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Best of the Triangle 2012: Our back pages 

Looking back at the Best of the Triangle 1996-2011

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2007 Sniffle.

2007 was a year of endings. That's right. It's the year that Voldemort declared Harry Potter to be dead in J.K. Rowling's finale. Don't worry, The Dark Lord lied and Harry rose from the dead three days later and forgave our sins. No wait, I'm getting that mixed up with something.

It was also the year that HBO's mob morality fable The Sopranos came to its conclusion. Seriously, people had time for anything other than reading books and watching HBO that year? Apparently.

The Triangle's Best of rankings crowned a host of fascinating winners in this year, touting Raleigh's Legends club as Best Gay Bar, Chapel Hill's Italian Pizzeria III as the prime spot for international soccer and Durham's Carolina Theatre as the ideal setting to catch an indie flick.

Raleigh's The Borough walked away with the honors for Best Bar Staff. Absolutely essential still at The Borough is the Schmitty Schnapps, which combines gin and the "concentrated essence of rainbows, unicorns and sarcasm," according to the bar menu. Yum, tastes like mythical creature!

Schoolkids Records, a favorite in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, picked up the award for Best CD or Record Store. In an age of fast downloads that's wreaked havoc for record stores, the indie-friendly Schoolkids still clings to life under new ownership in Raleigh, although it closed shop in Chapel Hill in 2008.

That's yet another ending. Get the tissues.

To beat the blues, residents can still find liquid comfort in bars like Raleigh's Hibernian, 2007's best Irish pub. Never fear, the Guinness tap is still flowing at the Glenwood Avenue pub today. —Billy Ball

2008 It was a year of highs and lows. Barack Obama, a senator from Chicago, became the first black man elected to the White House, and indie giants Arcade Fire took the opportunity to salute the candidate with a concert in Carrboro. Rock on!

Foundering Republicans introduced the world to Sarah Palin. Meh.

And the stock market did its best impression of a beached whale. Ugh.

But in the Triangle, some things were new. Raleigh Mexican restaurant Café Capistrano earned honors for the year's best new restaurant. Its Garvey Drive location remains open, but a second restaurant in Cary has since shuttered its doors.

Other things reassuringly stayed the same. See Chapel Hill's reliably brilliant barbecue at Allen & Son. Try the hush puppies.

On the subject of food, mega-popular chef Andrea Reusing, one of the brains behind Chapel Hill's Asian-fusion restaurant Lantern, was tapped as top chef. Little wonder. Reusing was honored last year as one of the top chefs in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation Awards—the equivalent of the foodie Oscars. Lantern, meanwhile, remains a staple for refined Chapel Hill taste buds.

Then again, maybe what really tickles your fantasy is a sweet tat. Honored as top tattoo studio in 2008, Raleigh's Blue Flame Tattoo endures today. Maybe you want to etch a heartfelt message for mom. Or, based on the studio's website, perhaps you're seeking an ultra-creepy portrait of Linda Blair's demonically possessed Regan MacNeil from horror classic The Exorcist. To each his own. Either way, Blue Flame can do it.

And then there's the quirky. Durham metalheads Tooth shattered eardrums with glee that year, grabbing the honors as Best Band in Durham County.

Tooth is a memory these days, having split into likewise heavy rock acts named Hog and Lurch. The former is writing increasingly wandering, psychedelic rock tunes complete with musical suites. The latter is spewing gutbusting punk rock.

Hog vocalist Rich James absorbs a myriad of influences these days while recording a full-length LP. To prove it, that list includes harp-plucking indie folker Joanna Newsom.

James attributed Tooth's breakup to his own changing life and moods, noting that he wanted to eschew the band's "metal cheese" for more complex arrangements. The idea didn't go over well, James said.

"Depending on who you talk to, I was either the progenitor or a bastard," James said. "I was either making someone happy or pissing someone off."

All's fair in rock and roll. —Billy Ball

2009 The biggest restaurant in 2009 is now the biggest restaurant news of 2012. Magnolia Grill is out of time. By extension, so is its executive chef, Ben Barker. By the time you read this, Barker, the man our readers tapped as Best Chef in Durham County in 2009, will have presided over the restaurant's final service. He'll have prepped the last tenderloin and glad-handed the last person who will ever have an opportunity to taste his concocted twists on traditional Southern cuisine at the famed eatery. It's closed now. Feel free to rend your garments. That said, it's worth noting that: a) we live in North Carolina, and b) modern twists on traditional Southern fare is, among the foodies, a thing. Dining at Ben and Karen Barker's was a singular experience (may they enjoy semi-retirement), for sure. —Vernal Coleman

2010 So in early 2009, I packed my car and moved from the Triangle to Seattle. Because when you're young and recently "right-sized" out of your job, trekking to the coast in search of adventure, employment and looser moral codes is what you think you're supposed to do. Shortly afterward, angry missives began appearing in my inbox from Durham-based friends and acquaintances. How could I—why would I—come back to the Bull City without informing them, they asked. Others were simply confused. "Were you walking downtown on Chapel Hill Street yesterday?" I was not. But it's more than likely that Pierce Freelon was.

Freelon is one of the principals in The Beast, the jazz and hip-hop synthesizer that has since 2009 competed for the Triangle's Best Hip-Hop Act. In the Indy's 2010 reader's poll, they won the title outright.

People have said we look alike. I've told most of those people they are dumbasses. For the record, Freelon and I look alike only so much as you care to squint. Here's where the rods and cones play tricks: Like me, Freelon is brown-skinned and sports a mound of unruly curls that only on rare days looks symmetrical enough to qualify as an Afro. This is why, since moving back to Durham three weeks ago, I've been tapped on the shoulder twice and asked if I'm him. To all: I'm not.

If you strain, however, his life seems like a bizarro, goateed version of mine. When I left North Carolina three years ago, Freelon—a Durham native—had just moved back from Los Angeles. I'm a somewhat reluctant bachelor. He has a wife and two children. I've embraced the itinerant lifestyle, having lived in six U.S. cities in seven years. He's traveled the world with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz lecturing schoolchildren about the delta between hip-hop and the music Monk helped make famous. I sit alone at a computer to write about things like legal skirmishes over the patent for a home semen-detection device. He writes music in collaboration with other artists.

I caught up with Freelon for a phone interview last week as he was heading toward a Boston airport on his way back to Durham. As it turns out, he's a bit of a loner too, work-wise. "But all of my best work is done in collaboration," he says. "That's the nature of jazz. You get together with people and you realize that the sounds that you all can make together are better than what you can do apart." So goeth the music creation biz for my purported look-alike, and by extension, The Beast. It's a long climb up that ladder. That he and I now live in the same city has me wondering how I'll feel about getting mistaken for him if he and The Beast make it to the top.

Did you pick up a copy of the Indy's 2010 Best of issue? All the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets says you did. And if you did, you'll remember the image that adorned the cover—a bright smiling woman with an equally bright crown of sparkling baubles and bird figurines. You're right, The crown was awesome. Where is it? Fuck if we know.

Actually, it took but one phone call and a few odd emails to unravel the mystery of what happened to the crown. Ashley Carter, a former Indy ad representative, sells elegantly crafted tchotchkes through her company, Goldbug Studio. She's also the crown's designer, which she estimates might, given the going rate for her wares, be worth $250. Contacted last week, Carter had no clue what might have happened to it, adding, "I hope a badass drag queen has it hidden away in her decked-out closet."

Except for the drag queen part, it turns out that's not too far from the truth. The crown is sitting in the home of an Indy staffer atop a ceramic figurine crafted in the shape of Siddhartha's head.

Beth Fleisher, Indy senior advertising representative, explains. "I can't say I ever asked for it," she laughs. "It just sort of ended up with me." It was after the Best of party, and Fleisher says she'd taken dozens of pictures of winners posing while wearing the crown. The party ended, and the crown had to go somewhere.

Fleisher, who says she's always loved Carter's designs, says she'd planned to wear the crown to a radio promo gig sometime after the party. The gig didn't pan out, and the crown has been on Fleisher's bedroom dresser ever since. "It still belongs to the Indy, it's just lived with me for the past two years," says Fleisher. So know that it has found a safe home. But if you're looking to purchase your own, you're out of luck. Carter says all designs are one-of-a-kind.

As a rule, bartenders come and go. Such is the nature of the service industry. That's part of what makes Scott Ritchie, the Best Bartender in Durham County in 2010 according to Indy readers, somewhat of a rarity. Two years after first being featured in the Indy, he's still an employee of the Whiskey, which has since cemented its status as the go-to watering hole for aficionados of well-crafted drinks and cigars. It's a choice gig in a beautiful, speakeasy-like setting, so why would you leave? It helps that Ritchie is part-owner, which means that he'll most likely be competing for the Best Bartender title for the foreseeable future. Because nobody walks away from a stake in a collection of whiskey the size of the Whiskey's without a damn good reason. The current tally, according to Ritchie, stands at some 400 bottles. —Vernal Coleman

2011 The biggest threat facing semi-professional bloggers is life. It happens, and their attention gets drawn to something other than the topic being obsessed over in the blog. Case in point: Bull City Rising.

The loss of Bull City Rising was especially tough. In 2011, it topped the Indy's Best Of reader's poll in the Best Local Blog category, and deservedly so. For years it was the online go-to for wonky spin on city and county politics, and a clearinghouse for all the day's best Durham-centric headlines. Now the front page may as well have digital tumbleweeds blowing across it.

Dated Sept. 13, 2011, the last post hints at the reasons. Kevin Davis, the Duke University staffer behind the blog, bought and rehabbed a house. Then there were added responsibilities both professional and familial. Since his mother's death from cancer last fall, he's been handling her estate. The blog, Davis says, was a "tremendous time suck." But that doesn't mean he doesn't miss it, and the community of insiders that had taken to analyzing policy in its comments section.

Davis says he's felt "disconnected" without the blog and is looking to return to it once his schedule settles. But it certainly won't be full-time. Meanwhile, there's a gaping hole in the Durham blogosphere, and nobody has stepped up to fill it. —Vernal Coleman

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