Our Ultimate Downtown Durham Date Ideas
Here are six downtown Durham date ideas, perfect for any couple
By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by John Michael Simpson
DIY District Date
The intersection of Geer Street and Foster Street might as well be Durham’s playground for adults. Start your adventure over a pint at Fullsteam Brewery’s trivia night on Thursdays or open mic night at Durty Bull Brewing Company on Fridays. Prefer live music? See who’s on the bill at Motorco Music Hall (grab dinner and a brew from Parts & Labor while you’re there) or The Blue Note Grill.
“We’re a small, intimate venue, and there’s not a bad seat in the house,” says Blue Note’s talent buyer, Deborah Miller. “Many couples have met and fallen in love here – at least eight that we know of – and we’ve had several proposals and weddings. What could be better than being Cupid?” If you’re still feeling the date night energy after the show, challenge your partner to a classic video game at Boxcar Bar + Arcade or axe throwing at Urban Axes, or enjoy a handcrafted nightcap at Corpse Reviver Bar & Lounge.
New Tunes n’ Chill
If vinyl is your vibe, swing by Carolina Soul Records to browse its extensive collection of used records and reminisce on your first live concerts – when the nostalgia overwhelms you, walk up the block to The Pinhook to see what’s on stage or head the opposite direction to The Fruit. If you need some fuel before you dance like no one’s watching, cozy up with pizza and a beer at Ponysaurus Brewing Co., or indulge in a margarita and birria fries at the newly opened Mezcalito.
Make the Art Grow Fonder
The heart of downtown is perfect for a staycation. Start your night by checking in at 21c Museum Hotel and grab a cocktail at 21c’s Counting House. “We have an extensive cocktail list that changes every few months and features seasonal ingredients,” says Eli Kahan, director of sales at the hotel. The current exhibits are “We Just Be” by local textile artist, mixed-media painter and film photographer Whitney Stanley in the Vault and “This We Believe,” featuring work from multiple artists. Both will be on view until May 2023. Enjoy a drink from the bar as you peruse the galleries.
Craving more local art? Head around the corner and down to 5 Points Gallery, which features a new exhibition by its 10 local artists every month – “The Mind’s Eye” will close April 8. Gallery hours are limited to Thursday-Saturday afternoons and evenings, but artists are almost always on hand to talk to you about the works, and you can also schedule an in-person viewing by private appointment – a special date for art lovers!
Cecy’s Gallery & Studios, just a few blocks down Foster Street from 21c, features guest artists who rotate quarterly in addition to permanent exhibits, pop-ups, art workshops, a Saturday art market and more. Don’t miss the gallery’s incoming summer artist cohort – including wildlife portraitist Alix Fuerst, Chapel Hill-based painter David Gellatly, experimental painter Heidi Miller and more – who display their works through September, plus the grand opening of a three-month LoveJones Co pop-up on July 16.
From there, take a short stroll back up to Alley Twenty Six for dinner and drinks. Its cold-weather cocktails lean on “heavier spirits like scotch, rye and bourbon, perfect for warming bellies during the wintertime,” says Bar Manager Claire Catotti. You can also enjoy half off raw oysters served with cocktail sauce, Mignonette sauce and lemon from 4-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; an exciting bottle of whiskey served at a break-even price every Wednesday (two upcoming include Woodinville Single Barrel Rye “Apryecot Jam” for $5 on Feb. 15 and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof “Elijah Like Sunday Morning,” also for $5 on Feb. 22).
Next, catch a live band at The Oak House at Durham over wine, beer, coffee or tea. If you’re feeling peckish, “one thing most people don’t know is that you can order food directly to your table from Bulldega Urban Market or bring in food from any local restaurant and enjoy it with your craft beverage of choice,” says Ryan Vet, founding partner of The Oak House. Wind things down by heading to The Roof at The Durham Hotel for sweeping views of the city at night, or retreat to Kingfisher for intimate conversation in its artful space.
The Not-So Traditionalists
Catch a matinee movie at the Carolina Theatre, then discuss it over an Insta-worthy dinner at Jack Tar and The Colonel’s Daughter. The restaurant is now open seven nights a week with whimsical cocktails and elevated Southern favorites like roasted poblano hushpuppies with sorghum butter. Top your meal off with treat like the Fluffernutter – peanut butter cookie, toasted marshmallow and muscadine sorbet – or, if your sweet tooth isn’t totally satisfied, simply cross CCB Plaza to The Parlour. This ice-cream shop’s seasonal flavors are always in high demand, with a bonus of vegan and gluten-free options, too! We’re partial to its classics like salted butter caramel and Vietnamese coffee made with Bean Traders brew.
The Classic Dinner and a Show
The Durham Performing Arts Center is back with a full lineup of Broadway shows and nationally acclaimed musicians and comedians this season. (Who else is looking forward to “Les Misérables” April 4-9?) Make a night of it with before-dinner bubbles at Annexe, then enjoy a flavorful meal upstairs at its sister bar and restaurant, Bar Virgile, or head to The Waiting Room for cocktails and bites, to nearby restaurants like COPA or straight on over to NanaSteak, which is attached to the venue. After the show, make your way to Dram & Draught to discuss your thoughts about the show over an expertly prepared beverage.
Start the weekend at Durham Food Hall, where coffee from Liturgy Beverage Company and a hearty bagel from Everything Bagels will fuel whatever’s next. Knock out your grocery shopping at the Durham Farmers Market at Durham Central Park or Black Farmers Market at Hillside High School – and buy some flowers for your sweetheart – or take a historic walking or biking tour with Preservation Durham. That’ll work up your appetite for brunch – try Press Coffee, Crêpes & Cocktails for sweet and savory crepes and an extra caffeine boost or It’s a Southern Thing for hearty dishes and classic mimosas. Walk off the food fatigue by perusing downtown shops like Exotique, Dolly’s Vintage, The Artisan Market at 305 or The Zen Succulent.