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When the lights go down, Durham heats up. In the past few years, the area's bar and nightlife scene has exploded. New venues to suit all tastes mix with old favorites to provide a hangout option for everybody.
Founded by a Duke Fuqua graduate, this downtown Durham brewery is a popular addition to Durham’s thriving local microbrewery scene. The perfect place for either a social or weekday catchup beers with a friend, Fullsteam has everything: board games, food trucks outside, live music and movies, pinball tables, and delicious, purely Southern home-brewed beers. They even allow dogs and children!
Taking the spot of long-time local favorite but recently closed Whiskey, Criterion is a craft beer bar offering 16 draft beers and six to ten brands in bottles from around the world. It’s cozy and dark, with beautiful wooden tables and booths, and is the perfect place to go for a drink before or after dinner in downtown Durham.
Bar Virgile is a beautiful French bar from the owner and chef of Nana’s, another Durham favorite. It’s classy and upscale without being too crowded – you can have a great time whether you grab a quick drink at the bar or settle in at a table for some home-made “snacks”, including local sausages and cheeses, burgundy snails, and fried oysters.
Known as a hotspot for the LGBTQ community (it is the home of Durham’s biggest parties and events during Pride Week), The Bar acts as a corner, community bar during the week – with TVs for watching sports, darts, ping-pong and trivia – and club on weekends. There are events every single week, ranging from karaoke to drag shows to featured DJ guest spots. It’s an inclusive, welcoming space with something for everyone!
Beyu is a coffee shop/bar/restaurant featuring live jazz most nights; check the schedule for more details. The atmosphere is casual and warm, and the homemade desserts are fabulous.
The best margaritas in Durham, hands down. Skip the food (a little overpriced) and stay for the drinks – the Hot Guava margarita (jalapeño-infused sauza blanco, guava nectar, and fresh lime) and the ’67 Cadillac (Don Julio añejo, agavero orange tequila liqueur, cane syrup and fresh lime) are particular favorites.
One of the best places to go for a classy night out. The bar can get pretty packed on weekends and the cocktails are a little bit more expensive than other Durham establishments, but it’s worth it for a special treat. We recommend the Violet & Vermilion (gin, homemade beet syrup, lemon and cava rosé) and a plate of cured meats or artisan cheeses.
From the outside, it may seem like just another bar. But step inside, order a drink, and the magic begins. What really makes "The Fed" special is its food, which is quite possibly the best bar menu ever created. The daily specials are a testament to fun and creativity. The Fed is truly the kind of place where everybody knows your name.
Durham's music scene is perhaps its most underrated and underground asset. The Pinhook is where it is on public display every night. As with Fullsteam, you can bring in your own food and your dog. This great bar features live music for every taste in an intimate atmosphere.
Home to the greatest outdoor patio of any bar in Durham, Tobacco Road looks directly over the Durham Bulls outfield. During the spring and summer months, you don't need a ticket to see the Bulls play, only an open seat on the patio of Tobacco Road. With great beer and drink selections and some of the best bar food in Durham, Tobacco Road will not disappoint if you are looking for an evening of fun.
Located in the revitalized Central Park area of Durham and across the street from Fullsteam, Motorco is an entertainment and events space as well as a garage bar. On any given evening a popular band might be playing while the crowd shags the night away. Motorco is definitely a one-of-a-kind place. The New York Times focused on the Motorco/Fullsteam area in its spotlight on Durham.
Best Pool Halls
- The Green Room, 1108 Broad St., Durham, 919-286-2359
- Doyle's Sports Bar, 3219 Old Chapel Hill Rd., Durham, 919-419-9791
The Green Room is everything that a pool hall should be: Lots of pool tables, lots of locals, cheap beer, a good jukebox, and a stale smokiness left over from the days when you could smoke in bars in North Carolina. Doyle's has an expansive juke box, cheap drinks, darts, video games, ping pong, and an outdoor seating area. If that's not enough to grab you, show up on Saturday night for karaoke and a chance to see whether you have a potential career if this whole law school thing doesn't work out.
Best place to see law students (besides the library)
- Motorco, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham, 919-901-0875
- Might as Well, 206 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 984-234-3333
- He's Not Here, 112 1/2 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 919-942-7939
Motorco is a music venue by night, but you can often find students hanging out at the picnic tables outside Parts & Labor, the attached pub that serves an impressive range of global-inspired street foods. Might As Well in Chapel Hill is a great place to catch a game on TV, and He's Not Here is a legendary bar with a popular multi-level outdoor space — just don't mind that their signature cups are the wrong shade of blue.
Best place to NOT see law students
- The Cave, 452 1/2 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 919-968-9308
At the bottom of a narrow set of stairs, The Cave provides a "cozy kind of sketch," as one patron describes it. If you like dingy but wonderful dive bars, and have a dog that you like to take out drinking, this is the place for you. Be warned though: bring cash, as credit cards are not accepted.
Best places to pretend that you are already a fancy lawyer
- West End Wine Bar, 601 W. Main St., Durham, 919-381-4228
- Mateo Bar de Tapas, 107 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham, 919-530-8700
West End Wine Bar scores with its Tobacco District atmosphere, wine tasting flights, and lovely outdoor seating. The acclaimed Mateo Bar de Tapas serves a rotating menu of Spanish small plates with a Southern flair and features one of the largest sherry menus in the country.
Player's Chapel Hill, 159 1/2 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 919-929-0101
If your legs are beginning to atrophy from sitting in the library all week, get ready to shake what your mama gave you at Player's, a favorite for dancing to the latest hip-hop music. It's a great place to show off just how bad you are at dancing.
Best bars for chilling and unwinding
- Dain's Place, 754 Ninth St., Durham, 919-416-8800
- The Federal, 914 W. Main St., Durham, 919-680-8611
- Bull McCabes Irish Pub, 427 W. Main St., Durham, 919-682-3061
Dain's offers a low-key atmosphere and a good place to get to know your classmates away from the confines of the Law School. The Federal is owned by the same folks who own the James Joyce Irish Pub & Restaurant and features delicious food and a nice beer selection. Bull McCabes serves low-cost food in a great atmosphere, with an extensive beer list and a comfortable vibe. Hang out inside or relax in their large side yard.
Best Hipster Bar
The Pinhook, 117 W. Main St., Durham, 919-667-1100
The best description of Pinhook comes from their website: It's "a safe space for LGBTQUI folks, POC groups, punks, lawyers, cyclists, trivia nerds, and everyone else."