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North Carolina Travel Guide
Introduction to Carrboro

Carrboro has come a long way since the days they called it the Paris of the Piedmont. With more artists, musicians and visionaries than perhaps any small town in America, Carrboro is to Chapel Hill and North Carolina as the East Village is to New York and the USA.

Main Street, Carrboro

Introduction to Carrboro

Carrboro FountainI wrote elsewhere on this website that Chapel Hill is one of the most progressive towns in North Carolina (or maybe I said in the South. Same thing, anyway). Well, Carrboro is the most progressive small town in North Carolina. Formerly known as The Paris of the Piedmont because of the number of artists and writers living here, Paris is now being called the Carrboro of Europe. OK. Maybe not, but the Paris of the Piedmont label sounds a little pretentious if not just plain goofy now. Let's just call Carrboro the least-boring small town in the southern United States. The residents of Carrboro not only were against the war in Iraq but they also fully supported the French: they've kept the name associated with fries, toast and kisses, and still drink champagne and eat brie. Ex-mayor Ellie Kinnaird became a state senator, where she sponsored a two-year moratorium on the death penalty. Unbelievably, this passed in a state that like Texas seems to have a love affair with capital punishment. Former mayor Mike Nelson was the South's first openly gay mayor and certainly one of the most progressive and friendliest and he doesn't own a car. Carrboro is a town full of writers, artists, rock musicians, visionaries, activists, lovers of freedom and civil liberties, non-conformists and a few good ol' boys and girls thrown into the mix. Carrboro is a town where it seems almost everyone comes from somewhere else. My neighbors are British, Italian, French, Australian, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Salvadorian, Libyan, Greek, and from just about every state in the USA. It's home to Baptists and Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims and there are even a few Rastafarians, Rosicrucians and a Sufi Order. It's a town that makes a lot of conservative people in North Carolina a little uncomfortable. Maybe more so than Chapel Hill. In fact, the Republican-controlled state government felt so threatened by tiny Chapel Hill and Carrboro they rezoned the voting districts to give us one state senator instead of two.

Carrboro History

Carrboro, North Carolina In the late nineteenth century, there was a proposal to build a railroad station for the University of North Carolina. The merchants in Chapel Hill were concerned because they didn't want the students to be able to leave town so easily and spend their money elsewhere every weekend, so they stipulated that the station had to be two miles from the campus, just to make it a little more difficult to get away. They built the station and connected the tracks, and since they now had transportation to the markets they decided to build the Alberta Cotton Mill. Once they built the factory, they needed to build houses for the workers, and this resulted in the coveted mill houses of Carrboro, which everyone now wants to own. (Sorry. There are only about 28 of them left.) The town began as West End, meaning the west end of Chapel Hill, but was later named Venable, after UNC president Francis P Venable. In 1914, it became Carrboro, after Julian Carr, the last owner of the mill and the man who gave electricity to the town. The mill closed in 1930.

Carr Mill Mall

Elmo's Diner, Carr Mill Mall, CarrboroCarr Mill Mall is the old Alberta Cotton Mill that the town was built around in 1898. Surprisingly, the Carrboro Board of Alderman wanted to demolish the mill and build a new mall (like the ones that are being torn down all over the country). The community was horrified and fought to save the mill, which reopened in 1977 as Carr Mill Mall. Probably one of the most architecturally interesting malls in America, with wood floors, ceilings and walls and giant beams, it contains a number of interesting shops and galleries. Within Carr Mill is Elmo's Dinner (sort of the Breadman's of Carrboro), which on weekend mornings has a line so long that they give everyone free coffee. (They have a community bulletin board here and it is sort of my unofficial job to keep it neat.) They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and for some people this is the only place they eat besides home.

Panzanella restaurant, CarrboroOn the opposite end of the long hall is Tandem, an American bistro with a middle eastern flavor in a beautiful space with high ceilings, a cool bar. The atmosphere is friendly and low key, they have a large and interesting wine list and the same goes for the beers which are mostly craft from North Carolina along with a few other popular beers, canned and draft. Friday night at the bar there is usually a crowd of interesting people either waiting for a table or having dinner at the bar. Take a trip down the long wooden hallway of Carr Mill Mall and there is an interesting collection of boutiques, a bead shop, a hair salon and sometimes a gallery or two. The owners of the mall are from out of town and not very tuned in to Carrboro and the shops seem a little conservative to me like they would be better suited to North Raleigh or Cary. But there are some interesting businesses here including the Carrboro Yoga Company which has a space upstairs. A shop that had escaped notice by many is oned by author Robert Roskind who opened the Oasis Cafe, a place you can go for live music, films, food, coffee, tea, discussion, and unconditional love. Carrboro Pizza Oven is owned by an actual New York Italian and has wine and beer as well as popular Italian dishes. Venable Rotisserie Bistro has a great bar, good American bistro food, live music some nights, and a fun atmosphere, especially on weekends. Facing Weaver and Main Streets is Townshend Bertram and Company, a locally owned outdoor store where you can get all kinds of camping and hiking gear, clothes and shoes. For Christmas the owner climbs up the giant oak tree and strings Christmas lights, so many that it looks like you are looking at a universe of stars.

Carr Mill MallOne thing you need to be aware of is the fact that Carr Mill Mall tow mercilessly from their parking lot when people use it to go to nearby restaurants, bars and clubs that are not part of Carr Mill, even at night when 90% of the Carr Mill businesses are closed. OK, I get it. You want your customers to be able to park and there are plenty of other places to park within walking distance of nightlife. But the way they do it here is simply predatory. Not only that but if you shop in Carr Mill Mall, then put what you have bought in your car, and leave the property to maybe shop across the street, and the security guard sees you, it is the policy of the mall that your car will be towed. Regardless, if you are smart you will park in one of the town lots because if you think arguing with a security guard is a pain, wait till you see what kind of hoops you have to jump through to get your car back.

The Station

The Station, CarrboroThe original Carrboro train station is still standing. For many years it was The Station, a restaurant and rock club that hosted such bands as The Bad Brains, REM, The Dads and Secret Service. Then it went out of business and became a Chinese restaurant, a store that sold Lionel Trains, a cafe and a few other things. In the meantime, the railroad cars parked next to it have housed a number of bars, restaurants and cafes. In the evening the coolest people in Carrboro fill the bar car and the bar in the old terminal. This is one of the best places to eat and hang out in the area. At night The Station rocks and the crowds linger into the wee hours listening to Dexter Romwebber and other local and visiting acts. The bar was bought by the owners of Venable and the plan is to put a smokehouse in the front and a restaurant in the back. They say it will be a barbecue joint, something Carrboro desperately needs.

Weaver Street Market

Weaver Street Market, CarrboroThe center of Carrboro is Weaver Street Market, a natural foods grocery store and cafe with a big tree-shaded lawn that is a gathering place whenever the weather is nice, which is several hundred days a year. From spring to fall, there are concerts of local musicians on Thursday evenings and jazz on Sunday mornings. The picnic tables are a favorite place for people to come and eat and drink beer and wine on warm evenings or lazy afternoons. Celebrations like Earth Day or the annual Blessing of the Pets is also held here, and this is usually where you can find people setting up their information stands to collect petitions against whatever war we are in, to get Ralph Nader on the NC ballot, to close the Shearon Harris nuclear powerplant or any number of other noble causes. The best time to be here is for their wine tastings or when local reggae star Pluto shows up with his pots of chicken, turkey and pork to show off his Caribbean Bliss Jamaican Seasonings.  

Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina Just east of the mall on Main Street is Salon 211 where Jennifer cuts and styles hair in the longest and narrowest store space in Carrboro. It's right across the street from the musical Mecca of North Carolina, perhaps the state's greatest treasure, the jewel in the crown of Carolina culture. I am talking of course of the Cat's Cradle ,one of the best places in the world to hear your favorite band. To list who has not played at the Cat's Cradle would be easier than who has. The Beatles, the Stones, Beethoven and a couple others. I can think of several dozen of my favorite performers who I've seen there. For starters: Arrogance, Badfinger, Jonathan Richman, Al Stewart, Cheap Trick, Ben Folds Five, Bruce Cockburn, REM, Dave Davies, NRBQ, Nils Lofgren, Bad Brains, Del Amitri, Alex Chilton, John Mayall, Junior Brown, Let's Active, John Hiatt, Chris Stamey, Elliot Smith, Replacements, 3Mustaphas3, and probably a few hundred bands that are more famous then these but not to me. A club the size of the Cat's Cradle, situated midway between Atlanta and Washington is attractive to groups and promoters because it breaks up the trip and it's a college town. So performers who play the Cradle may have sold a million records a few years ago or may sell a million next year or they may sell fifty thousand of each of their records until they reach a million. But unless a performer has been raised in an incubator until they were ready to get their first multimillion dollar record deal and headline an arena tour, any band or singer who is making it the hard way and paying their dues will at some point in their career be at the stage when they are suited for playing the Cat's Cradle, and many of them do. And it's in tiny Carrboro. Frank Heath, who owns the club, has the reputation of being the nicest and most honest club owner in America, and bands love to play here because they're treated with respect and their shows are well promoted. Besides The Poster Guys, Frank Heath is the best flyer-putter-upper in North Carolina though he tends to delegate this job to the interns that he personally trains.

Check out this clip of Dixon at the Cradle doing  Fever . Also take a look at the Cat's Cradle calendars from bygone days. See also reviews of Chapel Hill/Carrboro Clubs Bars and Nightlife

The ArtsCenter

Michael Penn at Carrboro Art Center in Carrboro, North Carolina In the same little former Piggly-Wiggly supermarket shopping center that holds the Cat's Cradle, Avante Pizza, and Fleet Feet running store is The Arts Center. The center was created by Jacque Menache, a Frenchman who spent his life in Mexico City before coming to America in the late seventies. Fueled by the passion and hard work of Menache and the small group of talented people around him, the center grew so fast that they couldn't be contained in Carr Mill Mall. They bought the supermarket property and built the ArtsCenter into what it is today: a theater, classrooms, a large central gallery and several other multi-purpose rooms. For a while, the ArtsCenter was the pride of the town, attracting the best bands and performers, showing art films, lots of different classes, and putting out a monthly newsletter of everything that was coming up. Then, in a bloodless coup, Jacque was overthrown, and the era of growth ended. For awhile the center struggled with a lack of money, vision and leadership. But with a new director and an energetic and enthusiastic staff  The Art Center has been turned around and offers some high quality acts (I saw Sean Penn here and Johnny Winter, Chris Hillman and others have played there this year).They have been developing many other programs for adults, children and senion citizens and it is usually the best stop on the 2nd Friday Art Walk. As for Jacque Menache, he is now running Carrboro's very own radio station WCOM.

Surplus Syds, CarrboroSurplus Syd's is at this point a Carrboro landmark with his sidewalk display of whatver weird stuff he has found that someone might possibly want to buy. By definition it is what you might call an army surplus store but he has made it much more interesting. Next door is Milltown Restaurant which is similar to Tylers down the street, with good old American food and lots of interesting beers. Stop here for a spectacular selection of draught beers including probably the largest number of Belgian Ales that you will find anywhere which go nicely with their Belgian-style fries and mussel dishes. The bartenders know a lot about beer and if Chad is cooking you can count on interesting specials. It's a good place to watch the game on one of their giant projection screens. In fact the only time they have the TV on is when there is a big game. They also have a wonderful Octoberfest Celebration, Cinco de Mayo, Saint Patrick's Day, and any kind of holiday celebration they can think of. 

Hampton Inn, CarrboroRight across the street is the Hampton Inn, a very large hotel with a swimming pool on the roof. If you are coming to Carrboro for a show or to eat and drink this is where you should stay. It is right in the midst of everything. It does not have a hotel bar which is kind of disappointing however there are 3 restaurants (and counting) on the ground floor, and shops including Womencraft, a cooperative that features stuff made by our moms and ex-girlfriends, and Cameron's Crafts which saw the writing on the wall and escaped from University Mall to Carrboro. Next door is the Calavela Empanada and Tequila Bar which is the second link of a chain that began in Raleigh. They also own the meatball shop next door. But if you thought the one thing missing from Carrboro was a huge American-style sports bar with dozens of TVs showing every game in the world (except the one you want to see if you are a NY Mets fan) then you will be happy to know that Hickory Tavern is open and sucking the life out of the smaller locally owned places where we used to watch the game. Anyway it is mostly for tourists from Raleigh or the outskirts of Chapel Hill.

Eastern Carrboro

Gay Mural in CarrboroWhere Rosemary and Franklin streets actually meet is the building that used to house Marathon Pizza but now is empty. The mural on the wall left over from the Greek restaurant has become famous as one of the first openly gay murals in North Carolina. It was actually not created as a gay mural. It is supposed to be two Olympic athletes competing in ancient Greece and probably came from a design on a plate or a coffee cup from a New York diner. Across the street is Carrburritos, owned by my favorite California person, Gail, and her jazz bass-playing husband, Bill. If it's not the best Mexican restaurant in greater Chapel Hill, it's at least the best in Carrboro or maybe the best in Carrboro that is not owned by actual Mexicans. Fantastic burritos, ceviche and the best collection of complimentary salsas in an informal atmosphere that reminds me of a small cafeteria on acid. It's all self-service, but you can make a lot of friends in the line on Friday and Saturday night and it's a pleasure to hand your money to a beautiful smiling California girl at the very end who always seems to be in a good mood. They also have a small outdoor patio so you can eat your burrito and drink your cerveza under the stars. And what could make more sense after a nice filling Mexican meal than to go upstairs to the Kosala Mahayanna Buddhist Center for classes and meditations.

Bleeker St Gallery in Carrboro, North Carolina  In the old gas station right next door to Carrburritos is the new coffee-shop called Jesse's Coffee & Bar with a comfortable environment and a menu of all coffees, teas, beer, wines, fruit drinks, deserts and they serve breakfast too! Great coffee and there is an outdoor area too. Actually I think they changed the name. It probably doesn't matter. They still serve coffee. Across the street, where Main Street has to veer off to connect with Franklin Street, is one of the wonders of the modern world, what was once Ted Bleeker's Bleeker Street Gallery, was not only built entirely from mung-bean and alfalfa sprouts but was built by one man and his dog. There were spaces for artists to work as well as hold exhibitions and it was a popular stop during Carrborro's 2nd Friday Art Walk, held the second Friday of each month. Unfortunately when Ted died of cancer the gallery was bought by Fleet Feet, the local running shoes company and they pretty much gutted it leaving the outside as the only evidence of the work that Ted spent the last 10 years of his life on. In case you are wondering, they did not buy it to keep it as a gallery or workshop for artists, but it will still be included during the Second Friday Art Walks.

Not only are the many galleries open with wine and food and of course some art to go with it, but even some of the businesses take part and become art galleries for that night. Recently The 2nd Friday Art Walk added Chapel Hill's Ackland Museum to their long list of venues.

Nice Price Books, Carrboro, North Carolina Next door to the former Bleeker Street is Nice Price Books and CDs, which sells used books, and CDs of course. Well they used to. They closed in 2013 and now it is a bicycle shop. Across the street is Gates of Beauty owned by the man known as PeaceMaker, a fine body worker and a legend in this town, who lost 35 cars when the hotel behind his shop burned down. Beyond Peacemaker is a no-man's land of muffler shops and corporate pizza until you get to Brewer Lane, where you'll find Automotion, where Ronny from Brazil fixes my car every other week with help from Daye Thorpe, a fine guitar player and mechanical wiz. Brewer Lane also has the Tai Kwan Do School and Apartments, where you can totally live, eat, sleep and breathe martial arts. If you continue down Brewer Lane, you'll pass Kitchen Mastering, where you can get your CD mastered and manufactured before taking a right on the Elizabeth Cotton Memorial Bike Path. Elizabeth Cotton was a local blues singer who wrote the song Freight Train back when the mill was shipping their cotton goods all over the country by rail. The path brings you past a cement factory, the remains of Butler's Junkyard and what looks like a small oil refinery, until you find yourself right back in the middle of Carrboro. There was a club located in the back side of the car wash but by the time I got around to writing about it, it was out of business. This happens sometimes.

Midtown Carrboro

Carrboro Century Center If you walk west on Main Street, you'll come to the old church that is now the Carrboro Century Center, which is to Carrboro as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, or the Golden Gate Bridge is to San Francisco. It is used as a performance and dance hall, hosting, among others, the area Swing Dancers, who make being a couple fun, at least for a few hours or so. This is where they have the bi-annual Carrboro CD and Record Show which attracts dealers and collectors from all over North Carolina. Behind the Century Center you'll find the Club Nova Mural, which was a giant mural broken up into boxes which were painted by Carrboro children and members of Club Nova, a mental health organization built to address the needs of Orange County citizens living with mental illness. It was a lovely mural. I say was because a few years ago there was this fellow who owned an historical building and he had the name of his company painted on the side. The town made him remove it because it was considered a commercial billboard since he had moved his company to another location. In an act of revenge he hired two homeless guys to paint over the mural. (He actually bragged to me that he was going to do something to make a political statement the day before he did it though he did not tell me what he was going to do). It was a scandal and the guy left town forever and later they hired an artist to paint another mural.

Parked in front of it are the newest, fastest most powerful looking police cars in the state. The Recreation Department has their offices in the Century Center for their many classes, baseball, basketball and various seasonal sports and events.

Speakeasy, CarrboroRight across the street is Tyler's Restaurant and Taproom, which is owned by former School of the Arts and NYC ballet dancer Tyler Huntington, who was one of the most promising dancers in the state before he injured his back.Tyler proves that it sometimes takes someone with the sensitivity of a ballet dancer to create a place where beer-drinking sports fans can feel comfortable. Tyler's has a large menu that mixes American, European and bistro food, great nachos and lots and lots of different kinds of beer. It's a decent all-purpose restaurant in Carrboro, where you'll find college students, families and senior citizens all eating and drinking beer together. There's a wood-burning pizza oven right next to the secret door that is the entrance to the Speakeasy(photo), where you can watch girls playing pool and guys trying to pick them up. On the other side of Tyler's and in fact owned by Tyler is the Carrboro Beverage Company which is a brew-lovers dream. They have beer tastings too on Thursday nights but you can go there just about any time and they will give you a taste of whatever they have on tap.

Open Eye Cafe, CarrboroOn South Greensboro Street is the Open Eye Cafe, which besides having local art on the walls and bluegrass and folk performer. It's one of the simple pleasures of being an artist in Carrboro to sit outside at the cafe tables and watch people with real jobs on the way to and from work before heading home to figure out how you're going to eat tonight or pay last month's rent by yesterday. In September of 2005 they took over the building that used to house Scott's Rent-all ("Nobody rents anymore-if they need something they just buy it" says Terry the final owner). We will miss Terry but the new Open Eye is ten times large than the old one and they are doing their own roasting at 6am which makes my neighborhood smell delicious. (Do you know anything that smells better than roasting coffee with the exception of  the smell that comes from Chinese restaurants? If  coffee and Chinese food tasted as good as it smelled I would be a 500 pound insomniac).

Matt NealNext-door is Neal's Deli, owned by my pal Matt Neal, son of the late Bill Neal, probably the most famous southern chef ever, who with Gene Hammer opened Crook's Corner, one of the best restaurants in Chapel Hill. Nealís Deli opened in April 2008. Sheila and Matt Neal are co-owners. They present deli food often using seasonal and local ingredients. Amazing hot and cold sandwiches, breakfast including homemade buttermilk biscuits, salads and even beer. Across the street is Steel String Brewery, a local craft beer outlet which shares the building with Glass Half Full, a sort of wine-bar-tapas restaurant that attracts a clientele of people who would rather drink wine, talk and nibble at hors devours than gorge. Its one of the best places to hang out and meet people, with a large horseshoe shaped bar and a mature and interesting clientele. The fact that is less than 100 yards from my house is not the only reason I am a regular here. I really like the place and the owners and employees are nice too.  Behind it is 5th Season Gardening Company which specializes in organic and hydroponic agriculture. Organic and hydroponic gardening can reduce water usage, increase yields, reduce pest and disease problems, replenish dead soil and increase microbial life, thereby stimulating long-term and sustainable plant production. They are also the center for beer making activity with a large selection of equipment and ingredients for Carrboro's ever-growing beer-making community. Right next door to Glass Half Full is Steel String Brewery which opened in April of 2013 and is making delicious beers on the premises. From the very beginning they attracted crowds of beer lovers and wandering musicians.

Cliff's Meat Market in Carrboro, North Carolina Across the street on Main is Cliff's Meat Market , the last of Carrboro's small family-run grocery stores, where they still make their own sausage and sell any kind of meat you want, including goat, rabbit, pigs feet, fatback and chittlins. Cliff's is the place to be in the late afternoon and on Saturdays, when many of the old local people come in for their meat supplies and members of the Latin population come for the amazing spicy chorizo sausage. In the same little group of shops is yet another antique shop and, as would be expected in a community where everyone has a bicycle, a bike shop. Across the street is the Club Nova Thrift shop and a few steps farther is the PTA Thrift Shop. Right across fClub Nova is the IFC, or Interfaith Council, an organization that assists and supports people in need through staff-volunteer partnerships, congregations, individuals and community coalitions. The IFC provide shelter, food, direct services, advocacy and information to people in need.

Akai Hana Japanese Restaurant in Carrboro, North Carolina Going west on Main is  Akai Hana, part of the collected works of two of my favorite authors: Lee Smith, who is perhaps North Carolina's most popular contemporary writer, and celebrated columnist Hal Crowther, who, despite the fact that I agree with everything he says, is probably the least popular among people who are not residents of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and pockets of Raleigh and Durham. The restaurant is a vehicle for their friend and sushi-chef Bob Huneycutt, who spent years in Japan learning the art of sushi-making. The photo though is of Josh, Lee's son who I became friends with by hanging out at the counter at the Skylight Exchange. For years we made small talk and one day I came in and heard the most beautiful piano music I had ever heard. It was Josh. He had not even mentioned he played. A few years later he was working at Akai Hana, doing prep work, learning to make sushi and playing piano at night. Then one day he died. I think of him every time I walk by the restaurant. Wednesday night all entrees are $12.95.

If you keep walking up main you will pass the Ink Spot which as its name suggests is a copy center for people who would rather give their business to a small business, rather than Kinkos, or prefer to be able to park. Looking Glass Cafe coffee shop has a nice outdoor area and good coffee too plus a smoke-shop-boutique with a pool table in the back.

Acme restaurant in Carrboro, North Carolina If you go back to Main Street in downtown Carrboro, Acme Food and Beverage compares favorably with Elaine's, Crooks Corner and The Lantern in Chapel Hill which some national food critics include in their favorite restaurants in America lists. Kevin, who opened the restaurant in the old hardware store played manager-maitre' d for years and a succession of chefs, some great and some not so great. Finally taking matters into his own hands he took off his suit and went back into the kitchen and became the chef himself with surprisingly delicious results. Acme serves generous portions of local vegetables, steaks, fish, pastas and is in my opinion one of the best restaurants in the triangle.  The menu goes through changes with specials every week but there are some staples you can almost always count on, including the fried calamari, which is more like a fried-squid salad or slaw than your typical fried squid rings. Now that Kevin is the chef the quality is always good, or has been everytime I have gone there which is a couple times a week. It is also the place to be on Sunday for their brunch. If I have not convinced you yet let me add that they give big portions and you leave Acme feeling like you have gotten your money's worth. You can get their weekly specials and events e-mailed to you by writing to kevin@acmecarrboro.com  who in my opinion is the most entertaining weekly restaurant newsletter writer in the biz. Come on Tuesday night when all entrees are $12.95.

Orange County Social ClubAll Day Records is located at 112A E Main Street and specializes in vinyl. If there is music you want they can find it and even convert it to CD. Walk past a few law offices and architects who are taking up valuable shop space for businesses that could easily be upstairs in an office, and you will come to Orange County Social Club which gave a home to all of us who had nowhere to go when Chapel Hill's Hardback Cafe closed and has remained an essential part of Carrboro nightlife. It's quiet in the day and even in the early evening but after 10pm it gets more crowded and when the Cradle show lets out many people head for OCSC. It is also a good place to watch the Tarheels play, with a couple normal TVs and a big projector. Like just about everywhere else they have a big celebration for New Year's Eve, Halloween, Cinco de Mayo, Saint Patrick's Day, Jack Whitebread's Birthday and many other popular Carrboro holidays. Across the street is the Jade Palace Chinese Restaurant, with a very friendly staff who always make you feel that you should eat here more often. I love the homemade kimchee. Try the Hibachi Shrimp or the eggplant with hot garlic sauce. They serve brown rice too.

Spotted Dog restaurantPast the former year-round Christmas-tree lot is the Spotted Dog in the oddly shaped building that used to be Bullwinkles Bar and later Spring Gardens. When Spring Gardens closed, this building sat empty for years. One night I hung up some posters that said "COMING SOON: HOOTERS!" with the Hooters logo I had gotten from a book of matches and had blown up at CO Copies. This sparked an avalanche of calls to the mayor, to the owners of the building, to the newspapers and to the corporate offices of Hooters from an army of horrified Carrborians. A year later it was open, not as a Hooters but as a family restaurant with burgers, pastas and some great salads like the Tofudabeast. This was proof that activism goes a lot further when combined with humor. I can't think of any restaurant less like a Hooters than the Spotted Dog. Their motto is "We do tofu right".

Gourmet Kingdom, CarrboroFinally let me mention the Gourmet Kingdom, across the street from the Cat's Cradle at 301 East Main street. "With over 150 authentic dishes created for you by Chinese chefs directly from Szechuan Province, Gourmet Kingdom offers a unique eating experience and will forever transform your idea of Chinese cuisine." This is putting in mildly. The menu is mostly in Chinese. The clientele is mostly Chinese. The staff barely speak English. The food is mostly amazing. Try the crispy whole fish in black bean sauce or the fish filets in spicy Szechuan sauce. The sauteed green chile peppers are actually stuffed jalapenos and were too spicy for most of the people at our table but not for me. The pig's ears were about what you would expect pig's ears to be like. Worth trying just for the sake of water-cooler conversation but probably not a staple. The Chinese greens and green beans make a healthy and delicious side dish. I have only been here three times (twice this week) but as I become more familiar with the restaurant I will add more favorite dishes. They say to avoid it on Saturday because Chinese people come from all over the Triangle and the waiters can barely keep up and the ones that can't speak English very well get confused and bring the wrong dishes. But if you go on a weekday it is fine and they have all sorts of specials like deep-fried whole lobster and frog's legs and other things you might not even want to eat but it would be fun to tell your friends that you tried.

The Carrboro Scene

AndyWhile the lawn at Weaver Street may be the center of Carrboro for families and conventional people, the center of nighttime activity seems to be The Station, where there is often live music going on and never a cover charge. People tend to drift in and out of various places because there are so many cool places within walking distance that there is no need to stay put. So on a normal Saturday night you may go to the Station for a beer or a shot, walk over to Milltown, go to the Cradle for one show or walk into Chapel Hill to Local 506 for another, then stop by Bowbar on the way back to Carrboro where you pass through the Tiger Room or go to the Bar Car at the station and maybe end the night at OCSC, unless somebody is having a party in which case your night may not end. When making the rounds don't forget the Speakeasy because they have music here sometimes as well. Also Second Wind has live music and has gone from being a juice bar to a regular bar and they have bluegrass every Wednesday. People from Carrboro love Trivia and many of the bars, like The Station, Tylers and Armadillo Grill have Trivia nights.

Carrboro Fish

Tom Robinson's Fish Market in Carrboro, North Carolina Behind the main street of Carrboro and across from the Emergency Rescue Station is Tom Robinson's Seafood , where you can get fresh fish on Thursday through Saturday, driven in from the coast. Tom started out in an outdoor stand in Chapel Hill in what was the first outdoor fruit and vegetable market in town. Tom left the area and went overseas to work and study and finally returned to reopen in its present location. His specialty is seasonal fish from the coast of North Carolina, and so what he sells depends on what they're catching. Some of my favorites are his fresh oysters in the shell or already shucked, king mackerel, bluefish, North Carolina shrimp and live blue crabs and soft-shell crabs. You gottas get there early on Thursday to pick out the best blue crabs. They have some non-NC fish like Norwegian smoked salmon and fresh Atlantic salmon. Tom was very involved in the conservation of the North Carolina coast and coaching youth basketball. Sadly he died in 2010 and his staff are now running the place. It is still the best place to buy fish in Chapel Hill and Carrboro and most of the restaurants buy here too.

TIP: I used to buy octopus from Tom, and instead of beating it on a rock like they do in Greece I put it in a cuisinart with the bread-kneading blade rather than the cutting blade for about a minute to make it tender. Not much longer, or it makes it mush. Then I grill it. You may have to special order the octopus though because they don't always have it.

Music Stores in Carrboro

Chapel Hill doesn't have a musical instrument shop. Carrboro has three, but with Bryan's Music doing mostly mail-order and internet sales the only walk-in and play music stores are The Music Loft on Main Street and Carrboro Music a couple doors down in the Tim Peck Building at 204 West Main. With a great collection of new and used acostic and electric guitars, bases and amps, and friendly people who know how to play them work at both places. There is also a music school affiliated with the loft where my daughter took bass lessons from Robert Sledge, former bass-player of Ben Folds Five. In fact if you call them for lessons you never know who will be your teacher since there are so many great musicians in the neighborhood, many from bands you have actually heard of. By the way Bryan's Music used to be called Gibson's Music but he was taken to court by Gibson Guitar and told that he could not use that name, even though Gibson happens to be his last name.

Carrboro Farmers Market

Eco Farms, Chapel Hill, NCOn Saturdays, (if I wake up in time) I go to the Carrboro Farmer's Market, where about a hundred farmers sell their seasonal vegetables, fruits, meats, cakes, crafts, plants and cheeses in what is said to be one of the best farmer's markets in the USA. It has been open since 1979 making it one of the oldest. Located at the Carrboro Town Commons, adjacent to Town Hall at 301 West Main Street, the Market features a regional variety of seasonal vegetables and fruits, flower arrangements and flowers to arrange, cow and goats milk cheeses, meats, prepared foods such as jams and pickles, baked goods, bedding and landscape plants, herbs, honey, value-added farm products such as soap and mohair weavings, and a limited number of artistic craft items such as metal works, pottery, pressed flowers, baskets, and quilts. My sister and her family sell their organic vegetables here and my mother sells her knitted hats and sock dolls at the Eco-Farms stand. They also provide many of the restaurants with their various lettuces and arugala and now have expanded into the hog business as so many organic farmers have, something that nobody would ever have expected to happen twenty years ago. Though most of the young people who hit the clubs and bars wake up too late to ever see it, the market is a nice meeting place on Saturday mornings and the best place to do your meat, fruit and vegetable shopping for the week, supporting local farmers instead of giant agri-business corporations that are filling you and your children with pesticides. The covered area also hosts displays for Carrboro Day and a Crafts fair. The Farmers Market is open on Wednesday afternoons though not in the winter. They have a special market on Wednesday before thanksgiving.

Carrboro Music Festival

Carrboro Music FestivalEvery year, Carrboro hosts the Carrboro Music Festival with a couple hundred bands and solo performers playing on several dozen stages indoor and outdoor. Originally this festival was called Le Fete De Musique. Jerry Williams, who moved to Carrboro from Georgetown in DC to open his Roots Record and CD store, has turned it from a local event to something that attracts people from all over the Triangle by bringing in great acts playing a variety of styles and changing the name from Le Fete De Musique , because so many people didn't know what it meant and didn't come. Besides making the festival a success and bringing a great used-record and CD store, which the town was unable to support, Jerry was responsible for bringing some terrific acts to the ArtsCenter and for Carrboro hosting the annual Carrboro CD and Record Show, where collectors from all over the Southeast come to buy, sell and exchange rare music on CD and vinyl, held in the Carrboro Century Center.

Once a year in May, Carrboro hosts Carrboro Day at the Town Hall and Farmer's Market with arts and crafts and usually a band or two.

Changing Carrboro

Carrboro. Frienly BarbershopWhile local entrepenuers are doing their best to make Carrboro and fun and interesting place, the town officlals seem to have their hands tied by bureaucracy and lack of money. Visually, downtown Carrboro needs a little work. The sidewalks are a little too narrow to inspire the type of shopping and pedestrian traffic that Chapel Hill has. The traffic patterns, courtesy of the NC Dept. of Transportation, seem like they were created by some guy at a desk who did it by looking at a map while he was arguing with his wife on the phone. Getting through town at rush hour or crossing the street can be a frustrating experience even though the new crosswalks give the pedestrians the right of way. The cars have to stop and usually they do. Still, there is the Wendy's entrance right after the traffic light at the corner of Main and S Greensboro Street which invites rear end collisions caused by drivers who can't wait to get in the half hour line for their fast food. OK. I understand that anyone who eats at Wendy's has to be ignorant or not care about their health. But to give them the opportunity to sue someone who is smart enough to not eat at Wendy's for rear-ending them does not seem fair. But that being said, Carrboro has a lot going for it. More walk-able than just about any town or city in North America, plans are in the works to make it even more pedestrian friendly.

The Station in Carrboro, North Carolina Carrboro is one of the few places in America that when someone buys a piece of real estate downtown, they invite the whole community to a meeting and let the people tell the developers what they would like to see done with the property. Then the developers do whatever they were gonna do in the first place but at least there is dialogue and the illusion of cooperation, both important in a functioning democracy. The town has seen its share of development, and areas that were woods and farms are now houses and streets, but for the most part it's been very sensible. One reason is because the town is very strict about what you can and can't do with your property, and in some situations neighborhoods have risen up in arms against a plan. An example is the tiny street of Old Pittsboro Road, with its single-dwelling houses and lots of wooded area. Real Estate Associates, a developing company, came in and decided to get rid of the woods and build an apartment complex for students in this tiny residential neighborhood. The Old Pittsboro Road neighbors fought back, bringing experts in several fields to testify about environmental and traffic impact and the dangers of having a couple hundred college students plunked into the middle of a small family neighborhood. In the end, the neighbors won and the developers lost, something that rarely happens in America.  More recently the community united in stopping a new CVS Pharmacy from being built on the corner of Weaver and North Greensboro Street because it would have meant demolishing several historic houses. Unfortunately 2 years later the property that was going to be the CVS looks like a scene out of urban Detroit and the forest that the Old Pittsboro Road people fought to stop from being developed was bulldozed anyway and 3 enormous apartment buildings for students are now there. Oh well. You can't win them all.

Frank Porter Graham Elementary School

Frank Porter Graham Elementary School in Carrboro, North Carolina Many of the people who grew up in Carrboro attended Frank Porter Graham Elementary School, one of the best schools in the state, due to its ability to attract some of the best teachers in the state. There are two other elementary schools in Carrboro, Seawell and Carrboro. At the end of the year, the Frank Porter Graham Elementary School holds its annual dance, where each grade does a performance outside on the basketball court. By the time a student has reached the fifth grade, he or she has done the Chicken Dance in kindergarten and seen it every year since. Even people who are now adults have performed the Chicken Dance and remember it. It's a rite of passage in Carrboro. That's why for the first time on the Internet, I am presenting for those of you who have never been to or had a child in school here, the FPG Kindergarten class of 2003 doing The Chicken Dance .

While FPG is a progressive school, there is a problem which I would like to use this page to bring attention to. It's the absence of sidewalks leading to the school. The school is a sort of island that can only be reached by car. People who want to walk their kids to school or ride bikes are risking their lives every day. The problem, I assume, is no money in the school budget and a Depart. of Transportation that doesn't believe in sidewalks. In fact, if you walk or drive around Carrboro and Chapel hill you'll be amazed at how the roads controlled by the state are unfit for pedestrians. In some places, they've painted a line on the edge of the road so that if you're on a bike and you're within the line and the shoulder, an area of about six inches, cars are not allowed to run you over. Most people assume that because of Chapel Hill and Carrboro's left-of-center politics, sensible ideas like sidewalks and bike lanes are put on the back burner by the State of North Carolina in order to have money for more important projects like building a private road for the fat-cats who donated money to the Smith Center, so they can avoid traffic after games.

Sculptures of Carrboro

Dinosaur sculpture in Carrboro Another unique thing about Carrboro is the number of large sculptures that have been placed on lawns all over town. In the same way that Chapel Hill has murals scattered around, you can't walk down the street in Carrboro without coming across a sculpture, from the giant fountain birds at Weaver Street to my favorite, the dinosaur thing in front of the Century Center. My favorite used to be the helicopter on Weaver Street that was so convincing that a man used to sit on it every day and pretend he was a pilot. One day they both were gone and I like to think that he flew it away. If you want to see some amazing sculptures go to the corner of West Main and Poplar Street where there is a garden full, created by award-winning artist Mike Roig.

Parks and Trails and Wildlife

Carrboro ParkCarrboro is surrounded by farms and forests and in some cases these farms and forests have been turned into developments and in some cases the developers have taken advantage of the location and created systems of trails and paths along the nearby streams and creeks. From Wilson Park you can leave the safety of the baseball diamond, tennis courts, swings and see-saws and follow the paths through the woods and find yourself on Bolin Creek where you can walk north to Chapel Hill High, or south along Umstead Drive all the way to University Mall in Chapel Hill. If you take Highway 54 towards Burlington about a mile out of town is Anderson Park which has a small lake, with fish that you can catch and maybe even eat, paths through the woods, a dog park, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, picnic tables and barbeques and even some ducks and migrating geese and of course deer which are so common that they have become a nuisance the way rats and pigeons are in cities. Only these are a lot worse on your garden or your car when you hit one.

Bird watchers will be happy to see cardinals, wrens, sparrows, colorful finches, woodpeckers and sapsuckers come to eat at their feeders and less happy to see squirrels who come and eat 90% of the seeds and cats who come to eat the birds, and hawks that come to eat the squirrels and the birds and maybe the cat if it is hungry enough. Raccoons and possum come at night looking for food in the recycling bins, carefully removing each can and bottle and scattering them around your yard. Groundhogs will venture from their tunnels and eat anything in your garden that the deer have left. If you have a pond you may wake up one day and experience the excitement and the other emotions that come when you discover a Great Blue Heron has eaten all your koi and is staring at you as if to ask what's for desert? Squirrels may move into your attic and start chewing through the beams, walls, insulation and wireing. You may feel the thrill of being surprised by a three foot long black snake or copperhead while tending your roses. There are even foxes which prowl the streets at night. The good news is that there is nothing that can actually eat you, (except mosquitoes). There are no lions, tigers, bears or sharks in Carrboro.

So there you have it. The good with the bad of this little town of Carrboro, that has been the toast of Paris and has become one of the best places to live in North Carolina. But I have to say that this past summer and much of last year I spent in Greece and met a lot of people from Paris and none of them had ever heard of Carrboro!

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