Proof of downtown Durham’s arrival shows in many ways—none more so than in three hotels in recently renovated buildings. On top of that, all three—The Durham Hotel, 21C Museum Hotel, and Unscripted—are pretty fabulous, each in their own way, and are within whispering distance of each other. You won’t find anything like them anywhere else in the Triangle.
The Durham (315 East Chapel Hill Street, thedurham.com), taking up residence in the Home Savings Bank’s former modernist digs, is the most comfortable of the three, offering a kind of simplicity and welcoming feeling not often found on the road. Everything from the food (by James Beard awardee Andrea Reusing, owner of The Lantern in Chapel Hill) to the bustling rooftop bar (where yoga is offered once a week during off-hours) to the handsomely but simply designed rooms to the availability of newspapers (including The New York Times) appreciates the visitor. That includes the little Escazu chocolates before bedtime, Burt’s Bees samples, and fresh coffee grounds outside your door in the morning.
If the Durham bespeaks comfort, 21C (111 North Corcoran Street, 21cmuseumhotels.com/durham) is a tad more jarring and, on the surface, more ambitious. Also in a former bank building (this one the much taller and more citified Art Deco Hill Building), the updated spaces here have been aptly described by an INDY art critic as “retro-futurist.” The place is, after all, part art museum—with an extraordinary, changing collection of contemporary works and an edgy, animated attitude to match. The rooms are much more self-consciously luxe than The Durham’s, as is the second-floor lobby, and the menu at the Counting House (with an emphasis on local seafood) is more extensive and is ably executed. There’s first-rate room service at both.
Where the Durham and 21C offer marvelous high-end experiences, a third establishment, located neatly between the two in the former Jack Tar Motel, is Durham’s place for fun—and lower prices. That’s Unscripted (202 North Corcoran Street, unscriptedhotels.com). A true eyesore of an abandoned, rundown, four-story fifties city motel before renovation, Unscripted, according to The New York Times, is “the latest in a wave of new boutique hotels in the nation’s smaller cities [that] highlight a property’s unusual architecture or history.” Unscripted is now an affordable treat with real architectural flair—and with Durham’s best outdoor poolside party on the third floor every Friday and Saturday night.
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