If Raleigh seems too fast-paced and citified these days, Greensboro beckons, just down the road.
An hour and a half out Interstate 40 West, the relaxed Gate City offers history, multiple centers of higher education and a thriving arts, nightlife and entertainment scene. And there’s some great, reasonably priced food.
In the past decade or so, a downtown rebirth centered on South Elm Street has filled many storefronts and drawn locals and visitors from as far away as Winston-Salem – and beyond. Just ask a downtown businessperson or artist.
“There’s a lot of development that’s happening downtown, so it’s exciting to work alongside, and sometimes ahead, of development,” said Valerie Wiseman, communications curator for a creative center called Elsewhere, the “living museum.”
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The curators, interns and a rotating crew of national and international residents at Elsewhere make use of a crazily crowded space where the late businesswoman Sylvia Gray ran a succession of enterprises between 1939 and 1997. More sedate, but also dedicated to local arts, food and beer, is Scuppernong Books, which serves as a third place for Greensboro writers and musicians.
Down South Elm Street, in a revitalizing neighborhood “south of the tracks,” stands a historical marker that recalls a grittier Greensboro, one rife with racial and class tension. “Ku Klux Klan members and American Nazis, on Nov. 3, 1979, shot and killed five Communist Workers Party members one-tenth mile north,” reads the recently dedicated marker.
And a few blocks north is the International Civil Rights Center Museum, hardly a secret but well worth a visit. It’s the spot where North Carolina A&T students conducted a pioneering sit-in for racial justice on Feb. 1, 1960.
Only about 10 minutes west and north of downtown, a pair of wonderful parks await: The immaculate, statue-dotted Tanger Family Bicentennial Garden and the much more “natural” Bog Gardens across the street. On UNC-Greensboro’s green, welcoming campus, the Weatherspoon Museum plays host to rotating art exhibits which include some big names and controversial topics.
Our series appears online and in print each Monday through Labor Day.
Parks, tamed and wild
Stop by the much-loved Tate Street Coffee Shop, on the edge of UNC-G’s campus, for local coffee and pastry. Then walk it off, a little more than three miles away, in two contrasting Greensboro parks, both free and across the street from each other. Along the broad, shady paths of the Tanger Family Bicentennial Garden are variegated annual plantings, a wedding gazebo, sculptures such as Michiel VanderSommen’s contemplative bronze couple, “On the Fence,” and a touching memorial to Camberly Holliday, a former mayor’s daughter who died young. Across Hobbs Road, the Bog Garden at Benjamin Park has an elevated boardwalk to lead visitors through the seven-acre natural wetlands. The boardwalk also affords a gorgeous view of Benjamin Lake. 1105 and 1101 Hobbs Road. Both parks open sunrise to sunset. greensborobeautiful.org, 336-373-2199
Weatherspoon Art Museum
The Weatherspoon Art Museum has an imposing permanent collection but also focuses on traveling installations, such as Tom Burckhardt’s intriguing “Full Stop,” a recreation of an abstract-expressionist studio constructed of corrugated cardboard, black paint, wood and glue. When it debuted in 2010, The New York Times called it “a place frozen in time as our digital age plunges headlong into the virtual future.” Also at the Weatherspoon, artist Beverly Semmes’ Feminist Responsibility Project includes ceramics, suspended and illuminated glass sculpture, and drawings that transform and often obliterate porn images. There’s much to enjoy and contemplate at the Weatherspoon, another free attraction. 500 Tate St. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. weatherspoon.uncg.edu, 336-334-5770.
Emma Keys Flat Top Grill
Out in the raffishly stylish Walker Avenue neighborhood, students, neighbors and a smattering of tourists flock to what is becoming a Gate City institution, Emma Keys Flat Top Grill. Burger places come and burger places go, but there’s something about the textures and flavor combinations at Emma Keys that create a line out the door of the former vintage barber shop. Part of the fun is watching these perfect burgers (and don’t miss the sweet potato fries) emanating from the bro-meets-boho crew who tend the grill, while seeming more suited to indy-rock pursuits. There’s seating inside and out and plenty of good people-watching, given comings and goings at other Walker Avenue haunts. 2206 Walker Ave. Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday. emmakeys.com, 336-285-9429.
The downtown bookstore Scuppernong opened some 18 months ago but has already built a reputation as a spot for readings, music and general support for North Carolina writers. Find seats at the in-store counter for a glass of local IPA, coffee or a sandwich. “We try to source everything as locally as we can,” says co-owner Steve Mitchell, who noted that the store decided to celebrate Herman Melville Year in 2016 for no particular reason. Lifelong Greensboro resident Laurie Lake White, “Lollie” to her friends, was thrilled to give the only reading of her novel “Play Music” at Scuppernong. “It’s a community!” White said. 304 S. Elm St. Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. www.scuppernongbooks.com, 336-763-1919.
Dolls, toys, vintage furniture and thousands of knicknacks crowd the walls and floors at Elsewhere, the self-described “living museum” on South Elm. Nothing is for sale, but international artists at the space create new items from the stock of the former antique and thrift shop. Sometimes the new items get reincorporated by the next crop of artists. Elsewhere, also the scene of “Storefront Lectures” and live music, arose out of the store owned for nearly 60 years by Sylvia Price. These days, it’s a serious-fun think tank that works to ward off gentrification that doesn’t fit the surrounding area. “The space and its inhabitants actively participate in the daily patterns of city life, spreading their influence beyond the confines of its walls to the city streets and businesses that are all around,” says the National Endowment for the Humanities, one of the many agencies to help fund Elsewhere. If only they can reach their goal of installing heat and air-conditioning. 606 S Elm St. Open 1 to 10 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday. www.goelsewhere.org, 336-303-1596.
Restaurant & Bar
With UNC-G, North Carolina A&T, Greensboro College and other colleges in town, the downtown Liberty Oak provides a perfect white-tablecloth spot to celebrate new graduates or fresh romances. Located in what is called the oldest surviving commercial building downtown, from the 1880s, the spot might give the impression that homeboy author O. Henry will drop by for a cocktail. But the food – try the fried oysters or the healthier wasabi- and sesame-crusted grilled tuna – speaks both of tradition and new Southern cuisine. Keep your ears open as you walk out – A&T-trained saxophonist Brandon Vaughan might be captivating downtown passers-by with “Fly Me to the Moon” and other classics. 100 W. Washington St. Open daily at 11 a.m. www.libertyoakrestaurant.com, 336-273-7057
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