6 Hours in East Durham
(By Thomasi McDonald)
To understand how to spend a proper afternoon in the still-largely residential East Durham, you should know about its history.
It was largely a farming settlement until about 1884, three years after Durham County’s incorporation, when wealthy industrialist (and virulent white supremacist) Julian Carr started the Durham Cotton Manufacturing Company along the area’s northern boundary, at 2000 East Pettigrew Street. From there, East Durham evolved into a site for heavy and light industrial companies. A mill village took shape with the construction of modest bungalows to house textile workers.
The area’s gritty manufacturing origins are still evident today. While many of the mill homes have been torn down, quite a few still stand, and freight trains trundle down the tracks along Angier Avenue past the old East Durham depot. East Durham, populated heavily by African Americans, was redlined in the 1930s, meaning banks wouldn’t make home loans there. That enforced generational cycles of poverty and segregation. Today, as police records will attest, there are pockets of East Durham that aren’t the safest in the city, and parts are still painfully devoid of quality park space and greenery.
On the other hand, owing to the rebirth of downtown over the last few decades and the gentrification that came with it—for good and ill—East Durham is also undergoing a remarkable transformation. It’s most obvious along Angier Avenue, a main thoroughfare, which now pays homage to its earliest beginnings as a place where Latinos, whites, and blacks alike all participated in commerce.
So our late Saturday morning begins at East Durham Bake Shop, a spacious hangout at the corner of Angier and South Driver with an avocado and cream-colored interior, which offers homemade baked goods, locally roasted coffee, the best pie in the city (which we’ll skip for now), and an inviting atmosphere in which to catch up with friends for an hour or two.
After that, we walk across South Driver to the brand-new food truck Caribbean Creations, which specializes in Jamaican cuisine and is one of several trucks owned by Gregory and Emma Duncan that line this sidewalk. (If you’re in the mood for something completely different, Jorge Gonzalez-Pena and Emily Berkeley have transformed a former service station into the sunny Sofia’s Pizza less than a block away.) From there, a haircut at area mainstay Samuel & Sons Barbershop is calling your name.
Easily the most striking example of East Durham’s transformation is the old Golden Belt Manufacturing Company, which first opened in 1901 to produce cloth and thread used to package tobacco and closed in 1996. The 327,000-square-foot landmark is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2008, the old manufacturing plant reopened after being converted into the Golden Belt campus. The old mill, with exposed wood and brick and twelve-foot-high ceilings, is now an eclectic mix of stylish apartments, artist studios, and performance venues.
And right there is Hi-Wire Brewing, an Asheville import with nearly nine thousand square feet of indoor space and another seventeen hundred square feet of covered outdoor space, plus twenty-four taps and an assortment of wines.
It’s an ideal way to spend the remains of the day—with your friends or even with your kids. (Hi-Wire is family-friendly until 8:00 p.m., then asks you to run the rug rats out.) Play shuffleboard or table tennis, sit at one of the large picnic tables, or just sip on one of the specialty sour ales and marvel at an East Durham that Julian Carr could never have imagined.
Landmark: Golden Belt
Where to Get a Cup of Coffee: Nolia
Where to Visit with Friends: East Durham Bake Shop
Where to Walk Your Dog: CR Woods Park
Where to Spend the Night: Blooming Garden Inn
Hi-Wire Brewing at Golden Belt
800 Taylor Street, 919-275-3700, hiwirebrewing.com
Hi-Wire originated in Asheville, but we don’t hold that against them. With twenty-four taps, including ciders and guests, covering the full beer spectrum from hoppy to sour to fruity, as well as an assortment of wines, Hi-Wire has something for everyone (and soda for the kids and water for the dogs). There’s also shuffleboard, table tennis, and an open field outside to go run around on. If you’re there more for the beer than the family-friendly afternoons, they kick the under-twenty-ones out at eight.
Note: We’ve highlighted our pick for the best of each category below.
East Durham Bake Shop
406 South Driver Street, 919 957-1090, eastdurhambakeshop.com
INDY readers’ perennial choice for Best Pie in Durham County—and our choice for Best Pie in the Known Universe—this cozy, independently owned shop features handmade baked goods, locally roasted coffee and espresso, organic teas, and simple soups and salads made with fresh local produce. Also, did we mention the pies?
Johnson Family BBQ
5201 Wake Forest Highway, 919-397-5693, johnsonfamilybbq.com
So far east it only qualifies as part of this neighborhood by technicality, Johnson is a hole-in-the-wall in the middle of nowhere that has nonetheless earned a rep of one as the Triangle’s best real-deal wood-smoked Eastern N.C. BBQ spots.
2201 Angier Avenue, 984-219-3656, sofiaspizzadurham.com
Jorge Gonzalez-Pena and Emily Berkeley’s neighborhood joint serves wings, subs, and pizzas in a comfortable atmosphere. Kick back with a local beer and dig in.
Home Plate Restaurant
3327 Holloway Street, 919-598-6817, homeplaterestaurantdurham.com
Get a taste of the Deep South at Home Plate Restaurant, a cafeteria-style joint with entrées that rotate daily, though BBQ chicken is an everyday affair. This Southern comfort food can be eaten in-house, to-go, or catered.
Tater Bread Café
1106 Morning Glory Avenue, 919-251-9265
Walter Sneed’s Tater Bread does soul food takeout from scratch: meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, salmon and grits, all the good stuff. The signature tater bread is his wife’s recipe, similar to sweet potato pie but without the crust. Open mornings until 2:00 p.m. every day except Sunday.
The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits Company
803 Ramseur Street, 919-617-1746
At college parties, Rim Vilgalys discovered that his fellow students loved his family recipe for a Lithuanian honey-based liqueur called Krupnikas. After he graduated and moved back to Durham, he made a business out of it, then branched out into other liqueurs. Now, after a recent change in state law, a cocktail bar is on the way.
Nolia: Family + Coffee
1004 Morning Glory Avenue, noliacoffee.com
Nolia is designed to be the answer for parents in need of a pick-me-up but who also have kids in tow. Here, Nolia’s website says, “kids are meant to be celebrated, not just tolerated.” That means a family-centric space with places for children to play. It also means excellent, ethically sourced coffee or tea for their adults.
Dogstar Tattoo Company
807 East Main Street, 919-682-0000, dogstartattoo.com
This Golden Belt spot has some of the finest tattoo artists in Durham.
Los Primos Supermarket
1109 East Main Street, 919-682-6417
This grocery store, near the intersection of East Main and South Alston, is the only one in the immediate vicinity and serves as a vital source of fresh fruits and vegetables.
2112 Angier Avenue, 919-697-6574, creativetattooservice.com
By appointment only, Samantha Castovinci will get you inked up right at her Old East Durham shop.
310 South Driver Street, thrivveglobal.com
Seeking to provide an “urban center for individuals to partake in an open market of closing exchanges for your thrift, consignment, and marketing,” twenty-three-year-old entrepreneur Jeremiah Pittman offers, new, used, and vintage urban apparel.
Russell’s Pharmacy & Shoppe
2116 Angier Avenue
Pharmacist Darius Russell and his wife, Terensia, had long wanted to open a pharmacy to serve the East Durham community. The couple work alongside Terensia’s parents to create a personable atmosphere at the heart of any successful family-owned business.
Golden Belt Campus
800 Taylor Street, goldenbeltarts.com
The former manufacturing plant is home to tech companies and lofts and a high-end event space and a brewery, but also art galleries that feature incredible photography exhibits and a summer outdoor concert series. Like it was a century ago—albeit it in a completely different way—Golden Belt is again a hub of East Durham activity.
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