106 Main

106 East Main Street, Durham, 919-593-0560, 106main.com

It’s dark, it’s rarely crowded, the drinks are stiff and cheap, and what the hell else could you want out of downtown Durham’s neighborhood hang? 

The Accordion Club

316 Geer Street, Durham, instagram.com/accordionclub

It’s too clean to be a proper dive bar, but The Accordion Club is also the kind of place where you’re better off ordering a shot and a beer than a hifalutin cocktail. The beer selection runs the gamut from quality N.C. craft to canned Milwaukee crap, and the whiskey selection goes from decent to drink-it-fast. There are also Frito pies on offer. 

Arcana Bar and Lounge

331 West Main Street, Durham, 919-973-1675, arcanadurham.com

Of all the bars on this list, Arcana comes closest to having a shtick, in that it’s tarot-themed and has occasional dance parties. But it’s not at all fancy-pants or pretentious; it’s chill, has good drinks at reasonable prices, and is one of the coolest bars in Durham. 

Atomic Fern

108 East Parrish Street, Durham, 919-908-8662, atomicfern.com

The Fern, too, has a shtick, if you consider plenty of board games lying around a shtick, which I don’t. It also has good music, good beer, excellent cocktails, and pleasant folks to chat up. 


705 West Rosemary Street, Carrboro, 919-967-9725

Bowbarr is simple and to the point. There are stools at the bar. There’s a long leather couch. There’s a TV and VCR player (!) that both date to the eighties. There’s a good beer selection. There are good drinks at good prices. There are cymbals on the wall. There’s a working photo booth. It’s a good place. 

The Federal

914 West Main Street, Durham, 919-680-8611, thefederal.net

When I lived in Philly, there was this bar at the end of my string of rowhomes that I damn near lived in—beer, whiskey, food, friends, sometimes baseball on the TV, all of life’s simple pleasures. No place in the Triangle comes as close to replicating that experience as The Fed. 

Kotuku Surf Club

703 Rigsbee Avenue, Durham, 919-294-9661

Surf Club has a cool bar and a big, dog-friendly patio with lots of beer and a wide-ranging drink selection. You’ll probably run into people you know. 

Orange County Social Club

108 East Main Street, Carrboro, 919-933-0669, facebook.com/ocsc.carrboro

There’s a Yelp review for OCSC that pretty well sums up my experience there: “OCSC may be a frequent hangout for the tragically hip crowd and the indie scene, but even a local yokel like myself can feel right at home.”

Person Street Bar

805 North Person Street, Raleigh, 919-977-5953, person-street.com

Person Street offers an easygoing, no-frills hang on the outskirts of downtown Raleigh, between Oakwood and Mordecai. There’s a good beer selection, well-made cocktails, and a delightful patio for a sunset drink. 


227 South Wilmington Street, Raleigh, 919-833-6557, slimsraleigh.com

Slim’s is DTR’s oldest music venue—and intimate, too, at a hundred people max. But even when no one’s playing—bands usually start around nine—there are cheap drinks and a well-stocked bar. Slim’s is Raleigh’s quintessential dive for a reason.