In 1996 the Independent Weekly started its Best of the Triangle issue, or as it was known then, "The Real Best of," so as not to impinge on the "Best of" edition published by our then-competition, the Spectator. (Note to media historians: These things get sensitive and turfy. In 2002, the Indy achieved the Best of both worlds and bought the Raleigh-based arts mag.)
I digress. In 1996, Jesse Helms won his fifth term to the U.S. Senate; sometimes it feels like he never left. Hurricane Fran devastated much of North Carolina, including the Triangle. Nonetheless, the area was still basking in the afterglow of being ranked by Money magazine as the Best Place to Live in the U.S. just two years earlier.
The Triangle has changed dramatically since 1996—and mostly for the best, I-40 traffic notwithstanding. It consistently ranks nationally among the Best Places to, well, do about anything.
So in writing this year's Best of issue, we decided to reflect on the last 16 years' worth of editions: Who won what when? And what became of the winners? The Chapel Hill bar Hell, for example, won Best Jukebox in 2003. It's since closed, but former owner Mark Dorosin recently won a seat on the Orange County Commission, proving there are hotter places than Hell.
People tend to romanticize the past, and in browsing through more than a decade of Best of editions, we discovered we miss some of our favorite haunts. But we have new haunts, new experiences, new traditions—and in many ways, the Best is yet to come. —Lisa Sorg
1996 Raleigh's Warehouse District: Best Place for Urban Transit—Hello?
Everything's different. Everything's the same. In 1996, when we published our first "Real Best of the Triangle" edition for the high-minded purpose of making some money, we searched out the "nutty nooks and quirky crannies" of the Triangle, realizing that there was no serious city to be found amidst our subdivided sprawl. Not yet, anyway.
Still, we recognized in the re-emerging Warehouse District of Raleigh our Best Urban Resurrection. The district, an industrial area dating from when Raleigh was small and insignificant, was beginning its rebirth as a funky part of the great city Raleigh was destined to become—and in 1996, it was already an article of faith in Raleigh that a great city we would absolutely become.
An "X" marked the spot on West Street where the Triangle Transit Authority's downtown light-rail station would soon be located. Nearby, little buds of post-industrial age urbanity had sprouted in anticipation of a transit spring. Several of them are still going strong: Humble Pie, the restaurant that led the way on outdoor dining. Legends, the club très gay. The Berkeley Café, best small music hall around. Sadly, Button South, an outsized three-clubs-in-one mashup we mentioned favorably, soon proved to be way ahead of its time, as we were not yet Berlin or even Miami Beach. It soon closed and was later turned into the Raleigh Police Department's downtown HQ.
Two decades on, the center of Raleigh has been transformed with the reopening of Fayetteville Street and all that it spawned. The promise of the Warehouse District, in the western reach of downtown, was realized in part with the addition of the Contemporary Art Museum, Designbox and the Raleigh Amphitheater. But the "X" factor remains: The light-rail system that should've been up and running in Raleigh five years ago was instead delayed, delayed and finally shelved by antediluvian politicians. Hard to believe, but it's further in the future now than it was then.
No longer a nutty nook, the Warehouse District has become a pretty cool destination for the seekers of Raleigh nightlife, but one that remains far short of its potential. Our best urban resurrection is now our best example of where transit should be leading an urban renaissance but isn't—and where diverse downtown housing and retail spaces should be but aren't.
And as much as Raleigh has changed, its future continues to be throttled by the same Republican politicians as before. Paul Coble, a city councilor and later a one-term mayor, stood in the door of progress then. He and his GOP mates were voted out in 2011, but they've since taken control of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, with Coble as their chair. Meanwhile, their Republican friends in the General Assembly—led by House Majority Leader Paul Stam of Apex—have left it to the county to decide whether Raleigh should have a transit system or not.
The answer from Coble & Co. is: Not.
And just in case you think the General Assembly gave Wake's voters the right to decide this question, it did. But only if Coble & Co. allow us to vote. Which, to date, they refuse to do. —Bob Geary
1997 We would soon learn about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and the next year we elected Raleigh's own Johnnie Edwards to the U.S. Senate. Shocking! Though we sure read all the stories, LOL.
There was precious little to titter about when we published our Best stuff of 1997, however, with Jim Hunt still teetotaling in the governor's mansion (Year 13) and Clinton re-elected without any opposition if you don't count Bob Dole. Thus, the Indy declared itself desperate to locate "splashes of color in a Walmart world." Locate them before C.D. Spangler sells Chapel Hill to NationsBank.
Where to begin?
Chapel Hill has devoted the intervening years to soiling its brand as a charming and slightly anti-establishment university town. Soon, it may take anthropologists to uncover the splashes of color that once were the Hill before town and gown—and Dean Smith's legacy—were buried in giant buildings, giant egos and giant capitalism of the kind that turned our own NationsBank (once the very respectable N.C. National Bank) into the despised Bank of America.
We did love Dean Smith, a splash of color and so much more.
So, every local official who's prepared to say no to the next Walmart when it comes along to kill your local enterprises, and every university leader who'll say no to selling your basketball team to CBS, please raise your hands.
Higher, please. We don't see you.
Everywhere you look, huge corporations and bankers with money from somewhere else are taking over, tearing out the charm and replacing it with a big box of some crap designed for Anywhere, Planet Earth. (But being careful to name it for whatever it destroyed.)
Which brings us to Sadlack's Heroes. In 1997, we cited Sadlack's, a tiny bar, sandwich and music place on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, as the Best Place to Encounter the Medicated (Or Those Who Should Be). Our salute to Sadlack's as "the model of a classless society ... outside the realm of propriety and convention" was doubtless written by the late Peter Eichenberger, a Sadlack's regular and a man who was anything but propitious.
We miss Eichenberger, who heard black helicopters no one else could recognize (were they drones?), and who railed in no uncertain but often inspired terms at the forces burying his beloved Raleigh in derivatives-financed mediocrity.
Now, as Hillsborough Street redevelops, a hotel is on tap (a rezoning case is coming) for the block where Sadlack's stands, across from the NCSU Bell Tower.
Raleigh taxpayers invested $10 million-plus in a redo of the street for the purpose of luring new and, frankly, much-needed development there. But there's a right way to develop: building on the traditions that caused Hillsborough Street to be "classless" and diverse in the best sense of those words. And there's a wrong way: wiping out what was valuable in the first place. (See: Chapel Hill.)
It's not clear that Sadlack's owners want to stay in business if and when the hotel goes up. Nor is it clear whether a Sadlack's could comfortably reside within a new hotel-retail complex. What is clear, however, is that Hillsborough Street needs its Sadlack's—this one, or a new one, or maybe more than one. And Raleigh needs the splash of color that is Hillsborough Street, not something giant that destroys it while stealing the name. —Bob Geary
1998 If you were to take a random sample of most any American population and ask them about five things North Carolina's good at, the results might read something like bluegrass, Michael Jordan, basketball, NASCAR and good ol' barbecue. Actually, if you were to ask folks about 100 things for which this state's known, its pioneering role in vegan dining—hold on to your fatback, mama—might not make many lists.
Indeed, in 1998, the Independent awarded top vegan-friendly restaurant honors to a Mexican café that left the lard out of its refried beans. That's admirable, yes, but in 2012, it's doubtful that Durham's vegan sorts find their sustenance exclusively at Blue Corn Café—or would appreciate our 1999 sentiment that, "Sometimes, meatless is murder."
Though the Triangle still has work to do in adding vegan (and sometimes even vegetarian) options to menus and in opening restaurants that work primarily without animal products, the options are certainly much more bountiful these days. Just last year, for instance, PETA named the Remedy Diner's Tempeh Tantrum—pesto, avocado, bacon and tempeh, pressed warmly between slices of sourdough—one of the five best vegan sandwiches in the country. In random rooms throughout the Triangle, the Fiction Kitchen turns remarkable tricks with its too-infrequent Vegan Brunches, making barbecue and more that stands up to the real deal. There's the Spotted Dog in Carrboro, Butternut Squash in Chapel Hill and the vegetarian half of the regular menu at, of all places, the German-inspired downtown Raleigh restaurant Capital Club 16.
Indeed, surveying the winners from 1998's Best of the Triangle, the shifts and upgrades in Triangle dining culture are overwhelming: Mad Hatter is a wonderful place to meet for a bite, but would you vouch for its Best Coffee ranking? Back then, Katie's Pretzels in Carrboro took home honors as Best Snack Emporium; Katie's closed in 2009, but could it stand up to the small-bites pleasures of chocolate factories like Escazu and Videri? And where we went heavy on the condescension while picking the Best Reason to Go to Cary ("to get to RDU") back then, perhaps now some of the Triangle's best restaurants could serve as an ample lure: La Farm, Bella Mia and the delicious pan-Asian fusion of an.
The same holds for Best Late-Night Drink, an award that went to Humble Pie not only for the cocktails but also for the rock 'n' roll wait staff. Humble Pie's patio is still a great place to have a beer (especially on Tiki Tuesdays), but the wealth of specialty cocktail bars and local breweries has superseded it.
There's certainly one thing that hasn't changed, though: In 1998, we had the good sense to recognize the Wake County Speedway, noting that its fried bologna sandwiches and rich smell of burned gasoline and melted rubber could proverbially "cut the wheat from chaff." To my knowledge, no better way to spend $20 and a sticky summer Friday night in the Triangle exists; hell, before too long, they might even serve vegan bologna. —Grayson Currin
1999 In late March 1999, despite having won a then-record 37 games in a single season, Duke University's male Blue Devils lost the NCAA championship in a close contest with a fast, husky Connecticut.
It stung. Not only had Duke been remarkable that year (the team soon sent four first-rounders to the NBA Draft), but it had also been nearly a decade since Mike Krzyzewski brought consecutive banners back to Durham. They'd been so close.
Published just nine days after that defeat, the Independent's 1999 Best of the Triangle reflected more pride than hurt in those Devils. Though co-captain Trajan Langdon led the team neither in points, assists nor rebounds, he toted home two awards—for playing through the pain of seven fresh stitches in a rout versus Clemson and for having the Triangle's Best Body: "That chest, which his cruel jersey offered mere hints of, expanded and contracted with supple motions that would make DaVinci weep," we wrote, elevating the fair-faced emperor into a demigod of desire. Even artist Paul Friedrich, who illustrated that issue with his omnipresent Onion Head Monster, winked Trajan's way.
That regional obsession with basketball hasn't changed a bit, evidenced by the current juxtaposition of talks that the ACC itself is dying with the buzz that, this year, the Triangle might produce three national contenders.
Other priorities didn't change, either, though the particulars might have: Back then, Mama Dip's ham-heavy collards walked with their savory award, but that was before Zely & Ritz and Beasley's offered their own meatless-and-indulgent greens. The need to sop hangovers with grease hasn't disappeared, but Time-Out and IHOP—the Reader's Choice winners in 1999—have been surmounted by a small army of places with mind-healing brunches, from Acme in Carrboro and Watts Grocery in Durham to Tir na nOg's weekly all-you-can-eat spread of wealth in downtown Raleigh. And if Mac McCaughan was indeed the Best Local Rock Celebrity 13 years ago, it's a fair argument that—after a Grammy for the label he co-founded, a great Superchunk comeback, a recent spate of strong solo shows, and his record of local political action—he's yet to abdicate the claim.
But that tawny newsprint does reveal some fundamental shifts in attitude, as well as some missed treasures. dillard's is gone from Durham, as is VisArt and the newsstand then honored for its "wrestling and kung fu mags ... guns and ammo rags." But in 1999, we thought the Best Way to Meet Local Farmers was to fall in tow with the Piedmont Farm Tour. Those treks are still great, but between the abundance of tiny farmers markets and urban gardening plots appearing across the area now, the farms come a lot closer than a weekend drive.
And, sure, Raleigh still gets its comeuppance from neighboring vertices, but in 2012, you'd have to fight hard to convince anyone that Raleigh's arts scene deserved an award for Best Survival—or, relatedly, that the Best View of Downtown Raleigh, or Mayor Fetzer's fuck-up, is "from an airplane." From a new amphitheater and bustling art walks to abundant rock clubs and emerging cultures of bikers and designers, culture in downtown Raleigh (and Durham, of course) is doing much more than surviving.
We're sure that was the goal of the condescension, anyway. —Grayson Currin
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
2007 was a year of endings. That's right. It's the year that Voldemort declared Harry Potter to be dead in J.K. Rowling's finale. Don't worry, The Dark Lord lied and Harry rose from the dead three days later and forgave our sins. No wait, I'm getting that mixed up with something.
It was also the year that HBO's mob morality fable The Sopranos came to its conclusion. Seriously, people had time for anything other than reading books and watching HBO that year? Apparently.
The Triangle's Best of rankings crowned a host of fascinating winners in this year, touting Raleigh's Legends club as Best Gay Bar, Chapel Hill's Italian Pizzeria III as the prime spot for international soccer and Durham's Carolina Theatre as the ideal setting to catch an indie flick.
Raleigh's The Borough walked away with the honors for Best Bar Staff. Absolutely essential still at The Borough is the Schmitty Schnapps, which combines gin and the "concentrated essence of rainbows, unicorns and sarcasm," according to the bar menu. Yum, tastes like mythical creature!
Schoolkids Records, a favorite in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, picked up the award for Best CD or Record Store. In an age of fast downloads that's wreaked havoc for record stores, the indie-friendly Schoolkids still clings to life under new ownership in Raleigh, although it closed shop in Chapel Hill in 2008.
That's yet another ending. Get the tissues.
To beat the blues, residents can still find liquid comfort in bars like Raleigh's Hibernian, 2007's best Irish pub. Never fear, the Guinness tap is still flowing at the Glenwood Avenue pub today. —Billy Ball
2008 It was a year of highs and lows. Barack Obama, a senator from Chicago, became the first black man elected to the White House, and indie giants Arcade Fire took the opportunity to salute the candidate with a concert in Carrboro. Rock on!
Foundering Republicans introduced the world to Sarah Palin. Meh.
And the stock market did its best impression of a beached whale. Ugh.
But in the Triangle, some things were new. Raleigh Mexican restaurant Café Capistrano earned honors for the year's best new restaurant. Its Garvey Drive location remains open, but a second restaurant in Cary has since shuttered its doors.
Other things reassuringly stayed the same. See Chapel Hill's reliably brilliant barbecue at Allen & Son. Try the hush puppies.
On the subject of food, mega-popular chef Andrea Reusing, one of the brains behind Chapel Hill's Asian-fusion restaurant Lantern, was tapped as top chef. Little wonder. Reusing was honored last year as one of the top chefs in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation Awards—the equivalent of the foodie Oscars. Lantern, meanwhile, remains a staple for refined Chapel Hill taste buds.
Then again, maybe what really tickles your fantasy is a sweet tat. Honored as top tattoo studio in 2008, Raleigh's Blue Flame Tattoo endures today. Maybe you want to etch a heartfelt message for mom. Or, based on the studio's website, perhaps you're seeking an ultra-creepy portrait of Linda Blair's demonically possessed Regan MacNeil from horror classic The Exorcist. To each his own. Either way, Blue Flame can do it.
And then there's the quirky. Durham metalheads Tooth shattered eardrums with glee that year, grabbing the honors as Best Band in Durham County.
Tooth is a memory these days, having split into likewise heavy rock acts named Hog and Lurch. The former is writing increasingly wandering, psychedelic rock tunes complete with musical suites. The latter is spewing gutbusting punk rock.
Hog vocalist Rich James absorbs a myriad of influences these days while recording a full-length LP. To prove it, that list includes harp-plucking indie folker Joanna Newsom.
James attributed Tooth's breakup to his own changing life and moods, noting that he wanted to eschew the band's "metal cheese" for more complex arrangements. The idea didn't go over well, James said.
"Depending on who you talk to, I was either the progenitor or a bastard," James said. "I was either making someone happy or pissing someone off."
All's fair in rock and roll. —Billy Ball
2009 The biggest restaurant in 2009 is now the biggest restaurant news of 2012. Magnolia Grill is out of time. By extension, so is its executive chef, Ben Barker. By the time you read this, Barker, the man our readers tapped as Best Chef in Durham County in 2009, will have presided over the restaurant's final service. He'll have prepped the last tenderloin and glad-handed the last person who will ever have an opportunity to taste his concocted twists on traditional Southern cuisine at the famed eatery. It's closed now. Feel free to rend your garments. That said, it's worth noting that: a) we live in North Carolina, and b) modern twists on traditional Southern fare is, among the foodies, a thing. Dining at Ben and Karen Barker's was a singular experience (may they enjoy semi-retirement), for sure. —Vernal Coleman
2010 So in early 2009, I packed my car and moved from the Triangle to Seattle. Because when you're young and recently "right-sized" out of your job, trekking to the coast in search of adventure, employment and looser moral codes is what you think you're supposed to do. Shortly afterward, angry missives began appearing in my inbox from Durham-based friends and acquaintances. How could I—why would I—come back to the Bull City without informing them, they asked. Others were simply confused. "Were you walking downtown on Chapel Hill Street yesterday?" I was not. But it's more than likely that Pierce Freelon was.
Freelon is one of the principals in The Beast, the jazz and hip-hop synthesizer that has since 2009 competed for the Triangle's Best Hip-Hop Act. In the Indy's 2010 reader's poll, they won the title outright.
People have said we look alike. I've told most of those people they are dumbasses. For the record, Freelon and I look alike only so much as you care to squint. Here's where the rods and cones play tricks: Like me, Freelon is brown-skinned and sports a mound of unruly curls that only on rare days looks symmetrical enough to qualify as an Afro. This is why, since moving back to Durham three weeks ago, I've been tapped on the shoulder twice and asked if I'm him. To all: I'm not.
If you strain, however, his life seems like a bizarro, goateed version of mine. When I left North Carolina three years ago, Freelon—a Durham native—had just moved back from Los Angeles. I'm a somewhat reluctant bachelor. He has a wife and two children. I've embraced the itinerant lifestyle, having lived in six U.S. cities in seven years. He's traveled the world with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz lecturing schoolchildren about the delta between hip-hop and the music Monk helped make famous. I sit alone at a computer to write about things like legal skirmishes over the patent for a home semen-detection device. He writes music in collaboration with other artists.
I caught up with Freelon for a phone interview last week as he was heading toward a Boston airport on his way back to Durham. As it turns out, he's a bit of a loner too, work-wise. "But all of my best work is done in collaboration," he says. "That's the nature of jazz. You get together with people and you realize that the sounds that you all can make together are better than what you can do apart." So goeth the music creation biz for my purported look-alike, and by extension, The Beast. It's a long climb up that ladder. That he and I now live in the same city has me wondering how I'll feel about getting mistaken for him if he and The Beast make it to the top.
Did you pick up a copy of the Indy's 2010 Best of issue? All the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets says you did. And if you did, you'll remember the image that adorned the cover—a bright smiling woman with an equally bright crown of sparkling baubles and bird figurines. You're right, The crown was awesome. Where is it? Fuck if we know.
Actually, it took but one phone call and a few odd emails to unravel the mystery of what happened to the crown. Ashley Carter, a former Indy ad representative, sells elegantly crafted tchotchkes through her company, Goldbug Studio. She's also the crown's designer, which she estimates might, given the going rate for her wares, be worth $250. Contacted last week, Carter had no clue what might have happened to it, adding, "I hope a badass drag queen has it hidden away in her decked-out closet."
Except for the drag queen part, it turns out that's not too far from the truth. The crown is sitting in the home of an Indy staffer atop a ceramic figurine crafted in the shape of Siddhartha's head.
Beth Fleisher, Indy senior advertising representative, explains. "I can't say I ever asked for it," she laughs. "It just sort of ended up with me." It was after the Best of party, and Fleisher says she'd taken dozens of pictures of winners posing while wearing the crown. The party ended, and the crown had to go somewhere.
Fleisher, who says she's always loved Carter's designs, says she'd planned to wear the crown to a radio promo gig sometime after the party. The gig didn't pan out, and the crown has been on Fleisher's bedroom dresser ever since. "It still belongs to the Indy, it's just lived with me for the past two years," says Fleisher. So know that it has found a safe home. But if you're looking to purchase your own, you're out of luck. Carter says all designs are one-of-a-kind.
As a rule, bartenders come and go. Such is the nature of the service industry. That's part of what makes Scott Ritchie, the Best Bartender in Durham County in 2010 according to Indy readers, somewhat of a rarity. Two years after first being featured in the Indy, he's still an employee of the Whiskey, which has since cemented its status as the go-to watering hole for aficionados of well-crafted drinks and cigars. It's a choice gig in a beautiful, speakeasy-like setting, so why would you leave? It helps that Ritchie is part-owner, which means that he'll most likely be competing for the Best Bartender title for the foreseeable future. Because nobody walks away from a stake in a collection of whiskey the size of the Whiskey's without a damn good reason. The current tally, according to Ritchie, stands at some 400 bottles. —Vernal Coleman
2011 The biggest threat facing semi-professional bloggers is life. It happens, and their attention gets drawn to something other than the topic being obsessed over in the blog. Case in point: Bull City Rising.
The loss of Bull City Rising was especially tough. In 2011, it topped the Indy's Best Of reader's poll in the Best Local Blog category, and deservedly so. For years it was the online go-to for wonky spin on city and county politics, and a clearinghouse for all the day's best Durham-centric headlines. Now the front page may as well have digital tumbleweeds blowing across it.
Dated Sept. 13, 2011, the last post hints at the reasons. Kevin Davis, the Duke University staffer behind the blog, bought and rehabbed a house. Then there were added responsibilities both professional and familial. Since his mother's death from cancer last fall, he's been handling her estate. The blog, Davis says, was a "tremendous time suck." But that doesn't mean he doesn't miss it, and the community of insiders that had taken to analyzing policy in its comments section.
Davis says he's felt "disconnected" without the blog and is looking to return to it once his schedule settles. But it certainly won't be full-time. Meanwhile, there's a gaping hole in the Durham blogosphere, and nobody has stepped up to fill it. —Vernal Coleman