Best Bar in Orange and Chatham Counties: The Crunkleton
20 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, thecrunkleton.com
Walking into The Crunkleton feels a little like walking into a well-appointed hunting cabin. It’s dark and filled with wood and there are taxidermied animal heads on the wall and there’s a bartender in a bowtie. There’s what looks like an endless array of bottles behind the bar, whiskeys that stretch on for days—ryes, bourbons, single-malts, blends. The cocktails are sophisticated and spirit-forward, mashing together liquors like mezcal and scotch with pineapple and ancho chili and coffee and somehow making it work. (That one’s called the High Plains Drifter.) You’ll usually find a mix of postgrads, professors, and townies in conversation, and maybe it’s about last night’s UNC game, but you imagine it’s about Nietzsche or Bukowski because that seems more fitting. If only you were allowed to smoke a pipe.
10 Other Places You Have to Go
The Baxter Bar & Arcade
108 North Graham Street, Chapel Hill, baxterarcade.com
The Baxter is the kind of place you dreamed when you were a kid. Classic arcade games—Donkey Kong, Galaga, etc.—line the walls, and the bar top is decoupaged with comic-book panels. Under-twenty-ones are allowed on weekends from noon to five. But while you don’t need to drink to have fun at The Baxter, The Baxter is still very much a bar. There’s an excellent craft beer selection, decent wines, and well-made mixed drinks, all at cool prices in an atmosphere that exudes fun.
100 Brewer Lane, Carrboro, facebook.com/belltreespeakeasy
Though it’s pretty new, Belltree wants you to feel like you’re somewhere old. It’s styled as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, with period décor and a stealthy location behind a carwash. But it upgrades era-appropriate fare to modern craft-cocktail standards. Yes, there will be egg whites and activated charcoal.
705 West Rosemary Street, Carrboro, facebook.com/bowbarr
Bowbarr is your classic townie indie-rocker bar—a dim yet colorful, grungy but comfy barroom full of trucker caps and tattoo sleeves; a wee courtyard where smokers make their last stand; strong, affordable, no-nonsense cocktails; and PBR cans supporting a pyramid of choicer beers. A pre- or post-Cat’s-Cradle-show must, it’s also home to a vintage photo booth.
The Eddy Restaurant & Pub
1715 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw, theeddypub.com
The Eddy’s tagline is “Seriously Local Food,” and that local ethos is pervasive in everything it does. The pub aims to do for Saxapahaw—which, we should note, is in Alamance County, not Orange or Chatham, but is being lumped in here because, one, it’s we like it, and two, we have nowhere else to put it—what pubs in England do for their villages: be a gathering space where everyone is welcome. The loud, low-slung, communal space is a great place to meet folks over local beers. Or go outside on the patio and watch the sun set over the Haw River.
106 South Greensboro Street, Carrboro, glasshalfullcarrboro.com
Part wine shop, part wine bar, Glasshalfull maintains a twenty-five-bottle list drawn heavily from France, Italy, and the U.S.—malbecs to chardonnays to pinot noirs and more—and has some three hundred in the shop. (On Mondays, bottles are half-price.) If wine isn’t your thing, order a craft beer or cocktail while you grab dinner.
423 West Franklin Street, lanternrestaurant.com
Lantern is known foremost as a restaurant—according to this magazine, the best restaurant in this part of the Triangle, in fact—but you shouldn’t overlook its outstanding bar program. Head down the alley to the Lantern Garden and order a cocktail, perhaps the Walk Right In, a concoction of bourbon, muddled blueberries, and lemon.
403 West Rosemary Street, Chapel-Hill, thenorthsidedistrict.com
This Chapel Hill spot, right on the edge of Carrboro, has existed under a score of different names for a good two decades, and, with minor modifications, it’s always the same: a cozy interior with a barroom, dining room, and comfy parlor, and a patio that serves as one of the smoker’s last redoubts. The straightforward cocktails are dependably good and occasionally inspired, the craft beer is smartly selected, and the food menu is great for warming up or coming down from a night out on the music scene.
Orange County Social Club
108 East Main Street, Carrboro, facebook.com/ocsc.carrboro
The OCSC inspires a kind of devotion only an eternal townie watering hole can. It succors a mix of ancient fixtures and new-blood college students, with friendly bartenders shouting over Archers of Loaf on the jukebox, a pool table, a smoky back patio, and decades of local-music-scene sweat grimed into its creases.
The Wooden Nickel Pub
113 North Churton Street, Hillsborough, thewnp.com
Put simply, The Nickel is Hillsborough’s neighborhood bar. Excellent bar food, cheap (and surprisingly good) drinks, decent beer, chill vibe, great people—there’s a reason it’s always bursting at the seams.
Steel String Brewery
106 South Greensboro Street, Carrboro, steelstringbrewery.com
Steel String leans into Carrboro’s eccentricities when crafting its funky, unexpected takes on sours and IPAs. Its spacious, industrial-chic taproom is a great place to relax with friends and make your way through everything on the draft list (then take a few bottles home for good measure).