What's on Tap

What's on Tap

'All About Beer' publisher shares favorite watering holes

Posted February 23, 2015
Updated February 24, 2015

Daniel Bradford, All About Beer Magazine (Photo by Durham Magazine)

Editor’s Note: The author – who is the assitant publisher of All About Beer magazine – will lead a BBQ, Beer & Bus Tour on the afternoon of Saturday, March 7. Grab a seat on a Greenway bus and enjoy grub from three barbecue spots, each paired with local brews. Tickets are $65 and are available on the Taste food series website. A portion of proceeds will go to the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern N.C.

I love a good bar. Fortunately for me, I live in Durham, which has more than its share of above-average watering holes. More than just a joint for alcohol consumption, a good bar provides atmosphere and ambiance dedicated towards social discourse or quiet reflection. Durhamites are blessed with a plethora of establishments that fulfill one if not both of these functions. While plasma TVs are inevitable, my collection of favorites doesn’t make them the focal point except during the most intense sporting events.

Before our journey begins, a word to the wise: might want to make this a two- or three night event, or else take it very easy everywhere you go – half a pint, a little nosh and a leisurely pace. Keep it classy, Durham. 

  • First stop is Geer Street Garden (corner of Geer and Foster). It performs all the duties of my daytime local. A short walk from my office, Geer Street provides a beer haven with a range of taps that includes many session beers, just perfect for lunch. Also, the picnic tables outside are perfect for an elbows-on-the-table natter with close friends.
  • Bull McCabes (Five Points) has become my late afternoon/evening local. You know you’re home when the perfectly pour pint of Fuller’s London Porter arrives just as you’re sitting down. Yes, everybody knows my name, but it’s the quiet camaraderie and the atmosphere of acceptance that turns an ordinary beer bar into a classic local. Heated debates over soccer matches won’t mar the enjoyment of a great pint with an excellent novel.
  • Down the street a few blocks is Alivia’s. While not branded as a beer bar, per se, Alivia’s boasts quite a nice collection of taps and, often as not, a cask ale at cellar temperature, a rare feet this side of the pond. However, it is the chicken tortellini that beckens me through their doors, that and the draft Golden Ale.
  • A few steps farther west, we arrive at a brace of joints that seem inseparable. The Federal and James Joyce represent a short circuit for an extended family of pub goers. For the longest time, I was a Monday regular at the Joyce, during which my daughter learned the finer points of running a bar. The Murphy’s was my brand, and the curry fries my nosh of choice.
  • The Fed staff makes every trip a fabulous occasion and the draft beer range covers every sort of beer aesthetic. Regular rotations keep the selection fresh and exciting. With a fabulous cheese plate and unbelievable carnitas, the atmosphere can only be summed up as “crossroads.” People of all stripes drop in at the Fed, and the discussions overheard are a serious treat. There is a coterie of regulars that bounces back and forth between the Fed and the Joyce, keeping the street side patios hopping.
  • Still on our feet, we head over to Ninth Street for one of Durham’s special spot – Dain’s Place. Look for the peculiar sign on the wall and shoot for a bar seat. You are in the embodiment of a neighborhood pub. While I tend to get whatever Foothills beer is on tap, the bottle selection is enough to keep you in your seat for several months. Try for their award-winning burger, and make sure to order the tater tots, more than you’ll need. If you’re lucky, owners Dain and Jennifer Phelan, husband and wife, will be on hand. Great people to get to know.
  • Hop in the car (driven by a trusty, tee-totaling friend) and swing by the American Tobacco complex. It’s time to settle in to our giant pub. Version two of Tyler Huntington’s dream to present beer as it should be, Tyler’s Taproom is synonymous with cutting-edge beer culture. On any given week, a leading craft brewer will be sharing their latest with beer lovers. Not only are the taps extensive, but the care and attention to maintaining quality is intensive. The draft lines are only a few feet from the taps, making them easier to clean and, thus, the beer fresher and better-tasting. The staff is particularly beer savvy (especially my lovely daughter, Anne Bradford.) The extensive menu has many good compliments, for sure. But it is the beer that stands out.
  • City Beverage in Woodcroft is a unique environment for the Durham beer lover. Their tap selection and rotation has the range and excitement to satisfy. But the beer ends up overwhelmed by the décor, which can only be described as riotous. Tiki bar meets 1960s cheese. Totally mesmerizing. And then there’s the menu. While it’s hard to wander very far from the burgers, there are some dishes that should not be ignored. Lambsicles? Pretty cool.
  • G2B has the beer lovers’ range. Every time I’ve settled in at the bar, there’s an update of the beer selection and a pretty good food pairing recommendation. (Editor’s Note: And they have a new nanobrewery!) 
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  • Phil Shmoe Feb 24, 2015
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    This list is too driven by food. Dain's Pl, Geer St, and G2B are very heavy on the food side with just 'good but not great' beer options. Alivia's has a nice collection of taps...that never rotate. So what about bars with good beer that possibly serve good food when you need a bite?
    For exciting beer choices, I agree with Bull McCabes, The Fed, and City Beverage.
    I'd also highlight Criterion in downtown (former space of Whiskey) for, hands down, most unique tap list and a great environment. No food though.