or Cook Out (3 locations in Durham, open until 3:00 a.m. or 3:30 a.m., depending on which one) for burgers, BBQ, and epic milkshakes.
Bar Virgile (105 S. Mangum Street) – this is my favorite cocktail bar because it’s the total package for me – classic cocktail menu, seasonal cocktails, a bar staff that can make me anything I throw at them, excellent food menu ranging from bites to entrees, cool and cozy decor, and it’s 3 doors down from my office. 🙂
Alley Twenty-Six (320 E. Chapel Hill Street) – my favorite chef, Carrie Schleiffer, presides over the kitchen at Alley Twenty-Six, which is a cocktail-focused bar and restaurant with an excellent cocktail program and Carrie keeps things seasonal and adventurous with the food menu. If you are looking for a stellar dinner and cocktails before the dance, this is my recommendation and it’s just around the corner from the Durham Armory. Would recommend making a reservation just in case, but even if you forget you still may be able to get a table or a seat at one of the dual bars.
The Roof at The Durham Hotel (315 E. Chapel Hill Street) – the cocktails are good, but I’m recommending this for the decor and the view. The Durham is a renovated bank building turned into something out of Mad Men, with impeccable MCM exterior and interior. Take the elevator up to the rooftop bar for one of the best views of Durham and recline on the couches with your cocktail as you take it all in.
The Unscripted Hotel’s poolside bar (202 N. Corcoran Street) – this is another one I’m recommending for the experience, which is also straight out of Mad Men, perhaps even more overtly since they have left the second floor poolside/balcony area pretty much intact from the 1960’s. There’s a cocktail hour planned here as part of the Bull City Swingout festivities from 6-8 p.m. prior to the Saturday night dance, but I’d also recommend coming here for a poolside cocktail and swim during the day if you’re not taking classes. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to use the adorable pool. Grab a Frosé (rosé and strawberry slushy) and don’t forget your sunscreen.
There are even more incredible restaurants serving wonderful cocktails downtown, so feel free to explore and make your own decisions. Also, feel free to weigh in on your favorites in the comments. Cheers and enjoy!