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Best of the Triangle 2012: Our back pages

Looking back at the Best of the Triangle 1996-2011

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2000 and 2001 One of the pleasures of looking through old newspapers is encountering the so-called first draft of history. 2000 and 2001 were momentous years: I dove into their Best of issues in search of the Best Place to Get a Tech Bubble Bath or Best Place to Hang With Chad.

I didn't find those, nor did I find the Best Place to Learn to Fly Without Learning to Land. (In the issue of Sept. 12, 2001, which went to press the day before, the staff had time to insert an unsigned editorial that was measured and sober: "Will the reaction of our government be based on founded evidence or on understandably strong emotion? Which freedoms will we need to 're-evaluate' and who will do the weighing and balancing?") But among the only references to aviation I found was the astonishing reader judgment in 2000 that the Best Thing to Do at the Airport is "read a book." Presumably while drinking sweet tea from that 1-liter Nalgene bottle you were permitted to take through security.

In 2001, the Best Place to Get a Free Meal was Raleigh's First Friday, which is described as a "great four-block wide singles bar" that is "all about free wine, cheese, crackers, carrot sticks, Twizzlers and M&Ms." Really? This monthly happening now stretches from Moore Square to the Warehouse District to Glenwood South, incorporating such later arrivals as Flanders, Solas and CAM Raleigh. These days you're more likely to be drawn to the fancy artisanal, truck-borne food that you very much pay for.

On the evidence of the archives, the food offerings were less diverse at the end of last century. There were no food trucks to speak of, while the Durham Farmers Market was a small band of vendors who started meeting in the gravel lot of the old baseball stadium in 1998. In 2000 and 2001, Latino food and culture was still novel enough for writers to note the influx of Mesoamericans to the area.

Still, food standbys that have been around forever were certainly around and Best of in 2000 and 2001, including tomato sandwiches at Carrboro Farmers Market, breakfast comfort at Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill, Afghani food at Bread-n-Kabob in Durham and hangover-remedy nosh at Tir Na Nog in Raleigh.

For the reader traveling in time to 2001, the most intriguing culinary item is the Best Bean Pie, which was a staple at The Know Bookstore. "Because of its borderline-oxymoronic name," the unsigned Indy endorsement reads, "this smooth, sweet mixture of navy beans, cinnamon and sugar will entice few to ask you for a bite of yours. This is a good thing. These pies are too good to be shared casually." Unfortunately, the ensuing decade was not good to The Know as it fell victim to business difficulties, closing quietly in late 2009. Still, you can Google "bean pie know bookstore" to locate a five-star recipe for bean pies on Epicurious.com, along with the dish's interesting history.

Happily, another homespun African-American cultural center is still in business. In 2000, the Best Museum in Someone's House was the African-American Cultural Complex. It's still located at 119 Sunnybrook Road in Raleigh, and they have a Facebook page.

In 2001, the Best New Independent Record Store was Radio Free Records, which was located on Hillsborough Road in Durham, just down from the Indy's office in those years. The Indy identified "mega-chains" as being the biggest obstacle to success for such ventures. That same year, Apple launched the iPod and iTunes, thus accelerating the ability of digitization and file sharing to thoroughly disrupt the music business. Sadly, a more prosaic catastrophe befell Radio Free Records: It was robbed of its painstakingly curated inventory, and the overextended owner wasn't able to recover.

Another industry that was on a grave collision course with obsolescence was the daily newspaper. In 2000, The News & Observer was a mighty pillar of journalism, employing about 250 in its newsroom and being the newspaper of record for much of North Carolina. It was a big enough beast that the pesky muckrakers at the Indy took mighty swipes at it in the Best of sections. In 2000, we mocked the paper for its booster-ish support of the Southpoint mall developers' claims that downtown revival efforts in Durham threatened their business model. And in 2001, in Best Retail Boosterism, we jeered at the paper's breathless coverage of the arrival of North Carolina's first Nordstrom's, at that same shopping center. Although the N&O is still very much with us and filled with strong reporting, it is now a diminished, endangered creature. There's no pleasure to be had among us punks in attacking it.

It's particularly stark to notice how unforgiving the music scene is. You get old and passé fast. Shark Quest, Sorry About Dresden, Patty Hurst Shifter and Whiskeytown we remember well, but they failed to win Best Band Name in 2000. In a tie, Indy readers awarded the title to Collapsis and The Catch Tones.

Much ink was spent excoriating the now-eclipsed politico Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer, usually mentioned in the same sentence with Paul Coble and Jesse Helms (Best Redefinition), Carolyn Grant (Best Campaign Money Could Buy) and, presciently in 2001, Gov. Mike Easley (Best Example of the Peter Principle at Work).

We recognized some brighter lights, too. In 2000, Gov. Jim Hunt was being mentioned as a possible running mate for Al Gore (Best Political Rumor), while former UNC system President Bill Friday was still an education Methuselah setting an example of probity and correct priorities that his successors have trouble achieving ("Best performance by a university president").

In 2001, we declared Sarah Dessen the area's Best Young Adult Author. She'd written four books then while teaching at UNC; she quit the day job and has written eight books since, and she's seen her work turned into a Mandy Moore movie.

And finally, the best local athlete of 2000 is still very much on top of his game, providing crucial tactical support to the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat. He is, of course, the much-loved Shane Battier. The Indy declared him "Best local athlete for autograph seekers" of 2000, reporting an occasion when he was spotted at a Duke women's game, "cheering the Lady Devils on with a fan's full enthusiasm, trying to be inconspicuous." Predictably, he was mobbed by children seeking his autograph, but "he asked the children gathered 'round him to let him watch the game first; then, during time-outs, he gave them his full attention." —David Fellerath


2002 Best reuses for South Square Mall: Once Southpoint was built, South Square emptied out, as the Indy wrote, "faster than a state bureaucrat's office on a sunny Friday." Storefront churches, we proposed, could fill the vast vacant commercial space.

There are no churches in South Square, unless you consider shopping at Sam's Club and Target a religious observance (and some do, we're sure). PetCo and Ross moved in, as did some shoe store that never seems to be open. There's a tanning place—a shrine, if you will, to melanoma. (Is there a Groupon for that?) And play a closing hymn for Golden Corral, which recently closed—a shocking development considering Americans' genuflection before all-you-can-eat buffets.

Our favorite business? The dudes running the mobile car wash in the parking lot. Environmentally friendly? No, but we admire their little-guy entrepreneurship operating in the shadow of Sam's Club.

What would we put there—and at the sad, vacant shopping center next door? A carnival, like the one that used to be in the now-beleaguered Lakewood Shopping Center in Durham. Bright lights, greasy food and cheap stuff. Just like what's there now, but with a Tilt-A-Whirl.

Best reason to pray for Franklin Street: Ten years ago, the Indy bemoaned a comment by a retail consultant who told Chapel Hill Town Council members that Franklin Street "could benefit from commercial zones similar to those used by privately owned malls and retail centers."

Well, those prayer hankies we received in the mail must have worked because Franklin Street does not resemble Crabtree Valley or Southpoint or Brier Creek or any other mammoth shopping outlet.

Ah, but don't blow out your votive candle quite yet. Under construction, the outsized 140 West is supposed to offer an upscale living experience to wealthy alums and UNC Hospital employees who don't mind watching drunk 18-year-olds puke on the street six floors below. It's ugly. It's pompous. It's unaffordable for most everyone who lives in town. And there's more on the way. Apparently, the great minds behind 140 West didn't take a clue from the failed Greenbridge experiment—a scar on the skyline—just blocks away.

It's time to get on your knees and pray.

Best place to chill with your fellow granola-crunchers on a Friday night: Folkies could always count on Bett and Bill Padgett to host traveling troubadours for a folksy party in their Raleigh living room. People would bring wine and cheese to share, or beer and chips. No ruckus, just a quiet evening of acoustic music.

Well, leave it to Raleigh's Board of Adjustment to be the man, the square, the Sgt. Friday of zoning. In 2009 the board upheld the city's inspections department decision that these house concerts violated the residential zoning ordinance.

The Padgett house concerts are a business, the department decided, even though they make no money (the audience passes the hat for the musicians) and don't sell tickets.

The way to circumvent this law is to host fewer than three concerts a year. Why three? Who knows. But if you're hosting a lot of rowdy Mary Kay parties, Bible studies or euchre clubs, you'd be wise to get a lookout to tip you when the jig is up. —Lisa Sorg


2003 In 2012, we have a Kenyan in the White House (What, are you doubting Fox News?) but in 2003, Durham had a great Kenyan restaurant, Safari Cuisine, which won Best Samosas that year. It has since closed and the 101 E. Chapel Hill St. address has been mostly vacant. But look! That corner at Five Points, where Chapel Hill, Main and Morris streets meet, is reviving. Those saws you hear as you pass by are carving up the space for a pizzeria, a cupcake store and a bicycle shop. So long samosas, hello buttercream icing and pepperoni.

Also file under Gone: Fowler's Gourmet, which won Best Wine Selection, closed several years ago and has been replaced by Parker and Otis, whose broccoli-tomato-cheddar scrambled eggs is an ideal Saturday brunch.

Nine years ago, Durham skateboarders were out of luck if they wanted to practice their kickflips, thus the Bull City had no winner in the Best Place to Skateboard. Progress is possible: The skatepark in Durham Central Park—conveniently located across the street from the watchful eye of a city police substation—is crowded with young skaters and older permadudes.

From Paul Jones' (@smalljones) Twitter feed, May 31, 2012, at 2:30 p.m.: "Outside The Globe waiting to see Comedy of Errors in Dari Farsi among the other Groundlings."

Best Geek of 2003, Paul Jones is smarter than you. Or me. Or Ross Grady. The Internet pioneer from Chapel Hill won his Best of laurels for his project ibiblio.org, an internationally renowned digital library and conservancy and one of the largest free—and ad-free—information databases online. (The Korean War CIA Freedom of Information Act Release is just a click away.)

A professor in UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science, Jones is so far ahead of the curve, why, he's abandoned email. Wanna reach him? Try Facebook, Twitter or something that's not been invented yet. He's in London right now, and you can see his itinerary by connecting to his Google calendar.

Long-haired, mustached, slightly unkempt, Jones is right out of central casting as the genius geek, the dude whose brain processes a little bit faster—OK, a whole lot faster—than most of us. He sees the world's hive mind and knows how to use technology to tap into it, having won the IBM Faculty Award twice—at $15,000 a pop. Which is why he can afford to go to London.

There are younger geeks—Paul Joneses in training—but you'll just have to wait your turn.

These days AM radio may be the domain of religious and Spanish-language programming, but even as late as 2003, there was a hip spot on that static-ridden dial.

WBZB 1090 AM, based in Garner, featured primarily local and North Carolina music. Heralded in these pages as the Best Idea on the Airwaves, it was eclectic and irreverent—Shane Gentry hosted the Naked Monday Show to celebrate nudism. Initially, it puttered away at 800 watts, then doubled it to 1,600, but owner Steve Bass couldn't make a go of it and sold the station for $1.5 million to Triangle Sports Broadcasters in June 2004.

WBZB is now WTSB, whose owners boosted the wattage to 9,000 big ones. It's a sports talk station. Because we don't have enough of those.

Speaking of music, Kings Barcade in Raleigh won Best Venue that year, and it's still chugging along, having reopened on Martin Street in 2010. It consistently books some of the most versatile music in the Triangle: Annuals one night, Hammer No More the Fingers on another and Orquesta GarDel on yet another.

In 2003, the Indy put its nose to the ground in search of the Best Bagel. The verdict? "There are no bagels in the Triangle. 'Bagels' maybe. But not bagels."

In 2012, there are no bagels in the Triangle. Somebody, please, open a bagel shop. —Lisa Sorg


2004 We saluted Carrboro nightclub Cat's Cradle as the year's Best Breath of Fresh Air for its decision to go smoke-free, a good six years before the statewide ban on smoking in public venues was enacted. The move sure didn't hurt the Cradle's business or legacy: It remained the Triangle's most important music venue throughout the decade. In retrospect, such regulations—which took root many years earlier but were, not surprisingly, a late arrival to tobacco-centric North Carolina—seem as obvious as no-smoking rules on airplanes. That we've accepted and adjusted to the change so naturally perhaps provides hope for other notable causes down the road. (As in: One day we'll look back and be equally astounded that gay marriage was ever disallowed.)

Winners of the Best Neighborhood Bar category in the Triangle's three vertices have followed three storylines in the years since. Crowley's, off Dixie Trail inside the Beltline, remains entrenched as a Raleigh favorite. Durham's Joe & Jo's shut down in 2006, to the sorrow of its devoted patrons. (As Claire Cusick wrote in these pages when it closed, "The bartenders knew your name and how you liked your burger. People went there after Durham Bulls games, but it wasn't a sports bar. Gay people went there, but it wasn't a gay bar.") The big success story of the bunch is Tyler's, a promising upstart in Carrboro back in 2004 that has now expanded with prime locations in Durham at the American Tobacco Campus and in Raleigh at Seaboard Station. There's even one in Apex now. Give 'em another eight years and they may be statewide.

When we sought out the Best Place to Buy a Screwdriver in Raleigh, the winner was Marc's Hardware in the Ridgewood Shopping Center on Wade Avenue. It's gone now, perhaps another victim of the recession, and/ or pushed out by the Home Depot/ Lowe's megastore transformation that seems endemic to our day and age. Indeed, the guess here is that if we asked people in these New Depression times about the best place to buy a screwdriver in Raleigh, they'd probably say the Landmark Tavern.

In identifying the Best Performance by a Would-be Governor, Democrat Division, we nodded to then-state treasurer Richard Moore, while writing off then-Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue as having fallen "off the radar screen completely." What a difference four years made for Perdue. (And what an adventure the subsequent four years became; we wish her well in finding that peace away from the radar screen again.)

As the Best Evidence Hillsborough Street Isn't Dead Yet, we pointed to the rise of Frazier's and Porter's alongside the venerable Mitch's Tavern in the 2400 block across from N.C. State. While that triumvirate remains a Hillsborough hub today, the historic Belltower on the street's eastern end might well be ringing out a death knell soon, if and when the planned high-rise hotel finally breaks ground across the street. To the west, the once-legendary Brewery has been bulldozed; losing both Sadlack's Heroes and Schoolkids Records would be the worst thing to happen to Hillsborough's eastern flank since, well, the installation of that abominable traffic circle from hell.

One of our more eccentric categories in 2004 was Best Way To See Dance For Free, for which we recommended that you be an usher for the American Dance Festival. Still seems like a pretty good idea, and a lot of the perennial favorites mentioned in the 2004 blurb—Paul Taylor Dance Company, Pilobolus, Shen Wei Dance Arts—return for this year's model, which runs June 14–July 28. The volunteering process is a little more high-tech these days, though: Back then you just called a phone number to sign up, but now you have to visit a Web-based "volunteer scheduling tool" called Wayfinders. (That's www.durham-nc.com/about/wayfinders/index.php if you're game.) —Peter Blackstock


2005 Our Best of perspective went street-level in 2005's edition, focusing on a handful of well-trafficked arteries across the area that helped represent and define the Triangle's personality.

Richard Hart cruised down the long, strange trip of Guess Road in Durham. He checked in at a remarkable variety of restaurants, from the Asian delights of Hong Kong (Chinese) and Kim Son (Vietnamese, now gone) to the pizza joints Italian Pizzeria (in the Willowdaile Shopping Center) and Pizza Palace (now occupied by Bella's Cuisine) to the 24-hour diner Honey's and the funky north-end joint All People's Grill, a haven for local blues performers. And the barbecue mainstay Hog Heaven has since expanded its operation, with a sister location in Roxboro.

Still, the establishment with the most colorful name on Guess Road was Everything But Grannies Panties, specializing in "everything from fine art and antiques to pots and pans," according to its website. Hart observed back in 2005 that "every square inch—and I mean every one—has been filled with vintage clothes, cool furniture, kids' stuff and lots and lots and lots of ... junk."

Over in Raleigh, Bob Geary veered away from more obvious options such as Glenwood South or Hillsborough Street and took a turn down New Bern Avenue. "Think of New Bern as the gateway to what's best in Raleigh," Geary suggested. He noted the presence of Enloe High School, declaring it "the best public high school in North Carolina and the flagship of Wake County's proud program of magnet schools." And he pointed out that right off of New Bern, within the Beltline, is one of the state's finest golfing facilities, the Raleigh Country Club course designed by legendary golf architect Donald Ross. Geary also had much praise for the "racially and economically diverse" Longview neighborhood, with its "graceful hills and ponds, big houses and small [ones]."

Kirk Ross took the almost-direct approach through Chapel Hill and Carrboro, keenly avoiding Franklin Street traffic for the better flow of Rosemary, which feeds straight into Carrboro's East Main Street core (and then on out to Jones Ferry Road heading toward Orange County's rural fringes). The historic Horace Williams House remains an East Rosemary anchor; proceeding westward parallel to Franklin, Ross namechecked the institutional eateries Breadmen's and Mama Dip's, though somewhat surprisingly didn't make note of the creative music/ arts hot spot the Nightlight (perhaps because it was still in relative infancy at that time). Cat's Cradle and The ArtsCenter were, and still are, central to Carrboro's music and arts community, though the impressive rise of the Southern Rail/ Station complex has given a major boost to Main Street's activity level compared to 2005. And while the original Tyler's Restaurant & Taproom remains a fixture on East Main just before it merges with Jones Ferry, the dining ante has been upped considerably with the addition of Acme on the same block.

And we found a pathway into Cary, too, detouring around its stereotypical suburbaness via Barbara Solow's exploration of a "thriving hub of South Asian commerce" along East Chatham Street. Just a few blocks east of Cary's Town Hall and Page-Walker Arts & History Center, this area abounds with Asian storefronts such as Triangle Indian Market, Udipi Cafe and Shamim Beauty Parlor. Centered around the Chatham Square Shopping Center near the intersection of East Chatham Street and Northeast Maynard Road, the district has, if anything, only expanded its international range and appeal since Solow's 2005 visit. Other Asian restaurant options include Chef of India, Biryani House, Korean Garden and Cool Breeze (which boasts "Indian fast food and ice cream"), plus art and fashion shops and also a few Hispanic-oriented establishments such as Don Francisco Supermercado. —Peter Blackstock


2006 Gas prices were oh so reasonable. UNC-Chapel Hill football fans thought highly of their football coach. North Carolina Democrats enjoyed unchecked power in Raleigh. And Duke lacrosse players and their alleged extracurricular shenanigans dominated the Triangle headlines.

Meanwhile, the stock market still had legs, so people with disposable income—what is that?—enjoyed options for fun in the Triangle.

Thirsty Triangle denizens were sipping homemade infused rum in Slim's Downtown Distillery in Raleigh. Chapel Hill's Talullas sizzled at night with Turkish decor and eats along with late dance parties. And a battered Powell Street basketball court was recognized for its hideaway hoops action in Raleigh.

Popular Chapel Hill record shop CD Alley walked away with the award for Best Place for Really Obscure Records. It's still there and prospering like some sort of underground musical buffet. Digital album sales, be damned.

Owner Ryan Richardson, who moonlights as drummer with local alt-rockers Kingsbury Manx, said the store owes its survival to the allegiance of taste-making customers.

"We really cater to the real hard-core music enthusiasts that are looking for the more hard-to-find titles," Richardson said. "There are still a lot of us who really appreciate a hard copy of our favorite music. We don't want to have to track it down if our iPod fries."

What's the most obscure record at CD Alley? Richardson points to a 7-inch copy of the French song "Au Claire de la Lune" that captures the first recognized recording of the human voice. Prepare to be amazed. The recording comes from 1860, 17 years before Thomas Edison unveiled the phonograph.

Larry's Beans, a Raleigh coffee brewer, earned props for the year's "most environmentally friendly delivery truck (that smells like French fries)."

In 2005, the free trade coffee seller converted an ancient Ford bus to run on used vegetable oil after owner Larry Larson was wowed by an alternative fuel symposium in Raleigh.

Larry's Beans Vice President Kevin Bobal bought the bus online, and it's since logged 100,000 miles delivering coffee across the Triangle. The mileage rate is about the same and the bus lost no horsepower in the conversion, Bobal said. And what of the French fry smell?

"It smells kind of not so much like French fries," Bobal said. "It smells like what food was cooking in it. Sometimes it has a pan-Asian odor about it when you're driving." —Billy Ball

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