Welcome to Durham, North Carolina. Come for graduate school; stay forever.
I’ve lived in Durham for five years now. I moved here from Miami to begin a graduate program at Duke, and one of my biggest concerns as a baby-gay moving to the South was whether or not I would be the only queer in town, floating haplessly along like lonely gay tumbleweed. No need to worry: Durham is a magical queer-lovin’ haven in NC. When Amendment One, which amended the constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, passed in May this past year, Durham voted 70% against (and if you drive around Durham’s neighborhoods, you will occasionally see hand-painted signs asserting this fact). And with good reason; queers are everywhere in Durham, busy being all kinds of awesome.
Though I think Durham has a pretty visible LGBT scene, if you’re (a) visiting, (b) new to the area, or (c) a person with a crazy-busy work schedule who never sees the light of day, you may not know about all of the excellent things that Durham has to offer. Especially food-related things. So here goes.
There is one “official” lesbian bar in Durham: The Bar … Durham (711 Rigsbee Ave). It’s located downtown, near several other good bars: Surf Club, Fullsteam, and Motorco. The Bar hosts a range of events, including karaoke, darts, and this year’s Official Pride Afterparty. It has a small dance floor and a backyard area with lawn chairs, frisbees, and (most importantly) cornholing. In my opinion, it mostly skews older, but it has some college nights. It also sells an energy drink called Pussy, so there’s that, too.
Other queers in Durham frequent The Pinhook (117 W Main St). The Pinhook is co-owned by Kym Register of the Midtown Dickens (a popular local band); while it isn’t a gay bar per se, it’s pretty damn queer. They just held an event with The Butchies and Team Dresch for Pride weekend, and have all sorts of cool stuff going on, ranging from drag and burlesque shows to live music to weekly Harry Potter watchings. In my experience, The Pinhook draws a younger (and more alternative) crowd than The Bar. It also has the benefit of being within walking distance of Whiskey (347 W Main St), one of my favorite places to find a fancy cocktail in Durham.
Food You Should Eat
One of my favorite things about Durham is the food. Seriously, Durham’s restaurants (and those of the Triangle generally) are phenomenal. If you’re a conscientious queer who likes locally-sourced food and / or vegetarian / vegan options, Durham is becoming a better place to be. At Pride this past weekend, I found out about the Bull City Vegan Challenge, which encourages chefs at popular Durham restaurants to produce vegan options beyond, you know, a baked potato.
For generally excellent places to eat, check out Nosh (2812 Erwin Rd. #101); it’s LGBT-owned and operated, serves incredibly tasty food, and has a nice selection of board games to boot. If you’re vegetarian, try the portobello mushroom burger — it’s one of my favorites (the other is the polenta burger at Bull City Burger and Brewery). Bull Street Gourmet (3710 Shannon Rd) has excellent sandwiches; I was really impressed, though, by their willingness to explore vegetarian options. (I asked if they had veggie sausage, and they were like, “No, what should we look for?” I’ve never had that happen before).
Downtown Durham has a number of awesome restaurants. There’s Toast (345 W Main St), a paninoteca (sandwiches!!); Dames Chicken and Waffles (317 W Main St), which does what it says on the tin; Dos Perros (200 N Mangum St), a Mexican restaurant that serves noms like vegan seven chile mole and sweet potato empanadas; and Rue Cler (401 E Chapel Hill St), where you can find beignets but also have brunch like a good queer.
Downtown is also home to a few kickass bakeries, including Loaf (111 W Parrish St); Daisy Cakes (401 Foster St), another good place to grab brunch and/or cupcakes on your way to the Farmers’ Market; and Scratch (111 W Orange St). (Which I maybe call “snatch.” And where I have also seen bunches of lesbians. Coincidence? I think not.)
Other good places to find local queers include coffeeshops like Francesca’s (706 9th St), Mad Hatter’s (1802 W Main St) (during Pride they sell little rainbow sugar cookies!), and Whole Foods (621 Broad St), because where there is chicken-fried tofu, there be queers.
Finally, Durham’s food truck scene has exploded over the last year or so. You can find two of my favorites, Ko Kyu BBQ and The Parlour in the Motorco / Fullsteam area on Wednesday evenings, where the Bull City Running Club takes off from. It’s a good place to grab a beer, have some BBQ or sweet potato fries, and people-watch.
There are a few colleges in the Durham area: Duke University, Durham Technical Community College, and North Carolina Central University. I’m a grad student at Duke, so I’m best able to speak about campus life there. (Though the experience of being a grad student here is probably way different from being an undergrad. I have never been to Shooters, for example, or ridden the mechanical bull therein.)
If you’re at Duke, the Duke LGBT Center is a phenomenally helpful place. The Center hosts a number of discussion groups, including Women Loving Women (for queer-identified women) and Spectrum (for genderqueer, trans, or gender non-conforming students). There’s a really nice library inside the Center, too, with books (academic LGBT stuff but also fiction!) and DVDs. It also has programs like Ally Training and tons of social, political, and generally educational events for both LGBT students, and Duke and Durham in general. It’s an excellent community resource.
NCCU’s LGBT organization, Colors of NCCU, helped to sponsor an LGBT Celebration Week last February that included documentary film screenings, a panel discussion of Amendment One, and even speed dating. I actually didn’t know about the event before writing this up, so if there are any NCCU students out there, maybe you can talk about how it went!
Ladyfriends and Lady Friends
Dating in Durham may be incestuous and may take place largely because of OKCupid. Since OKCupid is already addressed elsewhere, I’ll just say that I think the internet is a good resource for making friends. Who may have cute friends. Whom you can date. So you should do that.
On that note, TriangleGrrrls is also totally worth checking out. They hold lots of events and encourage their members to take the initiative and host events of their own. Some of my friends have been involved with WOA (Women Outdoor Adventurers) through TriangleGrrrls, which is a great group to be involved with if you like being outside and giving other ladies tick checks.
Do you like musicals? Dance? All-women Shakespeare adaptations that take the form of pub crawls? Durham can help you out.
First, there’s the Durham Performing Arts Center, which is located downtown near the Bulls stadium (you should know where this is as a Durham queer, because there’s baseball if you like that sort of thing, and talking and eating Frito pie if you don’t). DPAC opened a few years ago and has brought a wide range of performances to the area, from Wicked to the Indigo Girls.
Additionally, there’s Duke Performances. If you’re a Duke student, tickets are available for $10. Upcoming performances include Simone Dinnerstein and Tift Merritt, as well as Meshell Ndegeocello.
Little Green Pig recently put on “Richie” (the aforementioned all-women pub crawl; I didn’t get to go and am still bitter. It looked fun!). There’s also Manbites Dog Theatre (703 Foster St) and Common Ground Theatre (4815B Hillsborough Road).
If your interests in dance go beyond the lesbian head-nod, Durham is also home to the American Dance Festival.
To be honest, I am really more of a book person. If that’s you, too, check out The Regulator (720 9th St). It’s neither LGBT nor feminist, but they had a display of queer books out for Pride, and also they have a fair-sized collection of used lesbian romance novels downstairs. Aww yiss.
Your Body is a Work of Art
If it’s time for you to get that Tegan Quin-riding-a-gay-unicorn tattoo you’ve always wanted, head over to Dogstar Tattoo. I’ve had work done there and they were great.
For alternative lifestyle haircuts, you should go to Angela Goldman, Inc. (1106 Broad St). She’s an amazing stylist and a totally badass human being. (And was the first stylist I’d seen who immediately supported my decision to chop all my hair off rather than trying to talk me out of it, and her work is really, really good, y’all). You should see her; she is the greatest. Consequently, I’ve never been to anyone else in Durham, but I’ve heard that folks have also had good experiences at Rock Paper Scissors (413 E Chapel Hill St). (Apparently they will serve you home-brewed beer there, too).
My favorite Durham event this past year was the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, held in the Carolina Theatre (309 W Morgan St). (Awesome for its own reasons: it’s a great space but also has incredible retrospectives where it shows old sci-fi films as well as ’80s fantasy films). The NCGLFF recently expanded this past year to ten glorious days of LGBT films, including Cloudburst, which featured a foul-mouthed Olympia Dukakis in a cowboy hat. One of my good friends and I volunteered for the festival this year, and it is absolutely 100% something you should do if you have the time. Not only can you do lots of quality queer-friendly volunteering and people-watching, but you can also totally finance your own visit to the festival since you get film vouchers in exchange for your time. It is the best. We had so much fun.
Durham also hosts the Annual Beaver Queen Pageant. I have never been to this, but I am fairly certain it is both super gay and a good time. (Also, like many fun Durham events, it takes place OUTSIDE. And seriously, if you’re visiting or living in Durham, this is one of the best things to do in the area – go hiking! go swimming in the Eno River quarry! go to the Duke Gardens! fly free, little birds!)
To find out about LGBT events in the area, you can consult both The Triangle and Triangle Local Events. (The latter has a listserv that will mail you the events for the upcoming week. It’s pretty excellent.)
The last (and most recent) LGBT event in the area, though, was NC Pride. Let’s talk about it.
Pride is hosted in front of Duke’s East Campus at the end of September each year. This is excellent because it means that students can attend, but also that Pride isn’t being held in the middle of the summer when it’s 105 degrees. So Pride is pretty great. This year’s Pride was no exception, despite the fact that it was rainy and involved lots of stomping around in the mud. We handled it; the queers came out anyway. There were a ton of cool events going on: Big Freedia and the Cuntry Kings (a local drag troupe) at Motorco, the Butchies and Team Dresch at the Pinhook, and after-parties everywhere. And the Pride Parade itself was pretty great; one of my favorite things about Pride in Durham is seeing how much of the community participates. My experience of Pride is pretty limited (sad fact: Miami started holding Pride the year I left), but NC Pride is much more church- and family-oriented than other Prides I’ve attended. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different; in the wake of Amendment One, it’s nice to have churches and social groups show their support for the LGBT community (especially because homophobes with megaphones still show up in their Soul Patrol vans to protest Pride). That said, I do wish that alternative queer identities had more of a presence at Pride, too.
My favorite part of Pride this year: Bold Strokes Books (publishers of lesbian romance novels) had a tent where romance novels were being sold as well as signed by local authors. I was looking forward to this like crazy, and it did not disappoint. Do I want to read Better Off Red: Vampire Sorority Sisters? Yes, yes, I do.
So that’s my guide to Durham. While I haven’t mentioned everything I love about living in Durham (leaves changing colors! hushpuppies! Locopops! CHEERWINE!), this is kind of a start, but you should probably visit anyway. If you love Durham as much as I do, and you’re the marrying kind, you can just go ahead and marry Durham. Yes, it’s a thing.
Other local stuff:
Pam’s House Blend. One of my favorite blogs, Pam’s House Blend, is Durham-based. It covers national and local news and is an excellent resource. It’s also won Best LGBT Blog in the Weblog awards in past years. Check it out!
Durham Visitors’ Information Site. They’ve recently added a section about LGBT life in Durham.
NC Pride Pages. List of gay-friendly businesses in NC.
Surviving and Thriving in Durham. Durham-humor Tumblr; it’s funny ’cause it’s true.