10 Things Guys Should Know When Traveling to Raleigh
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1 – Raleigh is an underrated city, plain and simple. It’s not a true destination, but it has its benefits with barbecue and college basketball. It’s also one of the major cities in the southeast where graduates move after college. That lends to a young city population that likes to go out and have a good time. (When is that ever a bad thing?) It’s an easy city to get around with some good hot spots to hit on the weekend and some good-looking girls. Then there’s the whole college basketball thing, with Duke and North Carolina a quick drive from downtown. It’s easy to make the best of things when in town.
2 – The weather is generally good in Raleigh with monthly averages no lower than 50, although there is an odd time of year when the cold weather comes in and the area has to deal (rather poorly) with snow. While the summer is nice and warm, you don’t come to Raleigh for weekends at the pool. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t come to Raleigh during college basketball season, with January and February being the prime times to catch a game.
3 – There are a few different areas of town to stay in when in Raleigh. You’ll generally be needing cab at some point on your trip, so it doesn’t matter too much where you stay. Hotels generally won’t be that expensive. The obvious choice is downtown on Fayetteville Street at either the Marriott or the Sheraton. Some bars and restaurants are within walking distance, so that helps. Another option would be the Hampton Inn & Suites off Glenwood Ave, which (you guessed it), is another area with restaurants and bars. Finally there’s the Hyatt in North Hills if you want to be a little out of the downtown area. North Hills is the fastest growing area of Raleigh and has plenty of younger people. The Hyatt wins over the other hotels in the area because it’s within walking distance to some food and drink options, but you’ll generally travel to another part of town to go out. The Renaissance is the nicest hotel in that area, but it’s probably swanker than you need for Raleigh. Just know that you’ll need a car to get over to Chapel Hill or Durham.
4 – If you’re a college basketball fan, you came to the right place. Any list of top five college basketball programs (not 2014 teams, but programs) includes Duke and North Carolina. Not to short change North Carolina State, a decent program, but there are two main shows in town. Both Duke and Carolina are great places to see a college basketball game, but differ in atmosphere. Both Durham and Chapel Hill could get their own travel guides, but I’ll summarize them here because it’s part of the Raleigh package. Carolina games at the Dean Dome are more like a celebration of basketball. Tickets are generally easy to come by and even a novice can enjoy the experience. Pregame a little on Franklin Street before you go. Top of the Hill and He’s Not Here give you the typical college bar experience. We’ll get to the food later, but make sure to get a good look at the UNC girls. They run pretty hot and completely trump what you see at their rival.
5 – Cameron Indoor is unlike any college basketball experience you can enjoy in the country. It’s such a small gym for such a good team and tickets are ridiculously scarce. You either have to know someone with ticket connections or you can pay out the ass on the secondary market. Sure you can go to a Wake Forest game on a Tuesday and pay $150 to get into the building or you can pay twice that or more if Duke’s hosting a good team. The fun part, however, is getting down to the legendary student section. Think it’s impossible without student tickets? Not quite. I can speak from first-hand experience and I wasn’t alone as there were definitely some much older people in there with me. Just do a little research and ask around, but sneaking in isn’t the toughest thing. (I don’t wanna completely blow the secret so it stops going forward.) Head over to the bar called Shooters on a night after the game and you’ll probably run into some guys from the team.
6 – There are some other things to do outside of seeing the two main basketball teams in town. And I don’t mean going to see an NC State game — although that’s available to if you if you can’t make it to the other two. An NC State football game, however, isn’t a bad alternative. They have a much better tailgating situation than UNC and the football teams are generally comparable. Those around in the spring and summer can make a trip over to a Durham Bulls game, one of the better AAA baseball experiences in the country. (And yes the movie Bull Durham was about this team.) The only professional major league sporting game in town is courtesy of the Carolina Hurricanes. And while PNC Arena and Carter-Finley Stadium (home of NC State football) are technically in Raleigh, it’s a pain in the ass to get there unless you drive. Someone needs to man up and be a DD if you drive to the game. The North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame is located at the North Carolina Museum of History and is worth a trip if you’ve got a few hours to kill. Frankie’s Fun Park lets you rediscover your middle school youth with go karts and laser tag. Sometimes there’s no better way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.
7 – There are four general types of barbecue in America and Carolina, the mainstay for barbecued pork, can compete with any of them. Your barbecue adventure should start downtown at The Pit. I could eat the Pumpkin Cornbread for hours. There’s no such thing as ordering too much of it for the table. There’s plenty of good stuff on the menu, but hit the two-meat combo featuring pulled pork and ribs. Hush puppies and biscuits should come with your meal, but get a little mac ‘n cheese or barbecued baked beans as your side. If you’re wondering why you’re passing up on the chopped barbecue, it’s because you’ll be getting that down the street at Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue (aka Cooper’s). What The Pit is top big business barbecue (and they do it well), Cooper’s is small and simple, but quaint and perfectly local. It closes at 6 p.m. every day, so plan on getting there for lunch or an early dinner. You’ll want to add the truly authentic Brunswick Stew (think tomatoes, beans, and meat stew) to your meal. If you’re not all barbecued out (and I hope you’re not) then travel over to Bullock’s in Durham. You might be confused when you see things on the menu that resemble a diner, but stick to the script and go barbecue again. Open your stomach and go with the family style order that gives you fried chicken with your chopped barbecue needs. Throw in some sweet tea and collard greens and you’ll be ready for a nap in a couple hours. Backyard Barbecue offers another Durham alternative where you’ll load up on some more chopped barbecue. Those in Chapel Hill can head over to Allen & Son. I think you’ve realized you’re ordering some form of the pork by this point in the paragraph.
8 – So you’re stuffed with barbecue and wondering what else is there to eat. There are a few good places for brunch in Chapel Hill. Mama Dip’s gives you pork chops (yes, pork chops) with your eggs. Southern favorite shrimp and grits can be had at Crook’s Corner. And it wouldn’t be a southern breakfast without biscuits. Sunshine Biscuit Kitchen can fill yours with ham or fried chicken. You can’t come to the south without some chicken and waffles, so get that fix at Beasley’s Chicken & Honey. They also have some money cocktails. Grab a pre-game hot dog at The Roast Grill when you’re in Chapel Hill. But if you want a hot dog with your burger (literally), step on over to Dain’s Place for the defibrillator burger that combines the two with bacon, cheese, and chili. Chargrill is a North Carolina staple and offers the best basic burgers around. Chucks has a great bacon cheeseburger and the Inferno Burger at MoJoe’s combines Cajun spices with grilled jalapenos, onions, and pepper jack cheese for all sorts of goodness. Need some more meat? Sullivan’s Steak House is a chain but they’ve got $6 bar entrees on Thursday and Sunday. You might not be expecting to find good Peruvian chicken in Raleigh, but Mami Nori’s is damn good rotisserie chicken. Finish your comfort food meals off by driving to a Cookout (a southern chain specialty) for one of their legendary shakes. It is possible to class things up a little. Capital Club 16 provides German influenced cuisine with big beers and a touch of class. Lobster mac ‘n cheese is only offered on Fridays, but is an obvious choice if you chose the right day. Second Empire has a fancy upstairs and a more modest tavern downstairs, but the food is great on either floor. The bacon wrapped trout, seafood paella, or meatloaf should be the staple of your meal.
9 – There are two main drags of bars in the Raleigh area: Glenwood Ave and Fayetteville Street. We’ll start with Glenwood just because it’s been a hot spot for longer. You can start at the top of the strip with Cornerstone Tavern. You might be confused when you walk up and see a bar that looks like a house, but believe me, it’s actually a bar. The people there are carefree and there’s usually a pretty positive vibe. Moving down the street you get to Napper Tandy’s, which is your typical Irish bar. It’s good for a game and things can get a little rowdy there as well. Hibernian Pub was a better Irish bar option, but it recently burned down. It’s making a comeback later this year, so be on the lookout for its steak fries. There are a couple clubs to game as well. Solas has been around for a while and probably isn’t what it used to be, but it’s a spot to grind away on a broad. You’ll get that house and hip-hop music you need to dance. They’re a little annoying at the door, so make sure you leave your sneakers and hats at home. The open air roof isn’t a bad look either. Next door is Noir, with only one floor, but a similar scene. Head to Clockwork for something completely different. It’s got a unique throwback look with some solid cocktails. You’ll find Natty Green’s at the end of the drag and around the corner on West Jones Street. It’s kind of a hit or miss spot (either packed or you could be there alone), but when it hits, it really hits. Worst case you leave and go to one of the other bars in the area.
10 – Things are definitely picking up down on Fayetteville Street. The hottest spot in town these days is Zinda and you’re not going there for the food. It’s rather upscale and the drinks aren’t cheap, but you can lock in some of the best looking girls in town. They have table service if you really want to class it up, but that’s not necessary at all. (There’s a part of Raleigh society that likes to think balling out with tables at a place like this makes them big-time.) A few steps away is The Oxford, which is on most “best bars” lists. You’ll get a live band a lot of the time and top 40 music when there’s not. It’s a simple gastropub, but people, including good looking girls, flock there on the weekends. You can find something in between those two options in style, which is a block off Fayetteville Street. You have to be in a certain mood to go, but if the mood is right it’s an unbelievable time. From when you arrive and have to make the walk upstairs to the location, you can feel the music vibrating the stairs. It’s not a club and It’s not a bar. It’s really a mix of the two. Raleigh Times is as typical bar’s bar. It’s got three floors with the roof top area looking good on a beautiful night. The crowd skews a little older with the 25-35 range being the peak. The Pour House by Nash Square is great for Indie rock bands and $3 PBRs. Coglins is good if you grew up in the 80s or 90s and want to hear that kind of music. Unfortunately it’s a little small and can get a tad overcrowded. Fox Liquor Bar is a great speakeasy spot with really good cocktails. A little further away on West Morgan Street, The Flying Saucer offers one of the better Thursday happy hour locations with outdoor seating, plenty of beers on tap, and some damn good hot pretzels.
[Photo via Jamie Guillory/USA Today Sports]