There is a temptation among the nuvo's to think of the area as a little Soho, but it's not--it's a couple of little towns in the Piedmont with some cool things to do. Everyone I know who drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon does so because it is a good, cheap beer. Everyone I know who owns a John Deere hat got it when they bought their John Deere.
That said, the legendary smugness you hear about when some describe the hip locals of the greater Chapel Hill/Carrboro metroplex is actually barely suppressed glee that we live in a place where you can see great shows and other doings for a fraction of what it costs anywhere else on the Eastern Seaboard. And, though the place is known for its wide array of great upscale restaurants, there are plenty of places serving up good, cheap eats.
So, while some locals will cringe that we're giving away hard earned survival secrets, here's a brief survey to answer those burning questions. Where are those cheap eats? For portions, prices and spicy kick, there aren't many places that beat the Fiesta Grill, about six miles west of Carrboro on N.C. 54 in a plain metal building. If you're downtown, hungry and waiting for payday, you have friends at Pepper's Pizza, where a slice is meal in itself; and Hector's where you can get that kind of flame-broiled flavor other burger joints only brag about (the Greek grilled cheese is great, too). Speaking of bragging rights, when it comes to BLT's nobody has more right to crow than the folks at Merritt's Grill. Better order a small one to start and work your way up to the large. Where's that famous music scene? Serving you food and drink. Making your coffee. Hanging out in the booth next to you. Looking through record store bins. In other words, swing a cat--hit somebody in a band. Shows are inexpensive and plentiful. Great places to plunge in include the Cat's Cradle, which in addition to being an institution for national acts also hosts a lot of benefits, record release parties and showcases that feature locals; Local 506, which lives up to its name; The Cave, where it feels like you're right there in the band's living room; and Nightlight where you'll see a lot of young bands and new music. What about shakin' it? It is totally untrue that the indie rock crowds don't move. But if you want to do a little more than nod your head for 20 minutes and then go grab another Pabst, you'll want to hit events like the periodic WXYC Dances ('70s, '80s, '90s and soon to come--the Oughts), the hip hopping Microphone Mondays at Local 506 and grooving Triple T (Tuesdays) Nights at Nightlight. What if I am, you know, way cool? If by that you mean you're too smart and/or bored to be ironic anymore, then check out the occasional rock-paper-scissor competition and/or the once a month (third Tuesdays) literary nights at The Cave; Trivia Nights at Hell and Nightlight; and the occasional Loom exhibit at the old Chatham Label Mill in on the edge of Pittsboro. Where are some cool date spots? here's three unique favorites: Bynum--Swing by artist Clyde Jones' house before heading to the Bynum General Store Front Porch concert on Friday nights, where you can see some of the top bluegrass, folk and country in the area in a pass-the-hat atmosphere.
The Parlor at Maple View Dairy --Find out when the sun is setting and head over to sample fine local ice cream. The rocking chairs are comfy and the porch pretty much faces west and overlooks an uncluttered view of the Nutter family's corn crop. They're even planing to bring back doggie portions of Milk Bone flavored ice cream if you want to bring Rover.
Boating on University Lake --You and a friend can rent a rowboat or a canoe for a half-day for a mere $8.50 and wend your way along the banks of the area's placid water supply. You can also fish without a license if you're a county resident and use only live bait. Otherwise, you gotta ask Lake Warden Bob Glosson to hook you up with a permit. Where can I find cheap stuff? UNC Surplus --Need a $5 filing cabinet, an industrial looking bench, an old office chair, or an outdoor telephone box? These and other odd (sometimes very odd) objects can be had for cash only Tuesdays and Fridays in a one-story brick building near the park and ride lot just off Estes Drive near the corner of Airport Road.
Thrift Shops --In Chapel Hill off Elliott Road near Whole Foods and on Main Street in Carrboro are the PTA Thrift Shops where you can pick up the cast-offs of the community. Given the relative affluence of the area, don't be surprised to find a lot of GAP gear and Limited labels in the racks. The funds go to benefit local schools. Also on Main Street in Carrboro is the Club Nova Thrift Shop, which aids housing and services for Club Nova, a organization that supports people with mental illnesses .
Vintage Stores --Time After Time on West Franklin Street is the best bet if you're downtown, but if you've got wheels, head south young hipster to Pam Smith's Beggars and Choosers (recently re-opened) near the circle in Pittsboro. Both spots are havens for the Halloween fanatics. What is the coolest thing about Chapel Hill/Carrboro? Sit down, this will shock you. The coolest thing isn't a club, a star, a folk artist, a thrift shop or even an annual event. The coolest thing is that you can get on a bus anywhere and ride it for free. A few years back, in a rare moment of clarity and comity, the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro and UNC-Chapel Hill ponied up the money to go to fare free transit. Since then, the system continues to extend hours and expand its reach.