Off The Record is a recurring feature here on the Drunkard that marries two of my greatest interests; music and travel. Having a locals perspective when visiting a new locale is the difference between experiencing it through the lens of a tourist and of that of a native.
Off The Record gathers some of my favorite artists, asks them to reflect on their city of residence, and choose a handful of places they could not live without, be them bookstores, bars, restaurants or vistas.
Today’s installment of Off The Record finds us in North Carolina’s Research Triangle area with Bowerbirds Beth Tacular acting as our tour guide. The groups excellent 2007 LP Hymns For A Dark Horse has just been reissued by the Dead Oceans label.
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When trying to explain to people why it is we like Raleigh, and the surrounding larger area called the Triangle, made up of Durham, Chapel Hill (and stripmallopolis, Cary), the first thing that comes to mind is the people. There are a lot of open-minded and friendly Southerners here, as well as a ton of transplants, from the rest of the South, the Northeast, and especially from the Midwest. Whole bands move down here together, as did Mark and Phil, when they came here with their old bandmate, Wes Phillips, to keep playing music together in their band Ticonderoga. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver moved here with his band, Deyarmond Edison, which later split up, the other members forming Megafaun. The Mountain Goats are transplants from the midwest via California as well.
Then there are the people who are actually from here, like Des Ark, Birds of Avalon, Bellafea, the Rosebuds, the Annuals, and I guess, Bowerbirds’ own Beth Tacular (me), among tons of other bands and musicians. There are several colleges and universities in the Triangle, which bring in a lot of young people each year, and there are also a lot of jobs here and it’s affordable to live here, so graduates stick around and work here after school. That means we have a lot of people at every age of life here, which makes it easy to find people you can get along with and have things in common with.
For a Southern city, Raleigh, Durham, and especially Chapel Hill/Carrboro, are very progressive-minded, or there are at least big pools of activists and people who are interested in local community. I think this bleeds over into the music scenes, in that people actually come out to your shows, and the bands aren’t competitive with one another, but are supportive of one another and take each other out on tour.
Great Outdoors :: We like to spend a lot of time hiking, running on trails, or swimming in rivers. The best rivers are the Eno River in Durham, and the Haw River, between Chapel Hill or Raleigh, and Pittsboro (a little town 30 minutes from Chapel Hill). There are also a lot of little creeks running through the countryside and forests. Last summer, when we didn’t have running water at the AirStream, we would work all day on our cabin that we are building, then take the dog on a walk down to a river, where we would “bathe” and play Toss the Stick. The Haw River is a good place to cayak or canoe, and you can spot bald eagles and great blue herons there all the time.
Shopping :: The best vintage furniture and decorating shop is definitely Father and Son in Raleigh. They have a ton of vintage mid-century modern furniture, cookware, clothes, and all sorts of useful things that are calming to look at, for pretty reasonable prices. It’s great if you really need a small couch or something, and you can’t find one at one of the numerous thrift stores around the Triangle. They’ve already sorted through things and arranged them all neatly for you. Without marking them up too high. They also have clothes upstairs. I had to stop myself from buying a vintage globe of the moon the last time I was there (because I live in an AirStream right now, and I don’t *need* a map of the moon), but it was really awesome. They also have nice dishes and cups.
Restaurants :: Waraji in Raleigh has the best sushi. The best Vietnamese food is at Dalat in Raleigh, and Udupi in Cary has unbelievable Indian food, all of which is vegetarian. You really need to go for the lunch buffet at Udupi to really experience it to the fullest, or else if you eat there for dinner, you need to order the big sampler platter for two. And split it with three people. There are some good, affordable mediterranean restaurants in the Triangle, most notably Neomonde in Raleigh, which is by some railroad tracks that have hordes of tiger lilies growing by them from time to time. The Raleigh Times Bar in Raleigh also has some good salads and fries, and they have an attached bar and also a coffee shop next door.
Bars :: Any of the restaurants with bars that I mentioned above are good for drinks, but also there is always The Jackpot in Raleigh, if you want a seedy, packed, smoky bar full of our own version of hipsters, or Slim’s, also in Raleigh. In Chapel Hill, you have the Orange County Social Club as a fun place to drink, with a back patio beer garden thing. They occasionally put on a ‘Shot and a Haircut’ night, where you can get both for like $10 or something.
Live Music :: The Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro brings a lot of big name indie acts, and Local 506 in Chapel Hill also brings a lot of touring bands. Bull City Headquarters in Durham, which also has a bike co-op among other things, is a very good place, acoustically for a quiet band like us to play. Our two favorite venues in Raleigh recently closed, one of which, Kings Barcade, may reopen eventually, but its owners play in Polvo and Birds of Avalon, and they are all pretty busy right now touring, etc. I really hope they re-open. The cool thing about Kings was that people would just go there to hang out at the bar, and often there would be a good band playing and they would stick around. Right now, I think a lot of people play at The Pourhouse or Slim’s in Raleigh.
Coffeeshops :: We really like Cup a Joe on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, mainly for their tapioca bubbles that they will put in your drink. And also because we end up seeing a bunch of friends whenever we hang out there for a few hours. Maybe it’s also the buzz we get from the dangerous second hand smoke. The neatest atmosphere at a coffee shop is Caffe Driade in Chapel Hill, which is very European mixed with fairy land or something. There is this sneaky back patio in the woods that you might miss if you aren’t paying attention, which is barely lit at night. They also have fancy teas. Helios in Raleigh has a nice bamboo-ensconced patio out front that is frequented by sparrows who come to eat crumbs from people’s pastries. They also serve wine at night. Helios is a good place to work on your computer, to type up lists of your favorite places in town, for example, because you get to be outside and use the high speed internet.
Books and Music :: And finally I have to mention the Internationalist Bookstore and Community Center in Chapel Hill, which is next to the record store CD Alley, and which has the best magazine selection in the Triangle, plus a lot of good books on subjects like animal liberation, race & gender studies, design, rad poetry, anarchist art, and things like that. CD Alley in Chapel Hill, Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, and Chaz’s Bull City Records in Durham are the best record stores.