Durham, North Carolina, has a spirit that can’t be defined, but that’s how residents like it. The former tobacco town has emerged as a sweet, forward-thinking Southern city—with a food and drink scene to match. Thanks to a supportive community, an array of locally owned shops, restaurants, bars and cultural centers shine here.
Bar Brunello, an intimate wine bar led by Buenos Aires-native Esteban Brunello, offers a diverse selection from Lebanon, India and beyond. Brunello can help choose the perfect pour based on your flavor preferences. At West End Wine Bar, enjoy wine flights categorized by geography or type, alongside Spanish and Italian tapas. Once you’ve had a few, head next door to the sister property, West End Billiards, for rounds of billiards and bocce. Bar Virgile is the place to go for a no-fuss classic cocktail like an Old Fashioned or Sazerac made with top-of-the-line ingredients, but there’s also a seasonal menu with more adventurous sips.
Start with churros and a La Frida latte, made with mole-esque syrup and inspired by Frida Kahlo, at the Lakewood location of Cocoa Cinnamon. Continue the global gastronomic journey at M Sushi, where Chef/Owner Michael Lee presents a Japanese-meets-Peruvian dining experience, with a concise list of mostly white wines to complement the delicate food.
Visit Copa for 19th-century Cuban dishes like plátanos rellenos (plantains stuffed with pork picadillo, then fried) and arroz con almejas (saffron rice with clams). Sunday brunch is a must, so head to Counting House in the 21c Museum Hotel Durham for a quartino of bubbly and a comforting plate of biscuits and gravy served with Carolina prosciutto, poached eggs and grits.
The Wine Feed is a bottle shop that also offers pairing education and yoga classes. And what better way to enjoy with a glass of wine than a good book? Pop into The Regulator Bookshop, open since 1976, for an evening conversation with an author or peruse its inventory from both independent and well-known publishers. Learn how to pronounce Durham like a local at RUNAWAY clothing boutique on West Main Street, known for its “Durm” hats and shirts. Nearby, you’ll find The Zen Succulent, a terrarium and plant-craft shop that dabbles in home decor and organic body care products.
Consistently one of the best-attended theaters in the nation, the sleek Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) welcomes Broadway musicals, comedy shows and concerts. Visit the Hayti Heritage Center on Monday nights for a Heritage Rhythms Dance Class, or simply enjoy a variety of arts exhibitions dedicated to the history of the city’s African-American Hayti community. Explore a highly curated collection of contemporary art from around the world at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, on campus. The American Tobacco Campus, a one million square-foot entertainment district, is the former home of the Lucky Strike cigarette factory. It’s the perfect place to enjoy an evening as you lounge in the green spaces or snap a photo by the iconic Lucky Strike smokestack.
4 hour getaway
Less than two hours west of Durham is Yadkin Valley Wine Country, North Carolina’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA). There are more than 70 wineries that produce everything from native Muscadine wines to European-style blends, and visitors can follow dedicated trails throughout the region. Nature enthusiasts will also appreciate the proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where you’ll find hiking trails through Stone Mountain State Park, self-guided kayaking excursions with Yadkin River Adventures or romantic hot air balloon rides with Carolina Balloon Adventures.