Chapel Hill News

Art Menius: Signs of the (NY) Times

On a July-hot Wednesday after Memorial Day outside Weaver Street Market, I couldn’t avoid hearing a thirtysomething couple discussing a New York Times “article called “36 Hours in Chapel Hill-Carrboro.” The vaguely hipster-looking guy had it on the screen of his laptop which he had marked with an “Easy Does It” sticker.

“It’s a travel article,” insisted the woman, whose tan was dark for late May. “It isn’t called ‘the complete guide to everything in Carrboro and Chapel Hill.’ It’s about a weekend junket here.”

“I get that,” he responded, “but how do you leave out this place, or cram the Cat’s Cradle and The ArtsCenter into one sentence in a section about the Hampton Inn.”

By this point I had pulled up the article on my phone and Googled the author. It seems that Ingrid K. Williams, who also wrote a “36 Hours in Raleigh” a year ago, came all the way from her home on the northwestern coast of Italy. On her website she describes herself as “a freelance writer who writes about travel, food, art, fashion and culture for newspapers, magazines and online publications.”

“You have to admit that paragraph about pairing Chapel Hill with Carrboro instead of Durham is right on the money,” the woman pointed.

That introduction impressed me as well. “Outsiders tend to lump Chapel Hill with nearby Durham, but the more sensible pairing is with Carrboro, the adjacent town that was once a mere offshoot known as West End. Even today the transition from Chapel Hill … into downtown Carrboro is virtually seamless. And although the charming college town is more buttoned-up than its free-spirited neighbor, both towns share a love of live music, a range of new drinking spots, and sophisticated dining options.”

“For that matter,” retorted the guy, “the Hampton, Carolina Inn, and the Franklin made the article while Sienna and Aloft didn’t.”

“You sure are doing a lot of nitpicking. Do you have lice?” she said. “She wrote about the Crunkleton and Peccadillo. You got to admit knowing about Peccadillo is impressive. Half my friends don’t have a clue that it exists or how to find it.”

Me. Easy Does It wouldn’t give up that easily. “Well, I didn’t know about that One restaurant. I’ve only been out to Meadowmont a couple of times. How did it make the article when there are so many great places to eat more in town?”

By now I had finished a hasty read of the article and could see both points of view. The inclusion of Steel String, Neal’s Deli, Lantern, Baxter Arcade, Carrboro Farmers Market, Vinyl Perk, the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Open Eye Cafe, and Al’s Burger Shack supported the woman’s pro position. So did the balance of destinations between our two towns.

Much like her distancing of Durham in favor of Carrboro, Williams often squarely nailed her observations. She encourages visitors to stay at one of the three downtown hotels and walk everywhere, which the exception of One and the Botanical Garden. “Less than a mile of sidewalk separates downtown Carrboro from the heart of Chapel Hill, which means a shopping excursion in both towns is pleasant on foot.”

On the other hand, “36 Hours in Chapel Hill-Carrboro” fails to steer weekend visitors to the Cave or Local 506. Nor do Carr Mill Mall or any of our several art galleries merit a mention. Vespertine on Weaver Street represents a plethora of unique gift shops.

Then Easy Does It made his strongest point. “What about UNC?” he asked. “The basketball museum and the Ackland Art Museum and its Franklin Street store are it for campus attractions. What about the Bosh, Wilson Library and its special collections, Playmakers, Morehead Planetarium, or Memorial Hall and Carolina Performing Arts?”

The woman didn’t flinch. “What about them? You can’t see everything in 36 hours. We’ve been here 10 years, and we haven’t been to all those places. You ask way too much from one newspaper article.”

“Whatever,” he said with a hint of resignation. “You can’t just have part of one sentence about Cat’s Cradle.”

You can reach Art Menius at