15 Best Bars in Durham NC in 2023
In this article, I’ll list some of the best bars in Durham, North Carolina. There are a huge number to choose from, but I’ve whittled it down to my top 15. I recently spent 3 months in North Carolina and got to know the Durham bar scene really well. So, whether you’re looking for a ... Read more The post 15 Best Bars in Durham NC in 2023 appeared first on Goats On The Road.
In this article, I’ll list some of the best bars in Durham, North Carolina. There are a huge number to choose from, but I’ve whittled it down to my top 15.
I recently spent 3 months in North Carolina and got to know the Durham bar scene really well. So, whether you’re looking for a dive bar with a great happy hour or a sleek city-center wine bar, rest assured I’ve got you covered in this article.
Durham is home to one of the greatest US colleges – Duke University – as such, you can expect to find a whole host of great bars and restaurants at your fingertips. It’s not just about the college kids though, a strong community environment means that there are also some seriously cool family fun establishments, great live music joints, and romantic cocktail bars.
☞ SEE ALSO: 15 Best Cafes in Durham, NC
Best Bars in Durham
During my time in Durham, I got to know the bar scene well. There are lots of things to do in Durham with bar-hopping being one of the most fun!
Traveling with my husband, we explored pretty much every bar the city has to offer. I’m a fan of discovering great happy hour deals but also like to find nice quiet off-the-beaten-track places that even some of the locals don’t know about.
I’ve put together a list of 15 of the best bars in Durham based on location and setting, value, happy hour deals, as well as my own personal experience. There’s something for everyone, so I’m sure you’ll find plenty worth checking out for yourself.
1. Boxcar Bar + Arcade
(Best Bar in Durham Overall)
Located in the heart of Downtown, Boxcar is one of the most fun bars in Durham NC. If you like a great choice of drinks, happy hour deals, and retro gaming machines you’re sure to love this place. The arcade features all the classics such as Pac-Man, Street Fighter, and Super Mario, and they have foosball, air hockey, and pool tables too.
Their huge outdoor, partly covered patio is an excellent addition with views over the famous Historic Bulls Athletic Park. Weekly live music events take place here too, sometimes 3 nights in a row over a weekend.
Their happy hour deals are great and vary from Monday to Friday. Wednesday is my favorite night, with its deal being $2 off everything, meaning you can get a beer for under $2!
Boxcar Bar + Arcade Info
Address: 621 Foster St, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 5 pm-12 am Mon-Thurs, 5 pm-1 am Fri, 12 pm-1 am Sat, 12 pm-12 am Sun
Must-Try Items: The Monday to Friday happy hour deals, spending hours of retro fun on the arcade games, watching live music outside on the patio
Average Cost: $4-$7 USD beers, $6-12 USD cocktails, happy hour deals from $2 USD
2. Fullsteam Brewery
(Best Brew Bar)
Of the many brew bars in Downtown Durham Fullsteam Brewery is a favorite of mine. Their Paycheck Pilsner is a deliciously crisp and very drinkable beer that can be purchased in many shops and other Durham bars.
With the brewery facilities visible onsite and knowledgeable staff that can help you choose the right beer for you, there’s plenty to love about Fullsteam.
A small air-conditioned bar is dwarfed by the two larger main rooms with big open barn-style doors, huge fans, and plenty of bench seating. They also host regular events ranging from tasting nights to quizzes and live music. It’s a great place to sample some real local beers. Don’t overlook their small but delicious food menu too – the hummus and grilled pita dish is excellent.
Fullsteam Brewery Info
Address: 726 Rigsbee Ave, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 12 am-10 pm Mon-Thurs, 12 am-11 pm Fri & Sat, 12 pm-8 pm Sun
Must-Try Items: The Paycheck Pilsner, a tasting flight of Fullsteam’s own brews, Hopped humus dip and grilled pita bread
Average Cost: $6.50-$8 USD Fullsteam beers, $9-$15 USD food plates, appetizers, and burgers
3. 106 Main
(Best Free Food and the Cheapest Beers Around)
The best nightlife in Durham NC can be found in the city center and 106 Main is one of my favorite central bars. It’s a small dive bar with friendly staff, good music, and a few outdoor tables looking out onto Main Street.
I’m so glad that I discovered it on my second day. Starving, and looking for a quick bar snack, I walked in to be told that they don’t sell food, but in fact, give it away 3 nights a week! On Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays you can help yourself to either hot dogs, meatball subs, nachos, or fajitas depending on who’s been cooking that day.
They also happen to serve the cheapest beers I found in Durham. Their $3 USD menu (inclusive of tax) features most domestic and imported beers that you could think of. Then there’s a $4 USD drafts list and specialty drafts and cans that top out at $5 USD – an absolute bargain. The addition of daily specials on cocktails makes this one of my favorite bars to visit.
106 Main Info
Address: 106 E Main St, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 4 pm-12 am Mon-Thurs, 4 pm-2 am Fri & Sat, 12 pm-12 am Sun
Must-Try Items: Anything from the $3 USD beer list, dree food 3 nights a week, $5 USD Sunday mimosas
Average Cost: $2-$5 USD beers, $5-$7 USD cocktails, free food (on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday only)
4. The Blue Note Grill
(Best for Live Music)
The Blue Note is well known as one of the best live music bars in Durham. The vibe and atmosphere are very similar to that of a Nashville honky-tonk with live music 5-nights a week. They host everything from their regular house band the Duke Street Dogs to bigger ticketed events from touring bands and artists.
Go for the music and enjoy their fine selection of beers, but stay for the food. The barbecue at the Blue Note is off the charts. They have an extensive menu of North Carolina delights and the ribs are some of the best I’ve ever eaten. The option to pick 4 sides as your main is also very appealing as it’s so hard to choose from their delicious options.
The Blue Note Grill Info
Address: 709 Washington St, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 11 am-10 pm Tues-Sat
Must-Try Items: The full rack of ribs plus two sides and hush puppies, watch the house band or stay for a ticketed event night, a plate of sides, pick any 4 for $11.99 USD
Average Cost: $6-$8 USD beers, $8-$18 USD food options, $20-$33 USD ribs, $5-$15 USD cover charge for certain weekly live music events
5. Pour Taproom
Pour is a serve-yourself bar with up to 80 taps available at any one time. They offer an ever-changing choice of lagers, ambers, stouts, sours, and ciders, they even have taps for wine and cocktails too.
After signing in on arrival, you’re given a wristband that operates the pumps. Grab a fresh glass and get choosing. Every ounce you pour is logged automatically on your tab.
Their large front patio area is a great place to people watch as it’s located right in CCB Plaza – the hub of the city center. Weekly offers such as $4 USD drafts, half-price wines, and half-price flatbreads are some of the best deals around. Thursday was often my go-to night, with select half-price beers and $0.75 USD chicken wings – a winner in my book any day.
Pour Taproom Info
Address: 202 Corcoran St #200, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 2 pm-12 am Tues-Thurs, 2 pm-1 am Fri & Sat, 2 pm-12 am Sun
Must-Try Items: Sampling a huge variety of beers and finding your new favorite, the weekly happy hour deals, sitting out on the patio watching the world go by with a beer
Average Cost: $4-$8 USD beers, $6-$14 USD sharers, snacks, flatbreads, and wings
6. The Roof at The Durham Hotel
(Best Rooftop Bar)
The best Durham rooftop bar is without a doubt The Roof – located atop the historic Durham Hotel. With unbeatable panoramic views of the entire city, this is a really special place to head for a drink. The Roof also offers signature cocktails, a thorough craft beer list, and wines from local North Carolina producers.
You pay a little extra for the view but the prices are much more agreeable than you might expect. Their signature cocktail – The Durham, is just $12 USD and is a unique drink great for sipping whilst overlooking the city it’s named after.
It features cognac, dark rum, and tawny port, so you get your money’s worth in alcohol for sure. The Roof is definitely one of the best cocktail bars in Durham.
The Roof at The Durham Hotel Info
Address: 315 E Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 5 pm-11 pm Mon-Thurs, 5 pm-12 am Fri & Sat
Must-Try Items: The Durham cocktail, taking in the stunning view with a local craft beer, sampling the seasonal food menu
Average Cost: $6-$8 USD for beers, $12-$14 USD for cocktails and wines, $11-$22 USD for seasonal and varying bites, plates, and snacks
7. Dram and Draught
(Best Whiskey Bar)
Dram and Draught is one of my favorite new bars in Durham. It’s only been on the local scene since the summer of 2022 and has that fresh appeal of a modern, sleek bar that creates a real classy environment in which to have a drink.
As the name suggests, they specialize in whiskey with over 300 bottles from around the world available to choose from. Although I’d say it’s the best whiskey bar in Durham, they also offer excellent cocktails, a choice of local craft beers, and a lovely patio that overlooks Durham’s historic tobacco warehouses and factories.
I love that the staff are tasked with designing and creating their own seasonal cocktails too, it leads to some really unique creations. Like the Elvis Presley cocktail for example – honey and peanut butter infused whiskey with banana and Campari – divine. You’ll struggle to find more choices and a nicer setting if you want to get a whiskey fix.
Dram and Draught Info
Address: 701 W Main St Suite 123, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 3 pm-12 am Mon-Wed, 3 pm-2 am Thurs & Fri, 12 am-2 am Sat, 12 pm-12 am Sun
Must-Try Items: Try any number of the 300 whiskeys available and find your new favorite, enjoy a classy cocktail in a cool modern bar, The Elvis Presley cocktail
Average Cost: $8 USD and up for whiskey, and other liquor drinks, $6.50-$8 USD for draft beers, $13-$16 USD for cocktails
8. Alley Twenty-Six
(Best Cocktail Bar)
Of the many Durham cocktail bars to choose from, Alley Twenty Six stands out ahead of the rest. Located in the heart of the city center and just steps from the historic Durham Hotel, their cocktail menu is unlike any other I have come across.
With seasonal offerings and ever-changing cocktails unique to the bar, you’ll find a huge variety of delicious drinks to pick from.
The over-21 policy and relaxed, classy bar environment make Alley Twenty Six a very inviting place for a “grown-up” drink. But it’s the festoon-lit alley that really sells this place for me and makes it one of the best outdoor bars in Durham. It’s a truly great place to be as the sun goes down and the city lights and festoons come to life.
Don’t forget the food here either, they serve some great dishes too. Their Sunday brunch is very popular, so I recommend booking ahead. It’s not your standard fayre; with everything from shrimp grits to French dip sandwiches on the menu.
Alley Twenty Six Info
Address: 320 E Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 4 pm-12 am Tues-Thurs, 4 pm-2 am Fri & Sat, 10.30 am -2 pm Sun (Brunch), 4 pm-10 pm Sun
Must-Try Items: French dip sandwich for Sunday brunch, finding your new favorite cocktail, watching the city come to life as the sun goes down in a beautiful outdoor setting
Average Cost: $13-$16 USD for cocktails, $9-$15 USD for wines, $10-$32 USD for bites, small plates, sharing boards, and more
9. Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom
(Best Barbecue Food and Lunchtime Deal)
There are a number of reasons why Maverick’s is one of the best bars in Durham, one being that it has a great outdoor patio that overlooks many of Durham’s historical tobacco factories and buildings – it’s a great people-watching spot. They have a tremendous menu of draft beers, bottles, and cans at some of the best prices around. And then, of course, there’s the food.
Serving up some of the best North Carolina barbecue around, it’s a really difficult menu to choose from because it all looks so good. Their brisket nachos and chicken wings are some of the best I’ve had. With an ethos of ‘slow cooked, served fast’ it’s a relaxed and friendly environment that I loved having as one of my local bars.
Tuesday to Thursday, Maverick’s offers the lunchtime ‘Hardworkin’ Special’. It consists of a meat sandwich, coleslaw, an additional side dish, and a soft drink for $11.99. It’s one of the best deals going for sure.
Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom Info
Address: 900 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 11 am-9 pm Sun-Thurs, 11 am-10 pm Fri & Sat
Must-Try Items: Brisket nachos, the lunchtime ‘Hardworkin’ Special’, a cold beer on the fantastic outdoor patio
Average Cost: $4-$6.50 USD for cans and draft beers, $14-$17 USD for burgers, barbecue sandwiches, and dinner plates, $6 USD for deserts
10. West End Wine Bar
(Best Wine Bar)
My favorite wine bar in Durham is West End Wine Bar. The location, ambiance, and quality of wines on offer just edge this place above a few others that come in at a close second. I also found the prices to be slightly more competitive here for wine by the glass when compared to similar places.
Being located amongst the former tobacco factories and warehouses, the outdoor covered patio provides a beautiful and historic setting to drink wine. The staff are really knowledgeable about the drinks they serve and are great at recommending new or different options if you’re unsure about what to order. It’s always a really friendly crowd.
West End Wine Bar hosts regular live events, from solo acoustic artists to DJs. They also serve a small menu of food and they make a mean BLT Italian ciabatta sandwich.
West End Wine Bar Info
Address: 601 W Main St Suite E, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 4 pm-1 am Mon-Thurs, 3 pm-2 am Fri & Sat, 2 pm-10 pm Sun
Must-Try Items: Find a new favorite wine by the glass, the Italian BLT ciabatta sandwich, get down for a live music event
Average Cost: $8-$16 USD for wines by the glass, $6.50-$8 USD for beers, $12-$16 USD for sandwiches, small bites, and appetizers
11. Bull McCabe’s Irish Pub
(Best Sports Pub and Beer Garden)
Bull McCabe’s is a lively Irish bar located just a short walk from the main hub of Central Durham. They offer a great selection of draft beers as well as some really good deals on domestic cans. Their rotating taps will keep you trying new beers each time you visit.
I love this place because they show a lot of sport. Being English, and a huge soccer fan, this was a great spot to watch the English Premier League. It’s a dedicated Arsenal FC pub but they show most EPL live games depending on kick-off times. It’s an enjoyable experience watching the games here with ex-pats and locals alike, no matter which team you support.
They of course cater to American sports too, with TVs dotted around the bar and outside in their huge beer garden. What begins as a covered patio turns into a plethora of benches and tables on lush green grass with the bustling city on either side of you. It’s a great place to spend a sunny afternoon, whether there’s a game on or not.
Bull McCabe’s Info
Address: 427 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 2 pm-11 pm Mon-Wed, 11 am-12 am Thurs, 11 am-2 am Fri & Sat, 11 am-10 pm Sun
Must-Try Items: Sampling beer from a fine selection of rotating taps, catching a live sports event on the TVs, spending a sunny afternoon in one of the biggest beer gardens in Durham
Average Cost: $4-$8 USD for beers and ciders, $6-$17 USD for salads, bar snacks, sandwiches, and burgers
12. Durty Bull
(Best Bar for Events)
Just a short walk from Central Park, you’ll find an excellent taproom and brewery called Durty Bull. They serve up a fantastic selection of beers, IPAs, sours, and ciders, but I like this place because there’s always something going on. From food trucks to weekly trivia nights and live music to classic movie screenings, the Durty Bull’s events page is hard to beat.
With the beer brewed in the adjacent open warehouse, you can be sure that the staff takes beer very seriously here. They always insist you try before you buy if you’re undecided on which beer to go for. It’s another friendly place that’s all about creating a fun environment to socialize and have a few drinks.
I personally love the dog-friendly policy, the Simpsons figurines all around, and the permanent Mario Kart computer game set up in the corner. Their selection of board games available to customers is another added bonus. Durty Bull features 2 small-ish indoor rooms and 2 much larger covered patio areas as well. It has a really nice community vibe.
Durty Bull Info
Address: 206 Broadway St #104, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 4 pm-10 pm Mon-Thurs, 2 pm-12 am Fri, 12 pm-12 am Sat, 12 pm-8 pm Sun
Must-Try Items: The Extra Crispy Pilsner, dinner from the weekly food trucks, Trivia night
Average Cost: $6-$8 USD for beers, $8-$10 USD for wines
13. Hunky Dory
Named for the David Bowie album of the same name, Hunky Dory is one of the most unique bars in Durham. It’s a vinyl record shop and tap room combined to make one awesome experience. You can grab a beer while you browse the massive catalog of records on display. Hunky Dory serves a hop-heavy draft menu of beers you won’t find in supermarkets.
A comfortable downstairs seating area, delightfully named ‘The Dungeon’, features a record player to sample the vinyl of your choosing. Beer holders can be found on every shelf to ensure no spillages, and you can simply drink or shop. This is a super friendly place that welcomes everyone (and their dogs).
With daily specials on drinks and vinyl such as – $1 USD off draft Thursdays and half off vinyl Mondays, I highly recommend stopping in at Hunky Dory.
Hunky Dory Info
Address: 718 9th St, Durham, NC 27705, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 12 pm-8 pm Sun-Thurs, 12 pm-10 pm Fri & Sat
Must-Try Items: Thirsty Thursday – $1 USD off drafts, half off all $5 vinyl on Mondays, grab yourself a bargain at Wednesday’s dollar dungeon sale, all downstairs vinyl is $1 USD apiece
Average Cost: $5-$7 USD draft beers, $5 USD and up vinyl
14. The Tavern
(Best Pubs Games and Karaoke)
A nondescript building that sits just the far side of the Duke East Campus, before you hit 9th Street is one of my favorite places to drink in Durham, despite its appearance. The Tavern doesn’t look much from the outside, but once you go in, you’ll find a huge open-plan bar with friendly staff, good food, pool, darts, and weekly live entertainment.
The pub games such as pool and darts are free for customers and are a really fun way to spend a few hours with friends and family. The Tavern has some of the best happy hour deals around too, with $3.50 USD drafts on weekends and $12 USD pitchers two nights a week. Drink prices never go above $5 USD and are even cheaper on Mondays.
My favorite aspect of The Tavern is the Friday night karaoke. They have a big stage, a great dancefloor, cool lighting, a very decent sound system, and some excellent guys running the show. It’s a real chance to live out your rockstar dreams and belt out some classic tunes.
The Tavern Info
Address: 1900 W Markham Ave, Durham, NC 27705, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 2 pm-2 am Sun-Frim 12 pm-2 am Sat & Sun
Must-Try Items: Friday night karaoke, free unlimited games of pool and darts, $3.50 USD Goose Island IPA Drafts on weekends
Average Cost: $3-$6 USD for beers, $5 cocktails, $8-$15 USD for salads, burgers, and wings
Voted best late-night bar by Durham Magazine in 2022, Annexe is widely considered to be one of the best clubs in Durham. From 6.30 pm-9 pm, they offer a low-key lounge serving great cocktails in a cool and relaxed environment. After 9 pm the lights go down, the music gets cranked up, and the dancefloor begins to get busy.
Located in the basement of its big brother restaurant, Bar Virgile, Annexe hosts a range of themed nights throughout the week that include live DJs, Latin sounds evenings, and 80’s throwback nights.
Drinks are priced on par with other central Durham bars, and cocktails are priced as you would generally expect anywhere. And although some events are ticketed, there’s usually no cover charge.
Address: 105 S Mangum St Unit #1, Durham, NC 27701, United States. Click here for directions.
Operating Hours: 6 pm-12 am Mon-Thurs, 6 pm-2 am Fri & Sat
Must-Try Items: 80s throwback Thursdays, live DJs on Fri & Sat nights, a unique Annexe seasonal cocktail
Average Cost: $4-$6 USD for beers, $13-$15 USD for cocktails, $9-$12 for wines, $7-$26 USD for small plates, bites, veggie options, and dinners
Durham Bars and Pubs FAQs:
There are so many great bars that it’s a tough question to answer. But my personal favorites are Boxcar Arcade + Bar and Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom. Boxcar, because of the great happy hour deals and super fun arcade environment. And I love Maverick’s outdoor patio, great food, and its large beer selection.
Yes, you’ll be expected to tip in Durham. Like most North American establishments with servers, tipping the staff is heavily part of the culture.
How much you tip is often suggested but ultimately your decision should be based on your own experience. 15-25% on a tab is generally acceptable, or if buying a round, $1 USD a drink is considered the ‘done thing’.
Downtown Durham has a huge selection of cool bars, breweries, tap rooms, and live music venues. Here, you’ll find great places like The Blue Note Grill, Boxcar Bar + Arcade, Fullsteam Brewery, and many more within easy walking distance of one another.
Yes, a large number of independent brewers are based in Durham, so you can be certain of finding good quality and varied styles of beer. Most of even the smallest bars and pubs I came across regularly offered rotating taps of different locally sourced beers and extensive menus of bottles, cans, and craft beers.
It can vary quite a lot from bar to bar but for domestic lagers, the average is around $4 USD. Something a bit fancier like a craft can or draft costs around $6-$7 USD. Don’t be surprised, however, to see certain strong specialty beers in the $7-$9 USD range.
Given the number of breweries, cool bars, and drinking establishments, I would say beer is extremely popular in Durham. Many of the staff in the bars are often passionate about the beer-making process and can offer insights into tasting notes and how the beer is produced. The beer culture in Durham is really thriving.
Yes, Durham has a great nightlife scene. There are so many great bars that are open late and a good number of clubs to keep you dancing into the small hours. The best late-night scene can be found in the city center on weekends, but you’ll find most bars and pubs across the city stay open late during the week too.
I always felt very safe in Durham. But like any big city, it does have incidents of crime, however, these are generally found in the outer areas of the city and rarely impact the heavily populated areas. But, with drinking establishments and a confluence of people, you should always be on your guard for pickpockets and thieves when out and about.
I truly feel I discovered some of the best bars in Durham during my time there. The lively brewery and bar scene, combined with the college vibe make it such a fun place to visit. With numerous different hubs of bars and everywhere being easily walkable or accessible via good transport links, it’s a great city to go drinking in.
I loved living close to Downtown Durham; the number and variety of bars on my doorstep made it a particularly cool place to be, day or night. City Center and 9th Street also have plenty to keep you busy, with too many great options to mention in one article. However you fancy spending your time; a lazy afternoon beer, or a crazy night out on the town, you’ll find it in Durham.