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!
Regardless of whether you’re affiliated with a local college, you should also check out Meetup.com or Yahoo! Groups. The latter includes groups like the Durham Gender Alliance.
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.
Finally, check out Meetup.com for groups like Geeks and Gaymers of NC.
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.
Southern Coalition for Social Justice
SWOOP (Strong Women Organizing Outrageous Projects)
SONG (Southerners on New Ground)
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.
I love Durham!! and Layla!
Also, there’s a queer women’s book club that I might be the organizer of that you should totally check out (shameless plug):
Yes yes! So, to be clear, I wrote this in Fall 2012, and a lot has changed since then.
One of the most important things, obviously, is that LesRead has *really* gotten off the ground and is the most wonderful bookclub for queer ladies in the Triangle, and this is largely due to the awesomeness of the folks who go and also Amanda, our fearless leader.
Hi! Great info, I just wonder if someone can help me with a list of gay friendly neighborhood, I’m from Connecticut, moving to this area. Thank U
I’m going to Durham next week – Autostraddle, how did you know?!?
For a second I thought this was Durham, England. This Durham sounds cool though!
LAYLEY NUMBET 10!
As a (former) long-time resident of the triangle, I can say I agree with this list completely. Gonna say though, skewing younger aside, the Pinhook also generally has a bigger crowd for most events, compared to The Bar. Pinhook is the best. :D
Also, the annual Beaver Queen Pageant is coming around again! Looks like June 7, if I’m reading an up to date event schedule. I was there last year, and it is in fact, super queer and fun.
Why you leave me. WHY.
Allow me to tell you a tale of The Triangle:
One night, I went out with my lovely parents to the NEW, HIP, VEGETARIAN restaurant Fiction Kitchen (side note: I would not recommend it- they displayed both a Buddha statue and a mannequin wearing a sombrero and moustache, the two signature decorations of Hipster Racists. Also the food was too salty). My parents were immediately fascinated by the fact that the place was next to a noisy rock club and there appeared to be (oh my) HIP people going in. Then, after we were in, my father grabbed me by the shoulders in the middle of the restaurant and breathlessly whispered, a look of pure delight in his eyes “There are a LOT of LESBIANS in here!”. High point of the night.
I have been waiting for this guide forever; thank you for posting about the awesomeness that is Durham!
Another great thing to check out that isn’t strictly LGBT, but draw a large queer audience is LUEWWD. The League of Upper Extremity Wrestling Women of Durham throws an awesome annual event where women dress up as crazy characters and arm-wrestle for charity. It’s one of my favorite things about Durham and a great way to meet new people. http://luewwd.wordpress.com/
Other great places to go are:
– Cocoa Cinnamon for hot chocolate and people-watching.
– Letters Bookstore and Nice Price Bookstore for used books
-Geer St. Garden for drinks, dinner, and outdoor dining.
And the local women’s football and rugby teams are very gay-friendly and a good way to meet people. Both are sponsored by the Bar. http://enoriverwomensrugby.wordpress.com/
Megan, yes! All of these are excellent suggestions – especially Cocoa Cinnamon + Letters! So many queer folks at CC, but also delicious beverages. And they usually have some gf/vegan options.
I would also say, for things that I missed / were not known to me twelve months+ ago & since we are talking food – Monuts Donuts, you all. Also, The Parlour’s brick-and-mortar location is super queer-friendly and has vegan options and is delicious.
I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never been to a LUEWWD event, but I’ve been wanting to, and you have made it sound spectacularly queer, so it’s on my list of things to do this summer. Apparently the next event is May 17th, so your advice comes just in time.
This makes me want to move to Durham.
I saw The Mountain Goats playing at the Pinhook for a NARAL Pro-Choice NC benefit show, and the opening band was a bunch of lesbians covering CCR songs called “Creedence Queerwater Revival.” Safe to say it’s a pretty queer place.
That show was AWESOME! I remember thinking that the name might be just a gimmick, but no, it was a CCR cover-band! So wonderful.
I wish I’d had enough sense to be out to myself when I lived in Durham. It’s always been a queer friendly place (comparatively, for the Carolinas). I used to work at the Carolina Theater when it reopened after the renovations in the early 90s. I think I’m having a nostalgia moment. I need to road trip and get to know queer Durham too. And eat at Bullock’s (not even remotely vegan).
I moved to Durham recently and really like it. I’ve finally decided to get myself together and go out to meet people and be social, so this post is perfect timing for me! Thanks for all the tips from a Durham newbie!
I live in Durham and it’s amazing! There are queer ladies everywhere. Even real-life L Word experiences happen here. You can go to the farmer’s market and see cute queer families (that’s one of my favorites).
This was a surreal article to read. Durham’s small enough that I’ve been to 90% of the places you mentioned while growing up, and I’ve got big emotional stories about 20%. Can’t wait to move back for grad school to see gay over-21 Durham.
Like I said above, I wrote this 1.5 years ago, so a lot has changed (and gotten better). If you ever want more deets before you move back (if you’re coming back for grad school), message me and I’d be happy to send recs for food + places to go.
..somehow I missed out on most of that while living in Durham 2008. How the hell did that happen? I remember Durham (and Duke, where I spent most of time) as being rather unfriendly towards non, uhm, vanilla-flavored things.
But I guess things change, and YAY for that! Awesome. Now I can even think about going back and having a good time there, which is awesome.
I even feel a bit nostalgia now. Say hello to Durham from me, if you live there and read that. I miss sitting in Parkers&Oatis Cafè and eating those wicked Red Velvet Cupcakes.
Come back sometime! I started school here in Fall 2007, and I think queer visibility has skyrocketed since then (whether this is objectively true or just a consequence of having been here for seven years is maybe a thing though).
Love Parker & Otis. Don’t think I’ve ever had their cupcakes – I just like their fancy teas and chocolates.
Being a current Durham resident and my wife working for Duke, I can see that. Duke is very insular (serious town/gown boundary there) and very different than a lot of parts of Durham, even ones nearby like Mad Hatter’s.
Let me also mention the only sci fi lesbian web series is produced in Durham with local talent.
Just happened across this guide, and I do agree. Unfortunately, Whiskey closed in August of 2014.
Criterion is pretty great, tho! I’m actually happier with it than I was with Whiskey (no smoking as far as I can tell, more seating, and a far better selection of beers). I like it a ton. Have you been?
Never been but am coming for a visit. What are some of the neighborhoods to check out? Young lez moms and a toddler… Where would you live if you were us? Recos welcome! Thanks
Thanks for the detailed account of Durham! I’ve never been there but may be moving there from Cheeseheadland for a job. No other accounts have come close to this comprehensive :)