Highlights from an overnight stay in the Bull City
by Catherine Currin
As a Raleigh native, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t spent as much time in the rest of the Triangle as I might like (hey, there’s a lot to do right here in town!). So in an effort to branch out of my Raleigh bubble, I planned a staycation in Durham—complete with the Amtrak train ride and an overnight at a swanky hotel. And whether it was the change of pace or the excitement of getting away, I certainly didn’t feel like I was only 30 minutes west on I-40. Here are some of my favorite spots from my mini-break that I’ll definitely head back to on my next visit.
The hotel trifecta of Durham’s city center has something for everyone. I booked a room at Unscripted, which has a vibrant, retro feel—think an urban version of Kinston’s Mother Earth Motor Lodge. I swung by The Durham and 21c Museum Hotel for drinks—and was pleased to discover that The Durham’s rooftop is just as lively in the winter months, thanks to strategically placed heaters. Counting House (inside 21c) is essentially a bar within an upscale art gallery, so you can feel cultured while you sip your cocktail.
Jack Tar, conveniently located below Unscripted, is open from 8 a.m. to midnight for drinks, snacks or full-service dining. I loved the the homemade crullers (basically a churro-donut) with chantilly mascarpone and jam.
I tried popular Pizzeria Toro for the first time, and it did not disappoint. The massive pizza oven serves as the focal point to the minimalist, modern and lively space. The menu is diverse, including crispy pig ears and daily specials like a pizza with spicy sausage, Swiss chard and taleggio cheese.
If you, like me, happen to arrive on the 10 a.m. Piedmont Amtrak on a Saturday, then you’ve got more than an hour to catch the Durham Farmers’ Market. In Durham’s Central Park, you’ll find local products like Melina’s Pasta and sweets from Chapel Hill Creamery. The market is small in size and kid-friendly to boot—it’s surrounded by tons of play structures with food trucks at the ready on the adjacent road for a midday snack.
Looking to shop? Vert & Vogue is a boutique that would fit seamlessly into a posh shopping district. There’s also the Bulldega Market, below Durham’s newly-opened WeWork. The market is the perfect place to shop local goods if you missed the farmer’s market.
Mateo is a standing favorite of Raleighite foodies (order the bone marrow!), but this time I ventured to Littler for a change of pace. A tiny joint with an intimate vibe, highlights included the fantastic service, oysters on the half shell with mignonette jello and the house-made lamb burger.
One note: make a reservation when you can. Just like Raleigh, the hot dining spots are likely always busy and operating on a wait for a table. OpenTable, Resy and Yelp are your best friends during this staycation.
Whether you enjoy beer, wine, liquor or cider, you can find your fit in downtown Durham.
Don’t-miss spots include:
Bull City Ciderworks has over 15 quirky ciders on draft. You can get a flight of five for $12 (pictured above) and try everything from whiskey-aged cider to a ghost-pepper and mango blend.
Pour Taproom is an interactive, pour-your-own beer experience. Ponysaurus Brewing is packed on a sunny Saturday with kids, dogs and food trucks. The atmosphere is family-friendly, and the bar has a diverse assortment of snack mixes—just $1 per scoop.
Durham Distillery is an all-around winner. Sign up for the tour and tasting (if it’s not already sold out!) and taste their delicious cucumber vodka—it tastes like fresh cucumber water with a kick! There are three different liqueurs in collaboration with Raleigh’s Videri Chocolate and Slingshot Coffee, perfect additions to your weekend desserts. Don’t forget about their award-winning Conniption Gins, the Navy Strength version (57% ALC) was just named “Best” in US by World Gin Awards.
Even though I was only there for a weekend, I tried my best to sample as much as I could (without going overboard!)—but of course, there is so much more to taste, sip and visit. And it’s so nice that you can have a true weekend getaway without traveling for hours.