Downtown Durham. Photo courtesy of Discover Durham

Go World Travel is reader-supported and may earn a commission from purchases made through links in this piece.

Like many people, I found myself on a business trip to Durham, North Carolina. Home to Research Triangle Park – the country’s largest tech and science hub with over 300 companies as well Duke University – Durham is hub for all kinds of industries, however, it is also a lively, growing city that’s kept its history and culture intact, including a vibrant art scene and a multi-cultural line-up of restaurants.

If you find yourself in Durham on business, don’t work too hard because Durham has many things to enjoy.

Food and Art at Golden Belt

The Durham Bulls baseball stadium is in the heart of downtown. Photo courtesy of Discover Durham
The Durham Bulls baseball stadium is in the heart of downtown. Photo courtesy of Discover Durham

Beets can be an acquired taste. However, your taste buds will thank you when you have the beet salad at 19Fifty-One inside the Golden Belt complex. Co-owners Facil Tesfaye and Raymond Lee bring the flavors from their respective culinary regions into this new restaurant.

“The community has been truly supportive,” said Tesfaye when asked why he opened a third Durham restaurant, after Goorsha and Gojo, in Durham. “We want to be a truly community place. That’s what we try to do.”

Best Tips & Tools to Plan Your Trip

The eatery’s name denotes the historical connection between Tesfaye’s Ethiopian and Lee’s Korean heritage and how the countries’ spicey and savory flavors blend well in traditional American dishes. For example, burgers and chicken wings are flavored with Ethiopian berbere mayo and Korean bulgogi sauce.

While the main dishes were delicious, the bright flavors spill into the sides with the aforementioned Beet Root Salad with marinated onions and French fries tossed in Ethiopian mitmita spice and served with garlic ketchup.

Art and Eateries

19Fifty-One is just one of several businesses inside the Golden Belt campus, a former tobacco and textile factory southeast of downtown that has been turned into a mix of businesses, loft apartments, artists’ studio and gallery, and fun eateries with a bit of outdoor space underneath the former factory’s brick chimney tower.

Powered by GetYourGuide

Golden Belt is also home to the Durham Arts Guild gallery, open to the public during business hours, with 25 individual artist’s studios with windows to view them as they work. One artist receives a stand-alone show in the gallery every month.

Along with 19Fifty-One, visitors can dine at Italian restaurant Cugino Forno, enjoy tasty sweets at Two Roosters Ice Cream, and sip from a choice of 20 different craft beers at Hi-Wire Brewing. There’s also a small stage for music and entertainment in the warmer months.

Art, Food, and Sleep at 21c Museum Hotel

The comfy bedroom at 21c Durham. Photo courtesy of Discover Durham
The comfy bedroom at 21c Durham. Photo courtesy of Discover Durham

Is it an art gallery with a hotel or a hotel with an art gallery? You might ask that question when checking into the 21c Museum Hotel Durham located inside the Hill Building in downtown Durham, a former bank building on the National Register of Historic Places.

The 21c is a 125-room boutique hotel anchored by a 10,500-sq. ft. exhibition space with shows featuring international artists throughout the year. The artworks extended into the front lobby where I was so mesmerized by a display of dozens of tiny dancing figurines under plexiglass, I didn’t realize the front desk clerk was handing me my room key.

My room featured art deco touches in keeping with the 17-story building’s 1930s architecture. My deluxe room had floating end tables in the bedroom, retro lamps and a sofa in the living area. The bathroom, located between the two spaces, had soft purple lighting turning the mirror into an art piece of its own.

Counting House Restaurant

The hotel is also home to Counting House Restaurant, named in honor of the building’s bank history. While the long wooden bar, dark brown lounge areas, and upholstered booth seating were more in keeping with the bank theme, the art museum made its way into the restaurant space through a large mural and whimsical light fixtures dangling from the ceiling.

My breakfast of yogurt and fruit with a steaming latte was speedy and satisfying, perfect before a busy workday of meetings. I noticed others in the restaurant on their laptops, so I wasn’t the only one checking emails during breakfast.

At night, however, the restaurant turns into a speakeasy with creative cocktails and low lighting. There’s even a secret cocktail space called The Vault. After my workday, I was able to return to the hotel and order a dram of Kentucky bourbon that I was allowed to take with me into the art gallery.

The gallery’s exhibition was filled with mixed media works – sculptures, paintings, and videos in a variety of forms like textiles, paper, brass, wood, and even plastic from a 3D printer. This wasn’t just eye-catching art; it made you contemplate what you saw.

No Bull in the Bull Social District

Enjoy a Durham Bulls baseball game if they're in town. Photo courtesy Discover Durham
Enjoy a Durham Bulls baseball game if they’re in town. Photo courtesy Discover Durham

Even in winter, Durham’s temperate weather made for a delightful walk through the downtown Bull Social District. Named for the city’s Triple-A baseball team, the Bull Social District allows visitors to order a beer, cider, or other libations in a specially labeled plastic cup and walk around the park and streets of downtown Durham.

I ordered a Blueberry Ginger Pi, a German gose made with blueberries and ginger, from The Glass Jug Beer Lab that added just the right touch of tart to the beer’s sour notes.

With so many restaurant options in the nearby Durham Food Hall, deciding where to have lunch was difficult, but I ordered a smoked turkey bagel sandwich to-go from Everything Bagel.

If I had timed my visit better, I could have enjoyed the weekly Durham Farmer’s Market on Saturdays year-round and on Wednesdays from April through November. As I walked by the Durham Bulls Baseball stadium on the way to a meeting, I decided my next visit to Durham would be during baseball season.

Near the stadium is the Corpse Reviver Lounge, the cocktail bar of Durham Distillery. With an entrance around the back, this little bar is an homage to classic cocktail culture and a great introduction to the distillery’s flagship spirit, Conniption Gin. It’s a great place to enjoy happy hour before dinner.

A Trip to the Farm

As part of my business trip, I was invited to a special event at Mystic Farms and Distillery on the outskirts of Durham. The event included a distillery tour by co-owner Jonathan Blitz. We learned Mystic Farms is an estate distillery, meaning they grow their own grains and have their own water aquifer, the two most important ingredients in their award-winning whiskey.

The property, only a 20-minute Uber ride from the hotel, has a barrel-storage tasting room that hosted our large group comfortably along with an inviting outdoor patio next to a picturesque pond.

Take in the Sounds of Hayti Heritage Center’s Historic Concert Hall

Welcome to Durham, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Discover Durham
Welcome to Durham, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Discover Durham

While I enjoyed looking at Durham’s art, I also enjoyed listening to musical performances at Hayti Heritage Center’s concert hall. Pronounced HAY-tie, the center is inside a historic African American church built in 1891 with the concert hall in the former sanctuary. It’s a gorgeous venue surrounded by stained glass windows and original curved wooden pews.

Angela Lee, the center’s Executive Director, said they offer a variety of concerts from symphonies, jazz ensembles, choirs, and spoken word poetry in this acoustically special space. “It’s so rich with not only the history of Durham, but all things in the arts,” she noted.

My personal favorites are the Candlelight Concerts featuring performances of popular music from a local string quartet by candlelight.

Durham’s residents know it’s no fun being all work and no play so take their lead and enjoy the city’s art, food, and culture while you’re there.

If You Go:

Read More:

Author Bio: Carrie Dow is an award-winning freelance journalist based in Charlotte, NC, whose work has appeared in regional and national publications. Former editor for The Drink Nation, she uses her expertise on the food and beverage industry to travel the world looking for unique eats and experiences. She also founded What’s Pawsitive, a website that profiles animal-based travel, animal rescue organizations, and animal welfare advocates around the world. 

Go World Travel Magazine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *