Our Ultimate Downtown Durham Date Ideas

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Here are six downtown Durham date ideas, perfect for any couple

downtown Durham date ideas
“Pinky up,” Brendetta laughs jokingly as she lifts her espresso at Press Coffee, Crêpes & Cocktails.

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 or The Blue Note Grill.

downtown Durham date ideas
Brendetta Huffman and Robert Rowe cheers with their Madeira Cobbler and Colada Royale cocktails, respectively, at Dram & Draught.

New Tunes n’ Chill

“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.

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. Next, cozy up with Little Pizza Box pizza and a beer or warm glühwein at Ponysaurus Brewing Co., or indulge the senses at a “Smolder & Spirits” cigar and whiskey night on Thursdays at Suite Four.

“Our desire is to create a space that provides opportunities to meet new people and develop community, in a relaxed atmosphere,” says Joye Speight, Suite Four co-owner and chief event designer and owner of Virtue Events, which handles the signature and community event planning for the space. Expect a chill, relaxed experience on the patio (stunning sunsets included!) with cigars curated by Sticks & Vines and whiskey samples compliments of Bartending Unlimited.

Val Flores and James L. Gore for live music at American Tobacco Amphitheatre
Val Flores and James L. Gore listen to The Dead Tongues at a concert presented by Duke Performances at the American Tobacco Amphitheatre. Visit dukeperformances.duke.edu/calendar to view upcoming shows in its fall season.

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 CountingHouse. “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 “Of Soil and Sky” by local artist Claire Alexandre in the Vault – which is co-organized and presented by 21c, The Understudy, Provident1898 and Mavis Gragg – and “The Future is Female.” Both will be on view until early 2022. Though drinks are normally allowed as you peruse the galleries, as of press time guests are currently asked to wear a mask in all public spaces in compliance with the City of Durham mandate, which means beverages are limited to the restaurant and bar area.

downtown Durham date ideas
Dan Leszczak and Jessica Lee took a September date night to the next level with dinner at Pizzeria Toro, drinks and a gallery walk through 21c Museum Hotel, and tickets to the Dawes show at The Carolina Theatre.

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 – “Possibilities” will close Oct. 10. Gallery hours are limited to the weekend, 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!

PS118 Gallery, just across from 21c on Parrish Street, also hosts private tours in addition to programming surrounding its exhibitions that includes receptions, curator and artist talks, literary readings, trunk shows, music performances and more. Don’t miss “From Fallujah,” a group photography exhibit featuring the work of four emerging Iraqi photographers curated by John Bechtold, on view through Nov. 6; or “Magic of Patinas” – works in metal by Jackie MacLeod, on view Nov. 4-Dec. 23 with a reception on Nov. 11.

From there, take a short stroll to Alley Twenty Six for dinner and drinks. “As we approach the cooler months, we are pivoting our summer cocktail menu toward more fall flavors,” says Bar Manager Claire Catotti, adding that the drinks lean on “heavier spirits like scotch, rye and bourbon, perfect for warming bellies during the fall and wintertime, and we have new fall dishes [like] roasted Koginut squash from South Wind Produce in Rougemont and a new Granny Smith apple crisp on our dessert menu.”

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 and enjoy its October exhibit by local artist Brenda Brokke.

Dan Leszczak and Jessica Lee at The Carolina Theatre

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 Jack Tar team will be creating a festive outdoor room on the patio this winter,” says Jennifer Noble Kelly, who handles public relations for the restaurant. “Look for it to open in November with whimsical holiday cocktails, including their signature eggnog, and holiday décor you’ll want to experience all season long.” Speaking of eggnog, we’re hoping that The Parlour brings the seasonal flavor back alongside its other classics like salted butter caramel and Vietnamese coffee this fall and early winter. Regardless of whether it makes it to the menu or not, the ice-cream shop’s seasonal flavors are always in high demand, with a bonus of vegan and gluten-free options, too! Simply cross CCB Plaza for a sweet end to the evening.

Valérie Belin’s archival pigment print, “Giant Exhibition Aureole,” 2013, was just one of the artworks that caught the eyes of Dan and Jessica at 21c Museum Hotel.

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 Jason Mraz on Nov. 28?) Make a night of it with before-dinner bubbles at Annexe, and then enjoy a flavorful meal upstairs at its sister bar and restaurant, Bar Virgile, or head over to nearby restaurants like COPA or straight on down to NanaSteak which is attached to the venue. After the show, make your way to newly opened Dram & Draught for a cocktail mixed by award-winning head barman Anthony “Yoz” Yoswa and his team.

“We are very proud of Yoz for winning the statewide [Fernet-Branca Cocktail Competition this year],” says Drew Schenck, co- founder of Dram & Draught. “It is great to see him getting recognized for all his hard work.”

Saturday Excursion

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 Golden Belt Campus – 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, Bull City Olive Oil or The Zen Succulent (after all, holidays are right around the corner, so take advantage of your time together to pick out the perfect gift for your in-laws!).

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Morgan Weston

Durham Magazine freelancer Morgan Weston is a North Carolina native who loves exploring the Triangle's diverse food, arts and craft beer offerings.

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