Best Bar in Durham County: Alley Twenty Six

320 East Chapel Hill Street, Durham, 

When Shannon Healy opened Alley Twenty Six in 2012, the local craft cocktail scene had yet to take off. Not only did Alley’s bartenders make inspired versions of classics like old-fashioneds and Sazeracs, but there was also an always-inventive menu of house specialties and a huge collection of high-quality liquors, aperitifs, bitters, and cordials. It immediately became a go-to for a pre-dinner drink or nightcap. Five years later, Healy expanded, adding a full-service kitchen that focuses mostly on meticulously crafted small plates (and one rather large burger). The year after that, Alley leaned into the tiki trend, punching up all manner of rum-flavored concoctions. Both restaurant and bar get busy, even though there are several craft-cocktail competitors within a few blocks. That’s because its commitment to quality continues to shine in every drink its bartenders pour. 

10 Other Places You Have to Go

Accordion Club

316 West Geer Street, Durham, 

Accordion Club is a friendly, comfortable neighborhood bar with a solid draft list and a good assortment of bottles and cans—some of the $2 Milwaukee variety—and a large patio out back for sunny spring afternoons. You’re better off ordering a whiskey-rocks than a hifalutin cocktail. The prices are reasonable, and the pours are stiff. 


331 West Main Street, Durham, 

Given its cool, scruffy basement-bar atmosphere, you wouldn’t suspect that this tarot-themed watering hole has some of the best bartenders in town, whether they’re mixing their shrubby house cocktails or classics like Sazeracs. Whatever your drink—and whether the bar is hosting a Super Secret Dance Party or a weird ambient instrumentalist or nothing at all—Arcana is always a cool spot to kill a couple of hours. 

Atomic Fern

108 East Parrish Street, Durham, 

The Fern mixes smart, quality cocktails and has a good selection of craft beers, but the atmosphere sets it apart. In this small, industrial-chic space, you’ll find a small bar, good music (playing at a reasonable volume), lots of pleasant conversation, and board games and comic books aplenty. Pop in with a couple of friends for a drink, a game, and a laugh. 

Bar Brunello

117 East Main Street, Durham, 

Esteban Brunello knows his way around a grape. It’s not just orange wines—the unusual variety he offers by the flight, complete with an explanation of their history and flavor profile, which has become Bar Brunello’s unique lure. It’s everything he has behind the bar: reds, whites, rosés, oranges, Spanish, French, Italian, Slovenian, Argentinean, whatever. Bar Brunello is a small space with excellent ambiance; grab a seat at the bar and let Estaban take your taste buds on a global adventure. 

Bar Virgile

105 South Mangum Street, Durham, 

Nestled in a dark, cozy space within eyeshot of DPAC, Bar Virgile makes some of the finest cocktails around. Its take on a Boulevardier—like a Negroni, but with whiskey instead of gin—ranks among the best we’ve ever had. If you can beat the post-work rush, grab a seat at the bar and ask the bartender to surprise you. 

Kotuku Surf Club

703 Rigsbee Avenue, Durham 

For the uninitiated, no one ever calls this place “Kotuku.” It’s just Surf Club. And at Surf Club, you’re bound to run into someone you know. That’s just how the place is: friendly and unfussy. A neighborhood bar where everyone is your neighbor. There’s plenty of outdoor space for brisk autumn evenings and good cocktails to warm you up. 

Parts & Labor

723 Rigsbee Avenue, Durham, 

Adjacent and attacked to Motorco’s music venue, P&L has a big patio that, on clear nights, is full of couples and families and dogs and awkward dates, spread across large communal picnic tables. Inside are a few more tables and some seats at the bar, but unless the weather’s bad, there’s no reason to stay indoors. There’s good food—the hipster poutine is a favorite—a wide selection of beers, and well-made drinks, but the atmosphere sets P&L apart. 

The Pinhook

117 West Main Street, Durham, 

This landmark Durham bar and music venue does more than host shows by local and touring bands of all stripes; it’s also home to open mics, open jams, drag shows, political letter-writing nights, and trivia. A punky, inclusive, activist spirit keeps it simple and affordable. You’ll chase a shot with a tallboy and only be out a few bucks. 

Ponysaurus Brewing

219 Hood Street, Durham, 

Like other Durham breweries, Ponysaurus’s taproom showcases its beers (get the Scottish ale) as well as a few guest taps. But the selling point here is the gorgeous outdoor space, with picnic tables and grills and a rotating food truck and sometimes kids running around and usually a few pups to love on. 

The Roof @ the Durham Hotel

315 East Chapel Hill Street, Durham,

The cocktails are excellent, though pricey. The crowd is lively, though sometimes overwhelming. The bartenders—well, they do their best to keep up with it all. But views of downtown Durham, especially on a crisp, clear evening with a drink in your hand and a special someone by your side, are spectacular.