56. Durham, North Carolina

Overview:
My main impression of Durham each time I visit is that there’s more to it than initially meets the eye. It helps that I have the world’s best tourguide in my Aunt Susan, who grew up in North Carolina and currently lives in Durham. But it just always seems like there’s something artistic around every corner if you know where to look.

How I got there:
Drove from Carrboro! It’s about half an hour.

What I did:
We started by exploring the city on foot, checking out some some pretty outdoor spaces and glimpsing inside the studio of my aunt’s friend, who’s a painter.

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Our first real stop was a visit to The Makery, which describes itself as “a retail collective of artists and makers.” It’s got everything from jewelry to posters and prints to terrariums–all of it locally produced.

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We then walked over to a couple of the city’s boutique hotels, stopping first at The Durham Hotel. It’s a mid-century modern work of art in itself, with a beautiful rooftop space.

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I had my own rooftop photo here, but I swapped it out for one from the hotel’s website, which does a much better job making it look as pretty as it is in real life:

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View from The Durham Hotel’s rooftop

Next was 21c Museum Hotel Durham, which–especially if you haven’t visited one of their other locations in cities including Louisville, Cincinnati and Lexington–is really something to see. In addition to being a boutique hotel, it’s also a contemporary art museum with some really cool features and installations. Think ultra-narrow halls of reflecting mirrors, bathrooms with glass doors that only fog once you’re inside, and–my favorite, but I’m biased–these violins.

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The building itself, a modernist skyscraper built in the 1930s and designed by the same architect who did the Empire State Building, boasts art deco ornamentation, and it still pays tribute to its original purpose–as the home of a bank–with some of the vault features.

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Where I ate/drank:
We started at Cocoa Cinnamon, a coffee shop with unreal cookies, an industrial-style outdoors space, and a real commitment to bettering the community. It’s another art hub, too, featuring contributions from a slew of artists and and craftspeople. More on that here.

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And later, we got beautiful, classy cocktails at 21c’s Counting House, which you can take with you as you explore the museum.

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On our way home to DC a couple days later, we came back to Durham for brunch at the Parisian-style Rue Cler restaurant, where you can order beignets by the dozen. And we did.

What I missed:
At the top of my list now is Fullsteam Brewery, which I keep popping my head into without the time to actually stop there. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s more popping up all the time.

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Fullsteam Brewery

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