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A Guide to Bars & Nightlife in Durham

Estimated Read Time:
10 minutes

Durham comes alive when the sun goes down. Here's a guide to the city's vibrant bars and nightlife with the best music, drinks and atmosphere to keep the party going strong.

Call a babysitter. Gather all your friends. You're overdue for a night out on the town.

When it comes to nightlife, Durham has plenty of options to match your perfect evening mood. From late-night eats and dive bars to celebrated craft cocktails and venues hosting nationally touring acts and homegrown bands, the Bull City's energy will keep pace with you through the wee hours. Night owls rejoice – it's time to responsibly enjoy all that Durham has to offer.

Enjoy The Social District

"The Bullpen," Durham's social district, is an open container-friendly district that allows you to order to-go drinks from participating bars and restaurants and enjoy them as you walk throughout the area until 10 p.m., entering other participating businesses along the way. Within less than a mile, you'll find a wide range of options with "ground-to-glass" cocktails, innovative flavors and so much more inside the district's boundaries. We've got all the details on the best ways to enjoy the social district and what to know before you go.

Durham's Most Award-Winning Craft Cocktail Bars

Since at least 2012, Durham's craft cocktail scene has set a tone of excellence. With a focus on local ingredients and equal appreciation for creativity, innovation, and skillfully made classics, our cocktail bars are a microcosm of Durham itself: boldly defiant, ever changing and never changing. These downtown spots have led the way in establishing Durham's reputation as a craft beverage town, and there are even more bars where you can find great drinks, including restaurant bar menus.

Alley Twenty Six
320 E. Chapel Hill St.

Starting in 2012, Alley Twenty Six can take credit for setting the high bar for craft cocktails in downtown Durham and was the first in the state to be a James Beard Award finalist for Outstanding Bar Program. You won't want to miss a drink made with their hand-crafted tonic on a Durham trip; regular events like Whiskey Wednesdays and Sunday Jazz Brunch will keep you informed and entertained.

321 E. Chapel Hill St.

An instant classic, Kingfisher gained national acclaim as one of the best new cocktail bars in the country in 2019, and was the second bar in the state to be nominated for the James Beard Awards' Outstanding Bar Program category. Cozy up in one of the private booths and sip on drinks like the Bee Durham with honey-infused Conniption Navy Strength Gin from Durham Distillery.

    Portrait of owner Shannon Healy behind the bar at Alley Twenty Six.

    Owner Shannon Healy offers a cocktail at Alley Twenty Six. Photo: Baxter Miller / Alley Twenty Six

    Drink Like a Local: Where Bourbon Expert Che Ramos Orders a Cocktail

    Follow Che as he takes you for a night out on the town in Durham.

    Downtown Distillery-Owned Cocktail Bars

    Durham's distilleries are making their mark on the cocktail scene locally and beyond. With award-winning spirits made using inventive techniques and high-quality ingredients on their menus, Durham- and NC-based distilleries are lending their expertise to hospitality and mixology at their own bars and tasting rooms.

    Corpse Reviver Bar and Lounge
    715 Washington St. Suite B

    Corpse Reviver Bar and Lounge is named for both the classic gin cocktail and its setting in a former coffin shop located beneath Durham Distillery's Washington Street space. It's designed to showcase Durham Distillery & Conniption Gins and other spirits at their best. Enjoy a cocktail and "revive your spirit" along with shareable snacks often made in collaboration with local chefs and bakers.

    Liberty & Plenty Distillery
    609 B Foster St.

    Sip Liberty & Plenty's Slate Belt Vodka, Bronze Bull Whiskey and Rye, Cap & Cane Rum and more with cocktails mixed feet from the source. The distillery occupies a space adjacent to The Rickhouse event space on Foster Street and offers a welcoming outdoor patio with comfortable seating and occasional live music. Owner Tina Williford joins Durham Distillery's Melissa Katrincic as Durham's second woman to own a distillery.

    Lonerider Distillery and Taproom
    708 Ramseur St.

    Lonerider made its name as a popular Raleigh-based brewery and expanded to Durham with its new distillery and taproom concept – a bar/brewery concept where it's possible to enjoy a cocktail made with Lonerider's whiskeys, bourbons or liqueurs or a beer in a casual setting.

    A crowd of adults of all ages sit and enjoy cocktails at tables and at the bar at Corpse Reviver.

    Enjoying cocktails at Durham Distillery's Corpse Reviver cocktail bar. Photo: Kate Medley

    Pick Up a Craft Beverage Guide

    Stop by the Visitor Info Center at 212 W. Main St. to pick up our handy pocket guide, Durham Drinks: A Craft Beverage Guide to Durham. Read it to learn about more of the best spots to enjoy craft beverages in Durham, including even more great cocktail bars, restaurants with great cocktail menus, bars with activities and even non-alcoholic mocktail options. You can also fill out a form to request one by mail so you can get familiar with the scene before your visit.

    A booklet called Durham Drinks: A Craft Beverage Guide to Durham sits on a table next to a cup of coffee.

    Click the image to request a copy of Durham Drinks: A Craft Beverage Guide to Durham

    Bars with Speakeasy Vibes

    There are times when an air of secrecy makes your cocktail taste even better. Impress your fellow travelers or guests with these spots that boast under-the-radar locations and enter a whole new world of fun when you cross the threshold. Kingfisher and Corpse Reviver, mentioned within other categories on this blog, also offer intimate settings and unassuming locations.

    Arcana Bar and Lounge
    331 W. Main St.

    You'll be rewarded with a good time once you make your way to perhaps the hardest-to-find spot in Durham. With its entrance at the rear of its Main Street home, Arcana Bar and Lounge is your go-to if you're looking for a dance party or unique activities to accompany your cocktail. Depending on the night, you can sit for a tarot reading, practice your figure drawing skills, dance around a disco ball or relax with live music. One thing is certain – creative and tasty alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails are always on the menu.

    Dashi Izakaya
    415 E. Chapel Hill St.

    When you approach Dashi on East Chapel Hill Street, you'll notice two doors sitting side-by-side. To the left, there's the street-level ramen shop. To the right, a staircase leads to the second-floor Izakaya, where Japanese small plates, elevated cocktails and an expansive sake menu are offered at the expansive bar and limited table seating.

    Weldon Mills
    300 E. Main St. #001

    Another spot with its entrance around the back of the building, this subterranean cocktail bar and tasting room is for the bourbon connoisseurs. Weldon Mills was founded in its namesake NC town and expanded to Durham for its second location. Enjoy well-made cocktails, bourbon tastings, live music and, soon, guided tastings in its private tasting room.

    Downtown Durham Beer and Wine Bars

    Aside from cocktails, there are plenty of options for beer and wine drinkers in the downtown area. Beyond spots with great beer and wine menus, scroll down to find Durham's breweries and sports bars, as well.

    Pour Taproom
    202 Corcoran St. #200

    Pour offers a unique self-serve system that allows you to try a large variety of beer, cider, and wine on their patio at CCB Plaza. Perfect for groups and people watching, experimenting with new flavors and enjoying Durham's beautiful weather in the heart of downtown.

    Brunello Wine Bar
    123 Market St. Suite A

    Brunello is known for its diverse menu of natural wines made by small winemakers from lesser-known corners of the winemaking world. You'll often find friendly owner Esteban Brunello behind the bar, willing and eager to educate you on orange and purple wines.

    Killer Queen Wine Bar
    117 E. Main St. Suite B

    This cozy, art-filled bar on East Main Street offers an intimate setting inside or on their back patio for wine by the bottle or glass with small plates and snacks. Gather your friends and settle in for an evening of wine and conversation with the friendly staff and wine-loving regulars.

    A couple enjoys a glass of wine at Killer Queen Wine Bar in Durham, NC

    Killer Queen Wine Bar. Photo: Discover Durham

    West End Wine Bar and West End Billiards
    601 W. Main St. Suites A and E

    On the other side of downtown, West End Wine Bar is tucked away between downtown's city center and the Brightleaf District, featuring one of the area's largest wine-by-the-glass selections. West End Billiards, just next door, offers lots of entertainment with TVs, pool tables, bocce, and more in an industrial, brick-lined space.

    Louella Wine, Beer and Beverage
    316 W. Geer St. Suite A

    Equal parts wine shop, bar and community hangout, Louella offers a large selection of wines, expertly curated craft and international beers and non-alcoholic options like Phony Negronis and hemp-infused drinks. Stop by in the afternoon or early evening to find crowds relaxing on the front patio and around the bar, pups in tow. Free wine tastings on Saturday afternoons always draw a lively group.

    The Wine Feed
    307 S. Roxboro St.

    Start an evening at The Wine Feed where you can experience wines from around the world paired with great service. The Wine Feed, which has locations in Durham and Raleigh, offers monthly wine club subscriptions that educate and expand wine lovers' palates.

    Prime Downtown Durham Hangouts

    Some of Durham's most popular downtown bars offer more than great cocktails – from dance parties to people-watching to sunset views and cozy fireplaces.

    The Velvet Hippo
    119 Orange St. 3rd Floor

    Durham's newest rooftop bar has an indoor/outdoor space that transforms into a ski lodge complete with a retro fireplace and outdoor heaters in the cooler months. Year round, expect creative cocktails and small plates and a dedicated menu of tomorrow-friendly, non-alcoholic drinks. The dog-friendly bar welcomes furry friends to the roof deck via a special entrance on Saturdays and Sundays, 12-6 p.m.

    Rubies on Five Points and Remedy Room
    347 W. Main St.

    Owned by the innovative team behind Luna Rotisserie and Empanadas, Rubies is a lively upstairs bar and music venue that's open seven days a week. Keep an eye out for frequent DJ nights when the dance floor is packed with adults of all ages. With its dark wood and tiled interior, Remedy Room occupies the downstairs space with a lounge and a drink menu offering a large variety of cocktails, beer, and wine. Its sidewalk tables offer prime real estate to see and be seen in the heart of downtown's five points.

    Great Cocktail Bars Close to DPAC, Durham Performing Arts Center

    Have a craft cocktail before or after a show at DPAC without finding a new parking space.

    Bar Virgile and Annexe
    105 S. Mangum St. #1

    Try hand-crafted concoctions at Bar Virgile. Boasting one of the largest spirit selections in the Triangle, Bar Virgile offers a wide variety of classic and modern cocktails with whiskey, gin, rum, tequila and mezcal, and other spirits. Find Bar Virgile's sister bar, Annexe, in the basement below. For those carrying on into the night, enjoy the familiar favorites like the French 75 or forgotten classics like the curacao-stained Blue Hawaiian, the Singapore Sling, and the Appletini. If you bring a record with you on Wednesday evenings, they'll even play it for you on the turntable.

    The Waiting Room
    300 Blackwell St. #100

    This cozy bar at American Tobacco Campus was designed to be a place to relax before a dinner reservation or after a show at DPAC just across the street. With innovative signature cocktails like the Old Bull, made with Durham Distillery's Conniption Gin, mezcal, pineapple, lemon and orange, plus satisfying small plates and desserts, you can make a night of it here.

    Durham Dive Bars with Great Beer Selections

    If you're looking for a more laid-back vibe, sidle up to the bar with the regulars at divey spots downtown. You won't have to miss out on your favorite beverages.

    106 Main
    106 E. Main St.

    Step off Main Street and into a bit of a time capsule. You'll find a wide selection of $4 craft beer and a chalkboard with a rotating list of $3 specials.

    Kotuku Surf Club
    703 Rigsbee Ave.

    Open to those 23 and up, the bar offers plenty of outdoor seating, bocce courts, pool, shuffleboard and an impressive rotating selection of draft beer and food trucks and a constant stream of music videos, sports, and cult classics on the TVs.

    Accordion Club
    316 W. Geer St.

    About a block away from Surf Club (and two doors down from Louella Wine, Beer and Beverage), Accordion is known by locals for their late-night pimento cheese hot dogs, lantern-lit backyard, loyal regulars and one better-than-your-average-dive-bar-wine on draft. Accordion Club also typically has a cocktail on tap as well as a wide-ranging beer selection.

    A group of women enjoys drinks around an outdoor table in the evening with bistro lights overhead.

    Kotuku Surf Club. Photo: Lissa Gotwals

    Other Excellent Durham Dives

    Outside of downtown, there are more neighborhood spots where you can find your own place where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came.

    West 94th St. Pub
    4711 Hope Valley Rd. # 6C

    This South Durham pub has karaoke every Friday, with a loyal following. Regular trivia nights, solid pub food and sports on TV make it a fun a comfortable watering hole.

    DJ's Dive
    3219 Old Chapel Hill Rd.

    Off University Drive, in what used to be Doyle's Sports Bar, you'll find this newer sports, arcade and billiards bar. It's a true dive where there's a crowd of friendly regulars.

    The Green Room
    1108 Broad St.

    Made famous for scenes in the movie Bull Durham, The Green Room is a longtime Durham haunt with pool tables on Broad Street.

    Dain's Place
    754 Ninth St.

    Ninth Street's neighborhood pub, Dain's is a popular stop for burgers and tots, sports on the TVs and a wide selection of beer and simple cocktails.

    Dain's Place: low-key sports bar offering burgers & basic pub grub, plus craft beer, located on Ninth Street.

    The bar at Dain's Place. Photo: S. Hughes Imaging

    Bars in the Brightleaf District

    In the Brightleaf District, you have your pick of local favorites. Within a few short blocks, you can have a great cocktail, enjoy a plate of nachos or wings with a beer, join a dance party, and watch a football game with a crowd.

    The Federal
    914 W. Main St.

    The Fed offers drool-worthy nachos, Buffalo chicken sandwiches, and burgers you can enjoy in cozy booths or on the front patio. The casual bar has a wide beer menu, plus simple cocktails and friendly vibes.

    James Joyce Irish Pub
    912 W. Main St.

    Next door to The Federal, James Joyce lives up to its name. It's a classic Irish pub with bar food like wings, fried soft pretzel bites with beer queso, steak and cheese sandwiches, and numerous burger options. Step into the backyard for a laid-back outdoor area.

    Devine's Restaurant & Sports Bar
    904 W. Main St.

    Devine's has a menu of bar food staples, plenty of drink options, and TVs to watch sports. Their patio is often filled with live music acts on the weekend, too.

    Justin's Bar and Grill
    1013 W. Main St.

    Formerly Skewers, Justin's is just up the block. It's a great option with regularly-scheduled live music. Justin’s menu includes everything from hot dog combos to black bean burgers with french fries.

    The Living Room
    1007 W. Main St.

    Plan to hit up this space for late-night parties with VIP sections, a dance floor, hookah, and bottle service. The Living Room has a dress code, so show up and show out.

    Dram and Draught
    701 W. Main St.

    This North Carolina cocktail bar's first Durham location is designed for the whiskey fanatic. With a wide selection of spirits behind the bar, including whiskeys from around the world, expect creative cocktails for slow sipping and boilermakers for more of a party vibe.

    Fill up on Late Night Food Options

    If you're staying out until the wee hours, you won't want to end the night on an empty stomach. Durham's late night food options will leave you satisfied.

    Bull McCabe's Irish Pub
    427 W. Main St.

    With an expansive patio at the historic Five Points intersection, Bull McCabe's has one of the most convenient locations downtown. Don't miss the fish and chips or perfectly seasoned fries offered till 11 p.m. every Monday-Thursday and Sunday, and even later on Fridays and Saturdays. Plan to join a crowd for soccer games, St. Patrick's Day celebrations, Oktoberfest and more.

    321 E. Chapel Hill St. #100

    Upstairs from Kingfisher, Queeny's is a bar and restaurant with a diner-style menu filled with comforts like sheet pan nachos, English pub-style chicken tenders, and a great Caesar salad. You'll find a community of Durhamites and visitors hanging out at bar stools and high-top tables until 2 a.m.

    Cosmic Cantina
    1920 Perry St.

    Durham's burrito specialist since 1995. On the second floor via a famous staircase, Cosmic is an inflation-defying Durham institution open until 4 a.m. daily.

    Heavenly Buffaloes
    1807 W. Markham Ave.

    Now with three locations, this fast-casual restaurant was established in Durham. Stop by for chicken and vegan wings and fries, and a wide selection of sauces, spices and rubs. It's open until midnight Tuesday-Thursday and 2 a.m. on weekends.

    Birria french dip sandwich with a can of Miller Lite and fries at Queeny's

    Queeny's. Photo: Scott Myers

    Where to Find Live Music & Entertainment

    Durham's music scene is not to be missed. Plenty of spots host live music on any given night, and a few stand-outs have local bands and touring acts most nights.

    117 W. Main St.

    Known as a safe space for marginalized groups, the Pinhook offers everything from karaoke and drag shows to nationally touring acts and dance parties.

    Motorco Music Hall and Parts & Labor
    723 Rigsbee Ave.

    Motorco Music Hall and its sister bar and restaurant Parts & Labor are a one-stop shop for a fun night out in the lively Rigsbee Avenue and Geer Street intersection. See local and nationally touring bands at Motorco and stop for drinks and elevated bar food on the spacious, bistro light-strewn patio at Parts & Labor.

    The Fruit
    305 S. Dillard St.

    An art space and creative playground on Dillard Street near Ponysaurus Brewing Co. and Lonerider Distillery and Taproom. The 22,000-square-foot warehouse complex is home to festival programming, special events, and visual and performing arts, including dance, painting, photography and drama.

    Missy Lane's Assembly Room
    310 E. Main St.

    Missy Lane's is a social hub for music lovers and downtown Durham's newest home for the city's vibrant jazz scene. See local performers and touring musicians and enjoy cocktails and conversation while you're here.

    Boxcar Bar & Arcade
    621 Foster St.

    If you're in the mood for more interactive entertainment, try Boxcar. It's open late and brimming with arcade and console games, pinball machines, table tennis, and other activities to accompany its full bar and pizza menus.

    Leveled-Up Hotel Bars

    For those of you who don't want to think about coordinating logistics or rides home, Durham's fabulous hotel options come complete with rooftop bars, pools, 24-hour art museums and fairway views.

    The Roof at The Durham Hotel
    315 E. Chapel Hill St.

    Find one of the best nighttime skyline views around at The Durham Hotel's rooftop bar. Take in the sights while sipping craft cocktails and snacking on their late-night menu.

    The Patio at Unscripted Durham
    202 Corcoran St.

    Across the street from The Durham, Unscripted Durham also has a rooftop deck overlooking CCB Plaza. The Patio is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the ambiance of poolside cabanas, seasonal bites and cocktails day into night. Unscripted also hosts live music in the first-floor studio area on some weekends. And during the colder months, you can rent a festive, private igloo.

    21c Museum Hotel
    111 N. Corcoran St.

    Housed in the historic Trust Building catty-corner from Unscripted on CCB Plaza, 21c has a contemporary art museum on its first floor that’s typically open to the public 24/7. Grab a nightcap cocktail from the lounge, then check out the latest exhibit and explore the historic bank vault in the basement below.

    Bull Durham Bar at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club
    3001 Cameron Blvd.

    Lastly, meet up with friends for an evening cocktail or night cap in the relaxed ambiance of the Bull Durham Bar at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club. Spend the night and wake up refreshed and ready to play a round of golf at the course on-site, or spend the day exploring Duke University's beautiful campus.

    A group of friends hangs out on couches and seating at The Durham Hotel Roof.

    The Roof at The Durham Hotel. Photo: Eric Waters