Early accounts of Durham describe the city much like a glorified smoke break. Travelers breezed through en route to other places, huddling in tobacco warehouses to roll and smoke fine leaves and drink and brawl with Durham's fun-loving, misbehaving, "questionable characters."
"There is a place called Pin Hook ... and it is remarkable for a race that was run there many years ago by a man and a woman," a Hillsborough newspaper reported in 1871. "They wore no clothes and ran for a quart of liquor."
In 2013, walk into the historically named nightclub The Pinhook and you may witness history re-enacted with DJ Queen Plz on the decks, exposing her breasts (with the nipples covered of course. Call off the dogs, state legislators). Ladies, gentlemen and transgendered gyrate and reveal their rumps in hot pants of all metallic shades. Not ready to so blatantly shake your money maker? Try the themed dance parties at Motorco Music Hall.
In Durham, dancing and many other activities are done together, even when done alone. There are shared spaces for working—or co-working—and communal spaces for making art (out of scraps, no less). Mercury Studio, a co-working space downtown, now hosts monthly art salons, as well as live local music and crowdfunding events for creative, collaborative projects.
The Scrap Exchange offers strange items including plastic doll limbs, discarded mixtapes, television screens and PVC pipes, and provides a room to create something new from the castaways. That cool garden tool shelf in your friend's shed? The papier-mâché giraffe in the corner of your living room? A T-shirt with cassette tape seaming it together? All made from Scrap materials.
So what if you're not crafty? Art appreciation matters, too, and galleries are places to show off your refined, eclectic tastes. During Third Friday art walks, the streets teem with people bouncing from The Carrack, Outsiders Art and the new community artspace Shadowbox. Then bike, walk, take the free Bull City Connector bus—or, if you must, drive—east on Main Street to Golden Belt. (Don't worry if any of this cuts into dinner time. Food trucks abound.)
Eating and obsessing over it is the way of life in Durham, no matter what kind of scenester you are. At Mateo Bar de Tapas, Geer Street Garden and the ever-present food truck rodeos, you can find most all of the well-fed social butterflies in town. But the least recognized yet heavily patroned eateries are those serving homemade food on the cheap. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Banh's Cuisine on Ninth Street doles out traditional Vietnamese fare. (Be advised: It's cash only.) And any taco truck on West Hillsborough Road will cure your late-night taco al pastor fix.
While you wait, grab a bag of duros, puffed wheat pinwheels. Shake 'em up with hot sauce and share them with your new BFFs in line. It's most likely they just got back from the sickest show ever, dude, maybe from a music venue like Casbah, Motorco or Pinhook, or one of two area house venues.
The Layabout, a veteran space of the house concert scene, and newcomer Chateau Moby Dick are rocking neighborhoods with weekend living room concerts. Late-night raging may be dead to you, but music tastes never die. For earlier shows, check out the scene at Bull City Records, where free in-store shows pop up every couple of months.
Coffee shop culture provides a space for run-ins to remind folks that just because you didn't make it to that party last week, you're still alive. Pop into Scratch Baking to run into foodies of all ages loafing around with a slice of pie and ruminating with friends over the latest New Yorker. At the cozy new Cocoa Cinnamon, you can overhear impromptu intellectual conversations and meetings among musicians and activists fueling with a cup of drinking chocolate or coffee. Joe Van Gogh and Bean Traders house a more studious set. The former is great for welcomed interruptions; the latter, with a basement, for the bookish recluse in the zone.
Wannabe farmers and agriculture aficionados raid the urban lots as a Crop Mob one Sunday a month, sparking friendships, romance and innovative project ideas. These scenesters also meet regularly at Fullsteam—that James Beard-award-nominated plow-to-pint brewery we love—for Tweetups. Yep. They meet one other in person and then tweet about it, continuing to talk to each other online. All while eatingfrom a food truck. It's Durham!
To mellow out, stroll through the Saturday Durham Farmers' Market, which is open year-round, for fresh food, conversation and more truck fare (this time with doughnuts and breakfast items, too). On alternating Sundays, the dtownmarket at Motorco offers a refreshing alternative to the mall, with a selection of local crafts and vintage clothing. Plus, there are bloody marys at the bar. Bacon optional. If you need something more wild and obscure, maybe you can scope out information on the ukulele club, or figure out how to join those masked lady luchadoras.
Turns out Durham is for everyone.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Everybody's talkin."