Series: Planning for 36 Hours in Durham, North Carolina

Planner’s Travel Series 

About the series: Welcome to our ongoing travel series. These are all posts written by planning students and professionals about what to do in a given city when looking for Brunch, a Brew, or a good idea on a Budget. To cap it all off, we include a fun planning fact!   

By Henry Read


About the visit: I’ve lived in Durham for four and a half years, including my time at UNC-DCRP. It’s a fun town, and it has grown by leaps and bounds even in the short time I’ve been around. Between the diverse population, the acclaimed universities, the expansive parks, and the ever-evolving nightlife, there is a little something for everyone’s taste here. Whether you’re looking for a night out or a place to make a home outside of the Chapel Hill bubble, Durham is worth checking out. 

Brunch  

1

Geer Street Garden, all set up for brunch 

My preferred brunch spot in Durham is definitely Geer Street Garden. From 11 to 4 on Sundays, this longstanding neighborhood bar and grill eschews its usual menu and serves up an incredible all-you-can-eat buffet featuring all the southern classics, from grits and gravy to deviled eggs to banana pudding. Booze isn’t included with the meal, but their mimosas are cheap, and their bloody marys are strong and come with a kaleidoscope of garnish options. To top it off Geer Street Garden has one of the nicest patios in town, so you are assured of quality ambiance as you nurse your drink and pick at your third plate of chilaquiles amidst the trumpet vine and honeysuckle at this Old North Durham standby. 

Brew  

2

Someone enjoying a brandy flip at the bar at Kingfisher’s 

In the latter third of the 20th century, Durham suffered from a reputation as a difficult town to find a drink in. But it is hard to imagine that in 2022; the bar and brewery scene in the contemporary Bull City is varied and ubiquitous.

For beer lovers, Fullsteam Brewing Company is a must-see. They are the oldest operation in the city, and for my money far and away by far from the best. Their core set covers all the major styles of American and European beer from tripels to pilsners, but where Fullsteam REALLY shines are their limited-run foraged beers. These small-batch runs are made with locally sourced fruits and botanicals, and consistently combine creativity and drinkability in remarkable ways – if you are in town in the fall, be sure to pick up a pawpaw IPA.

Cocktail enthusiasts in Durham have a range of excellent options available as well. The Accordion Club is a mainstay of the service industry set in the Geer Street nightlife district and serves heavy pours and legendary loaded fritos to everywhere else’s bartenders on their days off. And for a higher-end experience, Kingfishers has both the ambiance and the artistry to engage even the most jaded pallet. Located right next door to the midcentury masterpiece that is the Durham Hotel, this basement retreat is no dive – the ever-evolving menu of artisanal concoctions is matched perfectly by the luxurious private booths and the truly talented jazz quartet.

Budget 

3

One of the older sections of Duke Gardens in late summer 

Despite its rising fortunes in the last few decades, there is still some cheap fun to be had in Durham, if you know where to look. Every Friday night talented young Ddurhamites gather in CCB Plaza for Med City Cypher, an improvisational expression of rap, singing, and beat making. More collaborative than a battle but more polished than an impromptu meetup, this rolling group performance is guaranteed to inspire and is open for all to observe and participate.

One of the fringe benefits of playing host to a world-renowned university like Duke is access to its cultural resources, and Durham has its share. The Sarah P. Duke Botanical Gardens are host to an incredible display of natural beauty from all around the world and are worth a visit in any season; entry is free, though parking is not. For the more artistically inclined, Duke Coffeehouse hosts musical acts from around the country and the world in an extremely intimate setting at the edge of the old campus, always BYOB and usually for under $5 a head. The venue is fully student-run but is funded by the university, attracting, and paying for some truly innovative concerts.

Movieloft cleaves to a similar DIY aesthetic as Duke Coffeehouse, with the additional authenticity of being a completely independent concern. Meeting on the third Thursday of every month in a photography studio at the Ample Storage Center, this underground film club screens cult classics and grindhouse delight unavailable on any streaming service. The festivities start at 7 with a potluck cookout and a DJ set inspired by the evening’s movie. The film rolls around 8, and is free to anyone who can find it within the maze of storage bays. Drinks are provided as well, though only a real jerk would tap the keg without throwing a few bucks in the bin to keep the lights on.

Fun Planning Fact 

4

Brightleaf Square, the Watts and Yuille warehouses, post-redevelopment 

Durham was a leader in the now ubiquitous practice of tobacco warehouse renovations into live-work spaces. Beginning with the Watts and Yuille warehouses in 1980, much of the city’s downtown industrial buildings have been converted into shops, offices, and apartments. And it is easy to see why the trend kicked off here; the attention to detail exhibited in the neo-Romanesque brickwork of the 1890s warehouses is an architectural marvel. These renovation projects proved to be a great economic success as well, and today these once derelict but now vibrant buildings are an essential component of Durham’s urban form.

Featured Image: Durham’s downtown skyline, facing north from the North Carolina Railroad. Photo Credit: Henry Read. 


Henry Read is a Master’s student in the Department of City and Regional Planning, with a focus on land use policy. He is fascinated with the minutia of development regulation and doesn’t understand why so many people think zoning is boring. He hopes to work in the public sector after graduation and would like to be remembered as the guy who got your town to stop requiring bars to have customer parking and start planting native fruit trees in parks.