Become a regular at these five local watering holes
By Matthew Lardie | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Durham loves a good drink, and luckily the Bull City is chock-full of fantastic places to wet your whistle. From breweries to wine bars, beloved longtime dives to nationally renowned craft cocktail joints, there is a place (and a drink) for every mood or occasion here. And a spate of new watering holes recently opened, giving Durhamites even more choices when it comes to quenching that thirst.
Third time’s the charm for 117 E. Main St. – following on the heels of Bar Lusconi and Bar Brunello, Killer Queen Wine Bar has kept the juices flowing at one of Durham’s favorite addresses for wine. Owner Silvia Gallo originally intended to open a bar in Charlotte but fell in love with the tiny, narrow space and cozy patio, seeing its potential as a continued destination for great wine in the Bull City.
Silvia and her team transformed the interior into a colorful, lush setting to enjoy wines from across the world along with a menu of small plates, charcuterie, flatbreads and pastas. The wine list itself changes almost daily but always includes a little bit of the familiar and a little bit of the exotic. And one thing is for sure: There will always be bubbles.
One staple of the bar is the Jansz sparkling rosé, a wine that has special meaning for Silvia. While working at a wine bar in Los Angeles, her colleague and actor Drago Sumonja would pour her some Jansz while they planned out their lives. “Ever have someone see you’re more capable than you think you are?” Silvia says. “That was Drago, giving me sparkling rosé shots and telling me to open my own wine bar.”
Drago sadly passed away in 2020, but the legacy of his encouraging spirit (and the Jansz rosé) lives on at Killer Queen, and one of downtown’s quirkiest spaces continues to offer a world-class wine experience to oenophiles and everyday wine lovers alike.
Located in University Hill, Apéritif is one of the more recent additions to the craft cocktail scene. Owner Jason Hepler strived to create what he calls an “upscale neighborhood bar” – think all the comfort of the bar-around-the-corner, just gussied up a bit. An extensive menu of both signature and seasonal cocktails, along with beer and wine, is complemented by small plate offerings like charcuterie, canapés and baguette sandwiches. But for the true Apéritif experience, you’ll want to pair your cocktail with one of pastry chef Kristy Amrozowicz’s fantastic desserts – this is what truly sets Apéritif apart. Try the signature Apéritif cocktail – made with Aperol and Citadelle gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, grapefruit bitters, egg white and garnished with an orange peel – alongside a Raspberry Beret, a dark chocolate and Grand Marnier mousse dome filled with raspberry jam and served atop a brownie. Or perhaps you’ve been dreaming of Paris, in which case a glass of bubbly with some of Kristy’s homemade macarons would be très fantastique. There’s even a list of dessert cocktails, and trust us when we tell you: No one at Apéritif is going to judge you for drinking your dessert.
Let’s stick in University Hill and take a quick stroll across from Apéritif to the recently opened third location of Raleigh’s Gizmo Brew Works. Its Durham taproom carries some of the brewery’s flagship beers as well as taproom-only small-batch releases. Gizmo’s Beekeeper honey wheat is one of its popular year-round brews – a nod to the vital profession of beekeeping, it’s brewed with wildflower honey and has won four different awards in both statewide and national competitions. “When we started Gizmo, it was our first summer seasonal,” explains Gizmo CEO Bryan Williams. “After the second summer, we decided to keep making it, and come winter it was still our bestselling beer. [It] has been No. 1 ever since.”
Rotating seasonal brews keep the taproom’s 30 tap offerings fresh and exciting, with options like the Deep Blue blueberry saison, Roller Girl Belgian blonde, and monthly rotations of goses and fruited milkshake IPAs. There is always an assortment of wine, ciders and nonalcoholic beverages for those who might want something different, of course, but given Gizmo’s wide range of brews, it’s highly likely that even the most beer-averse drinker will find something to sip on.
Mead just might be one of the oldest spirits on earth – the fermented, honey-based concoction has been the stuff of lore and legends for hundreds of years. But if the mention of mead conjures up images of kingly feasts and modern-day renaissance fairs, you might want to think twice. Mead has joined the modern age and is enjoying a renaissance of its own these days. Enter Moon Dog Meadery and Bottle Shop, located underneath Joe Van Gogh on Broad Street and the brainchild of friends Derrick Forrest and Kenneth Thrower.
A chance meeting while climbing at Triangle Rock Club led to the pair connecting over, among other things, Derrick’s love for mead. He showed Kenneth the ropes when it came to brewing the drink, and Moon Dog Meadery entered the scene in 2021. Named for their dogs (visitors may get to meet Mystic and Sherlock as they hang at the meadery), Moon Dog currently offers four meads – dry and semisweet versions of a traditional mead called Nektar of the Dogs; a fruited mead called Blood of the Dogs; and the Hair of the Dog, brewed with Joe Van Gogh coffee.
The newest kid on the block, so to speak, Der Nachbar Bottleshop & Taps is a pandemic dream come to life for co-owners (and Westwood Estates neighbors) Eric Cannon and Gert Bluschke. The pair met while out for walks with their families during lockdown and bonded over a mutual love for craft beer. Realizing that there weren’t many options to indulge in that shared interest nearby, Eric and Gert dove in headfirst and opened their own spot, Der Nachbar – which, fittingly, translates to “the neighbor” – earlier this summer. Gert grew up about 80 miles west of Munich, and Der Nachbar reflects that German heritage, with about a fifth of the bar’s 20 taps and nearly 80% of the designated European cooler dedicated to German beers. After nearly two years spent social distancing, Eric and Gert are proud to have created a space for beer enthusiasts and families alike to gather. “Everybody is welcome to have a good time,” Eric says. “We really wanted to center [Der Nachbar] around themes of community and neighborhood.” Events like yoga, food trucks like Kat-n-Around Authentic German Food, and an ever-rotating selection of craft beers from around the world have quickly cemented Der Nachbar as an anchor in the northwest Durham social scene, and there’s only one thing to say to that: Prost!