When I arrived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on the last day of January 1975 I
thought I had died and gone to heaven. I had just spent the last year living
with my parents in Long Island, New York after returning from four years in
Athens Greece. In Greece we had been living under the dictatorship which was in
place from 1967 to 1974. Though there was an underground music scene and some
terrific bands, my friends and I longed to be in America where we could actually
see bands whose albums we owned. We wanted to return to the land where girls
wore faded blue-jeans and cut-offs and you could go on dates by car and not the
public bus. Sure we had it great in Greece going to the islands for weekends and
holidays and meeting hippy chicks on their way to and from India but there was
this mystique America had for us.
But after the first summer I was souring on the USA in a big way. Yeah you could go to concerts but if it was someone popular you had to wait for hours at a ticket-tron in some mall and when the first few people in front of you were buying five-hundred tickets a-piece you had to wonder if there was not something amiss, especially if they sold out before your turn. Kids my age didn't go to the Plaka and drink retsina in the shadow of the Acropolis. They drove their
cars to McDonalds
hung out in the parking lot and maybe they would find someone old enough to buy beer and then they would go to someone's home whose parents worked late or to the woods or who knows where, maybe a junkyard or a deserted warehouse. Working for minimum wage in a luncheonette and living with my parents was not the romantic life in America I had envisioned and to top it all Long Island was freezing and I did not know how to drive. My first impression of life in America was "This place sucks!"
Then one day I received an offer hard to turn down. It was from my friends from Greece, Ed Leight and Rick Miller (now Parthenon Huxley) who were living in Chapel Hill, going to the University of North Carolina. "We have Led Zeppelin tickets. Come on down". So one ice-encrusted NY day I got on a
bus and made
my way down south. When I
off the bus at the old Franklin Street bus station it was 11pm and so warm I removed my winter jacket, then my sweater and walked uptown for the first time. It felt like spring and there was a parade of boys and girls my age making their way to bars like He's Not Here and Town Hall. I could hear rock music coming from cars and bars. This was the America I was seeking.
I spent the rest of the winter and the spring living in my friends' dorm room doing all the things that Carolina students did back then with the exception of going to class. I dated girls from Carolina. I ate my meals at the Pine Room Cafeteria. I went to High-Noon at the UNC Bell Tower where throngs of students smoked pot every Friday in preperation for the beginning of the weekend. I went to the keys for Spring Break. I met Jimmy Carter in the Great
the Carolina Union before anyone but the 10 people in the room had ever heard of him. I saw speakers like Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, Ram Dass, Buckminister Fuller and other heroes. I even got a job.
When my money began to run out I went to the place I knew would hire me, a Greek fast-food restaurant. Hector's was owned by Pete Galifinakis and managed and run by Greeks. I told them I was Greek and they hired me. The next day it burned down. My first job was shoveling the burnt debris into a dumptruck for Gus Kastrinakis
just moved into town. For the next five years I worked in Greek restaurants, went to bars, clubs and concerts, had girlfriends and some summers I even went to Greece. I spent the eighties playing in my own band: The Dads, then playing solo, while making a living putting up flyers. I spent the nineties raising a family, writing about Greece and going back and forth between that country and Chapel Hill. In that time a lot has changed in Chapel Hill but a
lot of what made me love the place on that warm night in
January is still the same.
The Town of Chapel Hill
The University of North Carolina is the reason there is a Chapel Hill. This
was just a spot on a map in the middle of the woods by a spring that someone
decided in the 1700's would make a great place for a University. The
land around it was auctioned off as depicted in the mural
in the downtown post office and thus Chapel Hill was born. Back
in those days Universities were private institutions, mostly for the children
of the rich and powerful so they could become the next generation of the rich
and powerful. UNC was the first public university. It was a school for the people,
not just the privileged and the campus and the town were built from scratch.
They have both grown. UNC is still one of the most respected Universities in
the country with over 20,000 students and Chapel Hill is one of the most progressive
towns in the south, if not the most
progressive town in the south.
The town government in Chapel Hill as you might imagine is a progressive
one. The politics of the area is progressive too with the vast majority voting liberal
Democrat, drawing the ire of the state's well known and fortunately retired
Jesse Helms who did not see the need for a Zoo when all they had to do was put
a fence around Chapel Hill and once referred to UNC as the "University of Negroes
and Communists". Nowadays there are a lot more SUVs than there are VW vans but
Chapel Hill is still a bastion of a dying creed known as liberalism.
Once known as The Southern Part of Heaven some of its holiness has been tarnished
by the influx of Northerners, Easterners and Westerners, a lack of affordable
housing that is sending a generation of artists back home to live in their parents
basement, and a traffic problem that can make you feel like you are in a big
city during the 5pm rush-hour which thankfully is a short hour. Still it is a damn nice place to live and to hear it from newcomers, a
lot better than wherever it is they came from, though the old timers will
tell you that it ain't what it used to be. But is anything?
The 100 Block of Chapel Hill
The 100 block of Franklin street is the hub of Chapel Hill and has gone through many changes. The old Carolina Theater became a GAP which paid big bucks for their space which caused commercial rents to go through the roof. Then they left. The Intimate Bookshop,
driven out of business by the changing times and an inability to compete with the Borders and Barnes and Nobles of the world, not to mentiojn Amazon.com, is now a shop that sells perfume last time I looked, or is it a college text-book store? The Shrunken Head, which was a head-shop in the early seventies with blacklight posters and hash pipes has become one of the tourist shops selling everything an alumni needs to turn his child into an instant Tarheel fan from T-shirts to socks and underwear.
Town Hall, where I used to go hear bands like Arrogance, became a mini-mall
that has seen a parade of tenants and is now home to Johnny's T-Shirts, Cosmic Cantina and a Subway. Julian's which
used to be owned and run by Milton Julian a nice fellow who ran around town tearing down the flyers that were put up by the clubs and bands, is now run by his famous son Alexander Julian. Ye Old Waffle Shop has been serving breakfast since long before I came into town. Sutton's and The Carolina Coffee Shop have been serving breakfast since before I was born. In fact since before my parents were born.
Probably the saddest loss was the Hardback Cafe which stood between Franklin and Rosemary on Columbia Street and was the home-away-from-home of poets, rock-stars, artists, novelists and restaurant workers, many of whom worked at the Cafe-Bookstore, one of the first in the country. Thankfully a few businesses
Chapel Hill's march to turn Franklin Street into an outdoor mall by property owners who would rather see their storefronts empty than make them affordable. The Varsity Theater is showing classic films and Stuart Hoyle was the perfect archtype of the independent theater manager, but sadly he is gone too, or at least not at the Varsity as far as I know. Pepper's Pizza was not been taken over in a hostile bid by Pizza Hut but you can no longer get great pizza made by rock musicians
and artists because in 2013 they finally went under, unable to compete with the dozens of fast food restaurants that have taken over Franklin street.
Downtown Chapel Hill by day is a parade of people of all ages on their way to buy things. At night it is a parade of young people on their way to party at the large number of bars, clubs, pool-halls, restaurants and cafes on the 100 block. What are the coolest places nowadays? Don't ask me. I am no longer cool. But if you
follow the crowds on a weekend night you can probably find somewhere where you can stand in line and wait to be allowed in just like you can in New York or LA. Where you probably won't need to stand in line unless it is at the bar to get a beer is He's Not Here, a watering hole for generations of students and Chapel Hillians and still going strong, located in the courtyard behind Carribou Coffee,
a converted gas station, now awaiting new tenants. The Library is a club that took over the space where Taco Bell finally accepted their defeat, giving the students live music, as well as a name that will put their parents at ease. "I'm going to The Library tonight, mom."
In the sixties and seventies Franklin street was full of street venders selling beads, pipes, and other interesting things. In the seventies they out-lawed this making an exception of the black women who sold the flowers who were exiled into the hallway of what is now the Bank America Building. The
street venders were replaced by the homeless who had easy access when the shelter took over what had been the Police Department on the corner of Rosemary and Franklin. This seemed to make some locals uncomfortable and combined with the problems of finding a parking space sent many to do their shopping in the malls and shopping centers that were sprouting up around the town. The town tried to stem the tide by adding a giant parking deck with a rooftop garden and pavilion that never got the kind of attention they
hoped it would and by putting up signs for people not to give to the homeless but to donate instead to the Interfaith Council which would support the shelter. Later they made a law that is was illegal to solicit money at night. This may be a good idea or an easy solution but the problem with downtown Chapel Hill, (if you believe there is a problem,) is grossly overpriced rents and the owners of buildings who would rather let a space stay empty for years and write it off, than lower the rent and allow a young
to increase the diversity of a downtown which prides itself on it's diversity but has become less so.
The not so newly renovated University Square had been bringing in new tenants and changing the face of the small shopping center in the shadow of the five high-rises that occupy the space where the old high school used to be. But the fact remains that this tribute to the poor planning of the seventies is an eyesore to the town. The style of University Square
is better suited to US 15-501, not in the middle of downtown. The best thing you can say about it is that it is easy to park. But had the original designers the intelligence to put the shops on the sidewalk of Franklin Street and put all the parking behind them we would have a bridge to West Franklin instead of the impression that the town ends here so lets turn around and go back to the 100 block. But what can you do? It's there. It can't be moved, and now there is a nice little oasis in downtown Chapel Hill
where rich people can park their SUVs, jump out and shop and not be bothered by the homeless people who can't hang out there because it is private property. Time-Out served chicken and biscuits and burgers and roast Turkey and just about anything a college student would want at 3am after a night of heavy partying or sitting in your apartment with a few friends, a few movies and a bong. They were the last tenants to leave University Square and moved to the old location of Hector's next to the Post Office. Now they plan to bring down the entire shopping center and start again.
Across the street from University Square is the Lime and Basil, a far-eastern restaurant that specializes in pho, a traditional soup-like dish of meat and noodles in a slow-cooked broth that's simmered overnight in meat and herbs. It is in the same building that used to hold Michael Jordan's Steakhouse which along with baseball was one of the few career moves for Michael that you can actually say "well that didn't quite work out". It became an Aveda Institute, teaching hundreds of women a year how to do hair and nails and whatever it is they were learning under the basketball shaped dome
of the former restaurant, before they moved to Univserity Mall. Right across Church Street is 140 West Franklin Street, a new shopping and residential development that has closed the gap between east and west. The design is actually well thought out and features a big plaza at the intersection of Franklin and Church and I imagine the views from the apartments must be pretty amazing since the Rosemary street side of the building is 8 stories high. Anyway I am not one of those people who cringes at downtown development. I say bring it on but
be sensible. It appears the group who built 140 West Franklin are.
Across the street from the 100 block is the University of
North Carolina's McCorkle Place, a large green, tree covered area surrounded by historical buildings that serves as a downtown park for those smart enough to see it as one. The relationship of the University to the town has been described as a partnership
though someone might just as easily describe it as a battle. The University owns several commercial buildings that would be much better suited for shops and businesses, which they have no intention of relinquishing. Many business owners complain that they are forced to compete with the University. There is no computer store or bookshop on Franklin street because they can't compete with the prices at UNC student stores and the Bull's Head Bookshop. Locally owned restaurants struggle while corporate fast foods
with well known names have set up shop in the center of campus. There is even a rumor that a Food Lion will open on campus, further severing ties between the student population and a business community that is just trying to survive.
Arts and Culture in Chapel Hill
Just so you know that Chapel Hill is not just about eating and drinking and going to hear bands there is a historic district with a number of beautiful old houses owned by rich people, some attractive old
churches and some terrific examples of the best and the worst of American architecture of the last 200 years on the UNC campus. On the corner of Franklin and Columbia across from the monolithic University Baptist Church is the Ackland Art Museum with a collection that any town would be proud of. Its permanent collection is impressive with so many ancient
and Roman pieces that I can feel right at home. It is also host to traveling exhibits plus one of the southeast's best collections of Indian and Western art, NC pottery, and 20th Century and Contemporary art and its Asian statues and European and American paintings that date back several centuries. It is also free. Down the street just past McCorkle Place is the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center which was used as the NASA training center for the astronauts. There are various science shows and
Star Theater. The Planetarium is visited by nearly 80,000 school kids each year. Further east down Franklin street is the Chapel Hill Museum and the home of the Chapel Hill Historical Society in what used to be the public library on the corner of Boundry Street. A block or so further is the Horace Williams House which serves as a cultural center and the headquarters of the Chapel Hill Preservation Society and features exhibits of NC artists and rooms decorated with period pieces. The big,
beautiful new Chapel
Hill Public Library is now in the center of a wooded park area on Estes Drive, a few hundred yards from the corner of East Franklin street. On the UNC campus is Wilson Library and the NC Collection Gallery with its rooms that recreate history of the state and some of it's famous people and places, the Rare Books Collection and several other displays in one of the most impressive buildings in the state.
Don't forget the Chapel Hill Children's Museum among the shops on Franklin street's 100 block.
The current pride and joy of the Chapel Hill art community is FRANK, a 3,400 square foot gallery that opened up at 109 East Franklin Street, right downtown. Let me not forget to mention Flyleaf Books, an independent bookstore that has readings and lectures and other events and a great selection of books for those who still have time to read. They are next to Fosters on Martin Luther King Blvd aka Airport Road and next door to Dick and Sue Barrow's excellent Kitchen Restaurant, reason enough to be in the neighborhood.
West Franklin: The New Center of Chapel Hill
West Franklin is where the older people go. That means late twenties and up. There are several great restaurants including Crooks Corner which has been serving Southern Gourmet Food since Bill Neil and
Gene Hammer opened it twenty years ago. Bill Smith is the head chef and he has a couple books under his belt now and can be seen every day riding his bike to the local food shops and markets looking for fresh ingredients. Elaine's is the kind of place that when customers leave after a meal they want to grab strangers on the street and take them in to experience it for themselves. Across the street The Lantern serves food with an Oriental flavor and people who know food
swear this is the best restaurant to ever grace West Franklin. No it is not a Chinese Restaurant so describing it as Oriental is deceiving. How about 'eastern influenced'? Nice little bar in the back. At 11pm the artists, rock-stars, poets and sycophants arrive to drink,chat and eat amazing appetizers til they are kicked out at closing time. Next to Lantern in the newly renovated Courtyard is the brand new Greek restaurant called Kypos, owned by George Bakatsias which has the largest Greek wine
list I have ever seen, even in Greece and also a bakery selling fresh bread every morning just like on the islands. Behind it is the popular Indian restaurant Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe which began life in the owner's kitchen and has now become legendary for good food and a cool place to hang out.
Across the street and next to Elaine's is the West End Wine Bar with live jazz, a fine selection of wines with a steadily improving menu. They are also praised for their beer list, with several microbrews on tap and great bottled beer. West End Wine Bar became a private club in early 2010, enabling them to
begin cocktail service throughout the bar. Downstairs is The Cellar, a late night favorite since it opened ten years ago, offering cocktails, pool, a smoking-friendly outdoor patio and a much renowned jukebox. Two doors down is the Carolina Brewery with their famed
concrete bar and local beer, which in my opinion is pretty good. In between is Telluhlah's which despite the southern belle name is a Turkish restaurant that after 11 becomes a dance club where Greeks, Turks, Iranians, Lebanese, Israellis, Kurds, and even Americans forget their differences and dance the night away. Underneath Uniquities boutique is the Cave, one of the last holdouts of the seventies where people of all ages meet to play pool, drink beer, and listen to talented rockers like David Spencer and Jim Smith as well as bluegrass pickers
like Tim Stambaugh and country guys like John Howie. If you had been around in the eighties and early nineties you would have heard a lonesome folk-singer by the name of Matt Barrett who played more shows to fewer people than anyone in the history of music. The DSI Comedy Club has taken up residence on West Franklin too, finding a location that can handle their ever expanding fan base and comedy classes. My friend took one of these classes and despite being one of the most serious, unfunny people I know, her graduation routine was hilarious. If you have always wanted to be funny and aren't you should look into their classes and comedy programs.
Tiny Graham Street used to be a major drug dealing area until the police swept it clear a few years ago. It is now shadowed by the massive Greenbridge Community, supposedly the greenest building in America and one of the ugliest in Chapel Hill. Though their hearts were in the right place the developers got stuck by a collapsing economy
and eventually lost it to the bank. The retail spaces, which are all empty except for one, look like restaurants waiting to happen. Hopefully they will. Prices have dropped and if you are looking for a condo with a terrific view then this could be the place for you. The one business that has been a part of Greenbridge since the beginning is Light: Art+Design, a gallery promoting the work of contemporary fine artists, designers and craftspeople while expanding the awareness
of innovative and sustainable design which has opening receptions every month or so with beer, wine and food that are usually fun. On the other side of the building and across Graham Street is a hip little cafe and the Beer Study, a beer store-bar that has interesting craft beers and tap and a huge selection that you can choose from on their shelves and coolers, as well
as a foosball table and guys who know a lot about beer. The pride of Graham Street has to be The Baxter Arcade, a bar with 50 vintage and original arcade games, one of the most popular places in town on any given night. Sunday is family day when Chapel Hill parents come with their kids, give them $10 in quarters, and spend the afternoon drinking while they wait for them to use them up.
Local 506 along with the Cat's Cradle and the Station in Carrboro, has to be the best place to hear a band in town and there is live music here every night of the week. Their
annual Sleeze Fest
has gotten national attention and attracted such great acts as Link Wray and local legends Southern Culture on the Skids. Mike Nicholson's Sparklefest brings in pop groups from all over the country for a four-day weekend. What people don't remember is that the club began its life as a rotisserie chicken restaurant called Chick-it-out, owned by John Noyes and Margaret Lundy. They started doing live music and the club took off so they moved the restaurant to Timberline and called it Margaret's
Cantina where it remains one of the best and healthiest places to get Mexican food (and rotisserie chicken) in Chapel Hill.
If you want to find some of the old crowd try The Dead Mule across from the old Fowlers Supermarket that is now a collection of restaurants and shops including Vespa, (Italian of course). Sandwich was a popular sandwich shop in the Courtyard that outgrew its location and opened as a restaurant right next to McDonalds. One of the most popular restaurants in the neighborhood is 411 West with Italian pasta dishes,brick-oven
pizza and a great bar where I go every Monday night for half-price bottles of wine. Stephanie Miller raves about it on her show but it is a healthy mixture of Democrats, Chapel Hill Republicans, (a beleaguered breed who usually don't open their mouths except to talk about sports or taxes) and closet radicals who like their thin crust pizza.
The Mediterranean Deli (and middle eastern) Store is where most people who work in the area go for lunch. If you go there you will see why. Not only do they have hot sandwiches like gyros, souvlaki, fallafils, and a number of entrees but they have an amazing display of middle-eastern and Mediterranean salads which you can buy by
the serving or by the pound. They also bake their own pita bread and you can buy it hot. Lately they have added beer and wine so it is the perfect place for a cheap date if the food was not so good and you could control yourself from ordering more than you can possibly eat. I often stop here and buy babaganoush, tabouli, hummus and pita to take home and he also sells some excellent Lebanese olive oil. Jamil Kadoura has won numerous awards, not just for good food but for good citizenship and generosity. He
has been promoting the Mediterranean diet since before it was called the Mediterranean diet. He now has one of the best Middle Eastern Grocery Stores too.
The Mellow Mushroom with its spectacular Michael Brown mural, has had lines out the door since the day it opened. Next door is the contemporary South Indian restaurant and bar, Cholanad, which has terrific appetisers and food that is very different from what you know as Indian. Italian Pizzeria
needs no advertising because it is always busy, especially during World Cup Football. Next door the Indian Guru restaurant is one of those places that I really like but then you ask an Indian person and they say no the most authentic Indian food is at some restaurant twenty miles away and so I go there and I don't think it is so great as to justify driving forty miles. So either I am a better judge of Indian food than Indians are or I like
un-authentic Indian food better than authentic Indian food or more likely, an Indian person will tell you that such and such a restaurant is the best because that is the only one he has actually been to because his cousin owns it. Whatever. The important thing is that the people who work at India Palace are very nice and it is never full, even on weekends when you have to stand in line everywhere else. (So keep this in mind if you are impatient like me). Anyway I will just say that India Palace serves
a good all-you-can-eat Indian buffet, rivaled only by the fancier Mint which recently opened and Tandoor Indian Restaurant on West Franklin, down the hill. Since these are the only Indian restaurants in Chapel Hill with all-you-can-eat buffets you should try them all and decide for yourself.
To momentarily get off the subject of food go to The Bookshop which has one of the largest collections of used and collectable books in the south and a staff that is patient and friendly and a couple cats who keep the customers company as they browse the aisles as well as keep the shop mice-free. Across the street
is CD Alley with a collection of music that you won't find elsewhere including
used and new collectable's. The neighborhood has several boutiques. For people who love (or hate) their hair there are a couple saloons that for a fee can perform miracles. The new Franklin
Hotel is a fancy boutique hotel with a plush bar and a clientele that appreciates such amenities as a 'pillow menu'. With a beautiful bar at street level that has live jazz at night you can beat it for convenience since there are a half dozen of the best restaurants in Chapel Hill within a two minute walk. (Looks like I am back on the subject of food.) If the hotel bar is not cool enough for you just cross the street to The Crunkleton, where you can choose from a selection
of over 300 distilled spirits and have drinks from a bar staff known for making the best mixed drinks in town.
Parallel to Franklin street is Rosemary Street which is most famous for three restaurants and one cafe-bookstore. The most well known of the restaurants are Breadman's, owned by Italian-Pennsylvanian
Roy Piscetello and Dip's Country Kitchen owned by Mama Dip. Breadman's was the original 24-hour restaurant and made their name by being the place to be after the bars closed. Dips is one of the best restaurants in the south for southern cooking and Mama Dip, whose real name is Mildred Councel has been written up in numerous magazines and her cookbook is a big seller. The Third restaurant is the Standard which is known
more as a late-night hangout for the young and hip of the Chapel Hill scene but has great food and also jazz on some nights. It American cuisine and pizzas and has one of the best late-night menus in town. Next door is
the Nightlight, owned by the guys who own All-Day Records in Carrboro and have made what was once the Skylight Exchange into another good place to hear rock bands and party.
Beyond the Hub of Chapel Hill
On the south side of town on 15/501, the road to Pittsboro just before Cole Park Plaza is Captain John's Dockside Restaurant. From the outside it looks like
your typical heart-attack fried seafood restaurant that you can find anywhere in North Carolina. But step inside and you will find a dining area with the greatest collection of Clyde Jones Fish paintings on earth. The owner, John Dimos, whose family like many Greeks in Chapel Hill come from Karpanissi, has slowly but surely introduced into his
menu some dishes that you won't find in Calabash or Morehead City. Fresh sardines either fried or grilled. Fried smelts or what we call in Greece marides, so crispy you can eat them bones and all. Whole kalamari fried or grilled, not rings. All-you-can-eat babyback ribs and crab-legs and a number of Greek and Italian fish and pasta dishes. The shrimp-fest is more than any man can handle and are not pitiful popcorn shrimp but as big, meaty, and as hefty as a shrimp can be.
Out on the by-pass is Mariakakis which has been in business for most of the last century founded by Tommy Mariakakis who came to Chapel Hill from the island of Crete after several years in Wyoming. The original store was on Franklin street and when he moved to the present location on the bi-pass people thought he was crazy and
that would be the end of his business because at the time there was nothing else there. It turned out that Tommy was a visionary. Now owned and run by his son Johnny Mariakakis, it is a Greek restaurant-deli and international gourmet supermarket with a fantastic collection of wines from Greece and other wine-producing countries. It is a collection Johnny is quite proud of, as he is of the many varieties of olive oil he carries. John has been instrumental in the planning for the Greek Orthodox Cathedral and
Hellenic Cultural Center being built on the outskirts of Chapel Hill. The center will host their annual Greek Festival as well as have classes in Greek language, cooking, history and culture and will be a beacon to attract Greek-Americans looking for a place to retire or to relocate.
For more info e-mail John at email@example.com
There are two health food supermarkets off East Franklin, one being the super-enormous Whole Foods on Elliot Road and the other Trader Joe's at Eastgate Shopping Center. Also on Elliot Road next to Whole Food's is Twig, owned by Shawn Sloam, which sells all sorts of eco-friendly products.
Around Chapel Hill
Despite the North Carolina Dept of Transportation's efforts to turn the whole state into one massive superhighway there are green-ways and bike-paths so you can actually get around town and feel like you are in a quiet and beautiful place. The Chapel Hill bus system actually makes owning a car unnecessary. They
go everywhere and they are FREE! Still it may take a few more dollars added to the price of gas before people give up their SUVs but when they are ready the system is waiting. One day North Carolina may have an enlightened Dept of Transportation that realizes that side-walks are not a bad thing and includes them in their building projects. For now towns like Chapel Hill and Carrboro have to fight for them and the good news is that they are making progress. One of the best bike
trips is to follow Bolin Creek from
Airport Rd til you see the signs for Cafe Driade, drag your bike up the hill and enjoy a coffee, a glass of wine or some nice music in a peaceful setting overlooking the forest and the creek. You can also drive here by going down the hill on East Franklin and looking for the sign on your left. Chapel Hill is loaded with activities both outdoor and indoor and besides a few little developments like Southern
Village and Meadowmont each with several thousand people living in them, it is still in a somewhat rural setting. That means there are lakes, rivers, streams, farms and forests nearby. In the summer you can go boating on University lake. You can swim in Jordon Lake or in the hundreds of smaller lakes, ponds and swimming pools.
In the fall you have Tarheel Football who no matter how lousy a season they are having they still are capable of beating somebody, even if it is only Duke. In the winter you have Tar Heel Basketball, no longer recovering from the departure of the legendary Dean
Smith and alive and well with
the hiring of the almost as legendary Roy Williams. With another 2 National Championships under their belts the Tarheel program is in good shape and having a great basketball team is a nice way to make it through the winter and into baseball season.
And in the spring you have...well, spring, which is beautiful. (I took most of the pictures on this website in the spring). Summer can get a little hot and sticky but if you can make it through the day you have the bars, restaurants, clubs and all those things I mentioned above, all air-conditioned. There are several galleries in different shopping centers including University
Mall which has begun a transformation with the arrival of George Bakatsias City Kitchen, a comfortable yet sophisticated restaurant best described as an American brasserie which has $5 glasses of wine on Wednesday nights, attracting an older crowd of swingers, cougars and attorneys. The new giant A Southern Season gourmet store is the size of a department store. A mall with more art galleries than fast-food stands is a sign of hope for the future. Probably
the best jewelry store in the Triangle is Goldworks owned by Wren and Ted Hendrickson, who have been
making jewelry together for over 30 years. The store features their own work, as well as the jewelry, hand blown glass and original
craft work of nationally known artists from all over the
country. This spectacular store is both a jewelry store and a fine crafts
gallery but more importantly Ted has the largest Frank Zappa music collection I have ever seen.
A number of communities have sprung up around Chapel Hill from small neighborhoods like Arkadia which is based on a Scandanavian model where people's lives intersect with community meetings and eating to giant projects like Southern Village and Meadowmount where they have actually built entire towns with houses, townhouses and apartments of different sizes, styles and prices as well as downtowns with restaurants, cafes, bookshops
and even movie theaters. The famous Governor's Club in Chatham County is the high-end of these communities, built for people with lots of money to spare who want their lives to revolve around golf.
There are plenty of golf courses in the area and lots of celebrities, local and national, who play on them. The parks have baseball diamonds and
pitching machines and Rainbow Soccer has dozens of teams with players
ranging in age from four to eighty-something. Chapel Hill's Recreation Center has indoor and outdoor basketball courts, an Olympic sized pool, a climbing wall, classes, teams and activities as does the YMCA on Airport Road. The North Carolina
Botanical Gardens are a center for research, conservation and interpretation of plants particularly those native to the southeastern United States and horticultural plants with traditional uses. It's a great place to just wander around with hundreds of acres of paths, trails, streams and forests. Nearby Duke Forest is even bigger, spreading out for miles.
As a place to visit Chapel Hill has a lot going for it. There are enough things to see and do in and around town so a normal tourist can be happy and get that feeling of accomplishment before going out for a nice meal and conversation. There are the usual chain hotels on the roads around the city and several special
hotels including the Carolina Inn, right on the UNC Campus and a two minute walk from the Ackland Art Gallery and the restaurants and shops of Franklin street and it sits on several bus lines. It is an
historical old hotel with a terrific restaurant. The Franklin Hotel is right on Franklin Street and has spared no expense to make itself the best in town. Location wise it can't be beat, nor can the great bar in the lobby which may end up generating more revenue than
all the rooms in the hotel. There are a few B&B's located in and around town, plus two fairly cosmopolitan hotels, the Italian flavored Sienna
and the Europa, now the Sheraton. Less than a 5 minute drive from University of North Carolina, the Aloft Hotel features a fitness center and free Wi-Fi. Guests can relax at the outdoor patio or in the indoor pool. For more hotels see Booking.com's Chapel Hill Page
As a place to live Chapel Hill is tough to beat because you have enough
music, art and cultural activities to rival and even surpass some of the major
cities in the USA but you are still in a relatively rural setting. (At least
for now.) Prices for houses (unless you are coming from San Francisco or New
York) are a little steep but that seems to be the case anywhere livable
and Chapel Hill is one of the most livable towns in America. If you are old
or getting there, as most of us are and all of us will, you will be pleased
to know that UNC Memorial Hospital is not only the best in North Carolina
but one of the best in the country and if they can't fix you, someone down the
road at Duke Medical Center can. You don't have to be young to enjoy Chapel
Hill. There is a fine Senior Citizens Center with lots of activities
and some interesting people. There are several beautiful apartment
complexes for seniors which also have activities. Because it is
a University town the public schools in Chapel Hill and Carrboro
are outstanding and students place among the best in the country.
a year the town of Chapel Hill used to close Franklin Street to traffic
and hosts two Festivals. In the Autumn is Festifall and in the spring
was Apple Chill. These street fairs attracted thousands of people
from all over the state and gave an opportunity to area
artists and organizations for reaching a wider audience. There were
live bands, lots of different kinds of food and lots of different
kinds of people. It was a time for reconnecting with people you have
not seen in years. But when trouble broke out at the After-chill car and motorcycle show, an un-official gathering where thousands of young African-Americans from all over the state converge on Franklin street to show off their rides or just chill, they decided to cancel the whole thing once and for all. To tell you the truth, it had gotten too big and most of the money was being made by out-of-towners selling junk food rather than the local crafts which the street fair used to be all
Chapel Hill also hosts the Saint Barbara's Greek
Festival in the spring. They have built a multi-million dollar Hellenic Cultural Center so they can host the festival and do it the way a Greek festival is meant to be done. The ethnic population has become much more diverse over the years
as more people from other countries have moved here for undergraduate
or graduate studies, research and jobs in the Triangle. The construction
boom has brought many Mexicans and Hispanics who have made it a
much more interesting community. Their Latin Festival which
is usually held in the summer features some amazing bands and fantastic
One can't help but notice
the proliferation of posters and flyers in Chapel Hill. In a town
where it seems everyone you know is in a band this seems natural.
Add to this the number of campus and community events, restaurants,
alternative-health practitioners, and other locals who want
a way to promote their events and businesses that it is no wonder
that the town built the popular European-style kiosks to keep
people from posting on phone-poles and buildings. Well they still
post on poles but the kiosks can get two or three layers thick by
the end of the week. Unfortunately when the town designed them they
forgot to ask for input from the actual people who put up the posters
and the kiosks are a couple inches too short to hold three 8.5X11
inch flyers and so they always look kind of messy. Had they asked
Poster Guys who have been putting up flyers since 1980 and have
turned it into an art form, perhaps the new kiosks would be a little
more functional and the downtown commission would be happier.
Chapel Hill seems to have something for
everybody. And if you get tired or bored with Chapel Hill don't worry.
It is right next to Carrboro!
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