Best Sunset View
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Sitting in the right field bleachers, watching that big sun sink over third base. Rolling clouds, acres of green, coupla beers ... damn, we should come here more often!
Best Place to Join the Creative Class
Humble Pie, 317 S. Harrington St., Raleigh
Check it out on Thursdays--$5 martinis! The old, brick warehouse in downtown Raleigh's West Side district is fabulously open on the inside and has the best--and most--patio seating we've seen outside. Which is why, on any given night, you'll find the cool designers, musicians, artists and Web geeks, plus the odd software writer or two, hanging out at the bar, or else working behind it. Good tapas, too.
Best Place to Fulfill a Complete Artistic Vision
Bickett Gallery, 209 Bickett Blvd., Raleigh
When Raleigh duo The Bowerbirds debuted at Bickett Gallery in February, the space was between showings. Owner Molly Miller sketched majestic birds all over the space in honor of the fledging band. Bickett hosts regular dance and music residencies, allowing artists to do their thing as they see fit. Bickett not only provides a space for such development, but more importantly, they provide the type of creative environment stocked with visual art, music and dance that breeds it.
Best Party Band
The Remix Project
The sizzling instrumental hip-hop covers of The Remix Project--four crack jazz musicians with disgustingly developed chops--will let you enjoy the party at night and not regret your choice for a musical paramour in the morning.
Best Place to Get Down Ol' Fashioned
Blue Bayou club, 106 S. Churton St., Hillsborough
Tucked away in Hillsborough, the Blue Bayou Club hits as close to the blues' home of Mississippi juke joints as you're likely to come in the area. As such, look for a premier mix of nationally touring regulars howling like there won't be a tomorrow and a hearty roots lineup sporting high quality bluegrass, country, zydeco and jazz. Blue Bayou also holds health-friendly, smoke-free Friday shows (21st-century blues for ya'), as well as open blues sessions, traditional nights and poker sit-downs. Get on out.
Best Place to Hear Blues Harp Playing
Open Mic Jam at the Berkeley Cafe, 217 W. Martin St., Raleigh
The Berkeley is a classic downtown music bar, but it's often at its most entertaining on Wednesday nights, when blues bands and players from all over the Triangle come to jam. Sometimes they're too loud, sometimes they're off-key, but sometimes they wail like they're straight out of the Delta. When that happens, it's blues the way it's supposed to be. When it doesn't, the food's good and you can eat, drink and listen at half-volume from the restaurant side.
Best Jazz Jam
The Know Bookstore and Restaurant, 2520 Fayetteville St., Durham
Blue Note veteran pianist Yusef Salim headlines the weekly jam session at The Know Bookstore and Restaurant. Every Friday, Salim hunches his thin, old frame over the keyboard and shares a bit of jazz history with his music and spirited stories. Rotating local musicians fill out the band. And The Know serves soul food to fill your soul and your belly.
Best Rooftop Bar for a Private Talk
Clarion Hotel, 320 Hillsborough St., Raleigh
The downtown Holiday Inn, now a Clarion, that 15-story wedding cake on Hillsborough Street, is sort of crummy--even better. It is common for there to be no one in the joint, plus it has that rock-star view.
Best In-Store Rock
Bull City Records, 1916 Perry St., Durham
Chaz Martinstein opened Bull City Records last November and, since its debut, his small space has become a hot spot for local bands and their touring friends. Expect loads of punk rock and the occasional metal show, as well as a smattering of something-like-country acts. Expect the friendliest record store owner ever to greet you, an affectionate pup close behind. Expect lots of people making friends. Just don't expect air conditioning.
Best (Legal) Homemade Hooch
Slim's Downtown Distillery,
227 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh
Slim's is a bar, a patio, a rock 'n' roll club and an old-fashioned respite in downtown Raleigh, but one of its secret jewels is its rum infusions. Rum soaks into fruit (cherries, etc.) and the fruit is then removed, leaving a deeply flavored, almost liqueur tasting beverage. Glowing with color and served from the bottles manager Mikey Ross uses to make them, they also are gorgeous.
Best Former Industrial Office Converted into a Bar
Horniblow's Tavern, 1249-A Wicker Drive, Raleigh
Horniblow's Tavern is in an inhospitable, barbed-wire industrial area, not like anyplace you'd expect to get a beer. But up the stairs to the second floor is an old office-turned-bar that overlooks Edenton Brewing Company's small manufacturing operation that produces some of the best local beers and ales around. And they're all available, fresh, on tap in the Tavern, which also has a pool table, ping-pong and an open-mic acoustic night on Mondays. It may not look like much, but it's worth the trip--if you can find it.
Best Places to Eat and Hang Out
The Federal, 914 W. Main St., Durham
Milltown, 307 E. Main St., Carrboro
A trout fillet wrapped in pancetta, a wi-fi connection, a draft pint of terrific beer and a few dozen of your closest friends wandering through the door. What more could you want from a restaurant than the Federal, except maybe a little more outdoor seating? The restaurant's owners recently opened a southern outpost, Milltown in Carrboro (across from the Cat's Cradle, in the old Temple Ball space), which delivers on the outdoor seating, with the same cozy, stylish atmosphere and excellent, affordable menu. Both are open from lunch 'til 2 a.m. If they didn't close, we'd never leave.
Best Place to Eat Dinner Before Rocking Out
Duck & Dumpling, 222 S. Blount St., Raleigh
The dumplings rock, the specials rock, the wine is excellent, the cocktails are tasty, and the people watching is divine. Chef David Mao, who's been cooking great Asian food in the Triangle for decades, often emerges from the kitchen to greet the guests. This Moore Square restaurant is pricey enough to be a special occasion place for most of us, but it's worth it. Next door is The Pour House, which hosts live music seven nights a week, and other live music venues Slim's and the Raleigh Music Hall are a short walk away.
Best Place to Sizzle Your Ears--and Have Dinner
Nightlight, 405 1/2 W. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill
Get to Nightlight early enough, and it still goes by the name of Skylight Exchange, a by-day sandwich shop and used book and record store. They'll serve you sandwiches at the bar, and you can simply turn around on your stool and watch as some of the premier avant musicians touring today sever the sides of your ear drum. From extreme noise to extreme dance parties, the Nightlight lets you hear the cutting edge, and no one will look at you funny if you're holding a volume of Baudelaire in one hand and a vanilla ice cream cone in the other. Utopia? Close enough.
Best Places to See Touring Indie Rockers Eat
Lantern Restaurant & Bar, 423 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
Carrburritos, 711 W. Rosemary St., Carrboro
Cafe at Weaver Street Market, 101 E. Weaver St., Carrboro
Andrea Reusing runs Lantern, the delicious Asian fusion restaurant on Chapel Hill's West Franklin side. Her husband is Mac McCaughan, as in the Superchunk and Portastatic frontman and Merge Records co-owner, as in a guy with a lot of friends who get hungry before playing at the Cat's Cradle. Stargaze some of your favorite rockers before Cradle shows, or head to Carrburritos, a town treasure name-checked more than once at a recent Rilo Kiley set. And if you're obsessed enough to study dietary habits and know your idol prefers organic snacks for the road, try Weaver Street Market, less than two blocks from the Cradle.
Best Homes Away from Home
Raleigh: The Jackpot, 1303 Hillsborough St.
Few Triangle bars cull regulars quite like The Jackpot, the enigmatic-to-outsiders white building beside IHOP on Hillsborough Street. The drinks are strong, the lights are dim, people are break-dancing and friends are in booths. The DJs always have the best stuff on tap, pouring out indie rock and non-crunk hip hop, refusing to ape for tips every 30 seconds. On that note, tip generously.
Durham: Joe & Jo's Downtown Pub, 427 W. Main St.
OK, the Cheers thing has gone beyond cliché these days--the bar where everybody knows your name. But that's what Joe & Jo's is like--a downtown bar and restaurant with great music, great food, and a regular clientele that you'll get to know by the third visit. Proprietress JoAnn Fitzgibbon recently expanded its dining room just in time for the rush from the Full Frame Film Festival, and that was the perfect time to see the place in action--lots of artists and filmmakers and locals mingling, eating, drinking and talking, even if they didn't know each other's names.
Chapel Hill: The Cave, 452 1/2 W. Franklin St.
To call The Cave a home away from home goes beyond metaphor. The regulars at The Cave are a family, and they meet, drink, watch TV and sometimes sleep there (during business hours, anyway). The larger crowd generally changes with the music (Mouse Mock, the proprietor, often schedules two shows a night), but the regulars are always around. Many of them work at the place, holding down bartending shifts and then hanging out when they're off. There's even a renowned potluck dinner and music jam on Thanksgiving. What could be more family than that?
Best All-Ages Venue
305 South, 305 S. Dillard St., Durham
Durham's great hope for nightlife, 305 South, hosts truly all-ages shows that attract high school students as well as music fans from all over the Triangle. At a recent gig, a band from Durham School of the Arts opened for local celeb John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, who invited the drummer to come up and play with him. Maybe it's because owners James and Michelle Lee have kids of their own that they've made the new incarnation of Ooh La Latte into another kid-friendly venue. There's a coffee shop with candy for sale, but no booze. As you watch the shows, you can't help but think, "What would life have been like at 16 if I'd had a place like this to come hear music?"
Best Potluck Supper
The Silk Hope Catholic Worker House, 3355 Woody Store Road, Siler City
The Silk Hope house holds a monthly potluck supper followed by a roundtable discussion. Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas and peace activist Elizabeth McAlister have been among the roundtable's headliners. Roundtable discussions are part of a Catholic Worker tradition to "get at the heart" of peace and justice issues, says Lenore Yarger, who co-founded the Silk Hope house with her husband, Steve Woolford, in 1999. The menu always includes lots of organic veggie dishes, fresh breads and great desserts. The potluck is always on Sunday at 5 p.m., but the week varies. Next up: Liz Mason-Deese will talk on July 16 about her observations of the grassroots workers movement during a recent trip to Argentina. Info: 663-4334.
Best Outdoor Movie Experience
Starlite Drive-In, 2523 E. Club Blvd., Durham
A fire started by a hot lawnmower stored in the base of the big screen shut down the Starlite a couple of years ago, but a public fund-raising effort led to reconstruction of the screen (minus its great neon sign on the outside) and the Starlite is back in action. The Saturday morning flea market is still going on, the snack bar still sells good, cheap treats ($3 for a large popcorn--yes!--plus corn dogs and onion rings from the grill), and the gun shop is still open for business. The Starlite is the real deal, and there is still no better place in the Triangle to watch X-Men: The Last Stand.
(Runners-up: The N.C. Museum of Art's outdoor film series and the films shown outside the Lumina Theater in Chapel Hill.)
Best Places for a Midnight Skinny-Dip
Now that swimming weather is upon us, some basic protocols. The first decision: pool or pond. Ponds have their merits--remoteness for the full, pure effect of swimming, the sound of the forest at night. Pools have convenience--and you should know your water in light of the brain-eating dinoflagelate in Southern fresh water. The next most daunting factor is the likely appearance of da fuzz, a serious vibe-killer. Trespassing. A private pond with someone who lives on the land is safest; lacking that, a companion who rents at the apartment complex in question. You are golden unless nekkid. If not, the more outrageous and the greater the numbers, the better. The zeal of the U.S. justice system can work for you. Arrests that would be a tempting target if there were just one or two of you become a whole 'nother deal with a dozen or more. Transporting, paperwork, jailing a dozen wet drunken people? Fuhgitaboudit. "Put your clothes on and get out of here," an officer once said, the swimmer wearing a necktie and woman's panties on his head. Rule 1: Be nice.
Best Park at Night
Pullen Park, Raleigh
It closes at dusk, but don't let that stop you. The popular spot near N.C. State, which features the famous little train rides, a carousel and paddle boats, is eerily quiet after dark, but the swings and other playground equipment are always available on the nightshift, and the moon offers plenty of light on those cloudless summer nights.
Best Place for Midnight Stargazing
Penny's Bend Nature Preserve, Durham
The meadow at Penny's Bend, at Old Oxford Highway where it crosses the Eno River in Durham, is known to botanists for its grasses and wildflowers, supported by a strange micro-climate in this bend in the river that's owned by the N.C. Botanical Garden. But almost as good as enjoying it by day is slipping in at night with blankets and refreshments, heading for the meadow, lying down and watching the sky. It is deep and dark away from the city, and meteor showers become distant fireworks displays. But don't try going at night the first time; learn your way in the light. The trail might be hard to find.
Best Place to Eat at 3 A.M.
Time Out, 133 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
Under Granville Towers, near neutral middle ground between the East and West Franklin bar scenes, Time Out is a haven both for the inebriated and the unfed, 24 hours every day, 365 days each year (on leap years, it's really anyone's guess). Try the Tar Heel Favorite, a piping hot fried chicken breast and melted cheddar cheese piled on a biscuit. And, if their love for their customers needed to be proven, just scope the biscuits--served square, so the edges removed from wimpy round biscuits don't adulterate the batch.
Most Exotic Late, Late Night Scene
Talullas, 456 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
Talullas is known for its delicious Turkish decor and beautiful Middle Eastern food (and vice versa) but is becoming just as popular for its late-night scene, six nights a week. After the kitchen shuts down at 10 p.m., the place is transformed into a dance club. It's packed on Friday and Saturday nights with rotating themes like Latin dance one week and DJ Marco and DJ Mogambo spinning Bollywood, bhangra, hip hop and reggaeton another. And there are movies, jazz and more relaxed lounge music the rest of the week. Best of all, the place doesn't clear out at the stroke of 2--when the party's really hopping, it hangs on until 2:30.