Brian Howe's takedown of one of our city's new boutique hotels in "The View from Below" (Sept. 9) was a heart-wrenching read. Howe pits one new hotel against another, and with myopia like Fox News catapults to a conclusion that the newer one is classist, retrograde and unreflective of Durham. With alluring prose and no journalistic substance, this gifted wordsmith is felled by a reckless, divisive critique that masquerades as a civic contribution.
Helmed by local partners, the newer hotel is a made-from-scratch, no-economies-of-scale, specialty enterprise. Born just two months ago, and its signature restaurant yet to open, it's curious that the INDY thought it prime time to inspect it and hold it to account for its "community living room" aspirations, which Howe conveniently interprets as community, all caps.
If Howe had kept the piece to a Yelp-like review, off the cover, expressing his view of the hotel's "tense waiters," late-to-arrive drinks and "flawed systems," that would've been fair enough. However, he throws a long-ball diatribe and connects the hotel, its aesthetic, service, drink prices and overall experience to "the patriarchal Mad Men era when men of consequence looked down on the world untroubled by their supremacy."
Wow, what a whopper. You would think he was referring to a global hotel syndicate that demolished one of Durham's historic buildings, replaced it with penny-pinched, pompous crap, and infused it with automatons, all to siphon money from our community to its fat-cat shareholders.
Yet this hotel's partners have put their capital, careers and asses on the line to revitalize an historic mid-century downtown building with new beauty—a costly, arduous affair—reopen it as a hotel and rooftop bar, and serve hotel guests and the public while getting their restaurant open.
The restaurant will surely dedicate itself to elevating organic, sustainable food to new heights. Its chef has helped develop our region's food culture and created delectable, inspired experiences at her other 13-year-old award-winning restaurant. But Howe filets her and her partners as failures in their "community living room" aspirations, hinging his classist, not-Durham critique on the community reference clipped from Eater.com.
Both hotels in "The View from Below" contribute tremendous value to the people of our city. They create meaningful jobs for Durhamites, generate taxes to expand services for our citizens, attract out-of-town guests who support our local restaurants and shops, and promote made-here goods and artists. And both hotels revitalized historic downtown buildings. Howe makes no mention of the value of these civic contributions in his voluminous piece.
Downtown Durham is lucky to have many progressive small business owners like the partners at the newer hotel. They've dared greatly to create authentic, uplifting experiences that are an antidote to the banal ones found at chains and malls everywhere today, and they've played a great role in downtown's resurgence.
In community meetings, I find we all share a similar vision for downtown's future. We want it to be a more animated version of its open, diverse (racially and economically), scrappy, start-up self. The question is always how do we make that happen, not should we.
To create a downtown that reflects the multi-colored hues of Durham, we need to have multi-colored conversations about how to do it. We need the INDY to fulfill its mission to "effect progress in the stories we tell." We need Mr. Howe to instigate informed conversations and illuminate thorny, complex issues, so we can better understand one another.
If the INDY and Mr. Howe succeed in this effort, all of our lives will be enriched.
Ryan Hurley, co-owner, Vert & Vogue
Just had to share how much I thoroughly enjoyed your recent story on the hotels emerging in Durham. It was genuinely the best article I've read all year. You took something that could have just been a simple reporting of these new and much-talked-about places in Durham and really turned it into something much, much more. This article, coupled with all your awesome bike content [in the Sept. 2] issue, just has me pretty obsessed with the work y'all are doing.
Keep up the awesome work, INDY!
Just want to say thank you for your well-written and thoughtful article on the two new Durham hotels.
I'm part of the 30-something demographic in the Triangle with no kids and a moderate amount of disposable income. I enjoy going out for drinks or dinner with friends, and downtown Durham has always been a popular destination. Your article put into words a lot of the uneasy feelings I've had about some of the more recent changes I've seen in Durham. I appreciate the new restaurants and businesses that I get to experience, but I'm starting to feel out of place ... like I need to be in law or hedge funds to even be in some of these places.
I can't complain—I don't live or work in Durham, so it's not "my" town, and I am financially able to go have a drink at The Durham when I want to—but something doesn't sit well.
Your article did a great job of summarizing what I see as a shift in Durham over the past several years. It's appreciated.
I am a history prof at UNC (medieval Europe) but also a Durham resident since 2005 (i.e., just before the downtown boom). I wanted to say I thought your essay in the INDY was excellent, very thoughtful, readable and engaging, and academic in sophistication (e.g., the comment on "Little Empire" as the martini name).
It also captured my own mixed feelings about the changes downtown: I love my cocktails and good eats at Dashi, Bar Vergil, Alley 26, etc., as much as the next person. I've been down into the vault at 21C, wandered into the Durham lounge before they even officially opened one night (and was well received, even got a free drink, and why not?).
But I also realize how fraught the whole thing can be in light of the city's history and demographics. And sometimes I just feel like a hipster punk, even as I am thoroughly enjoying my absinthe.