Barry Saunders

Durham doesn’t need any more hipster cool – Saunders

The skyline of Durham, which Vogue magazine recently dubbed North Carolina’s “hippest” city, changes day to day. Here is a view from the 9th floor of the Durham County Courthouse shot on March 15.
The skyline of Durham, which Vogue magazine recently dubbed North Carolina’s “hippest” city, changes day to day. Here is a view from the 9th floor of the Durham County Courthouse shot on March 15. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Say, homes. Y’all still fixing to build that wall?

If so, can you start with one around Durham? Please?

To the delight of absolutely no one who doesn’t work for the Chamber of Commerce, Durham was recently named the “hippest” city in North Carolina by the glossiest of glossy international fashion and lifestyle magazines, Vogue.

That means one thing: Durham will soon be invaded by hipsters driving up the prices of houses and drinking ironically the beers many of us drink because we like ’em.

Without the wall to hold back the hipster hordes, you soon won’t be able to swing a dead skunk in the Bull City without hitting a dude in skinny jeans with a product-enhanced, perfectly manicured beard riding a skateboard and wearing a fedora.

Lord knows I’m the last person on earth to knock someone for rocking a funky brim, except when the message it’s meant to convey is “Hey, look. I’m so hip I can wear my daddy’s hat that I found in the closet and still be cool.”

The next wave of invaders will include foodies who do weird things with grits to “cosmopolitanize” them. There’s already a place putting cilantro in them: I liked to have gagged.

Listen up: Grits don’t need no cosmopolitanizing, and if you’re going to start messing around with nature’s perfect food, you can just stay in Seattle, Portland, Austin or some other previously anointed hipster haven.

To see what’s in store for Durham, one needn’t travel that far. Look no farther than Asheville, which a few years ago was selected as the new hipster hot spot.

“How’s that working out for y’all?” I asked people who live there.

“It can be a curse or a godsend,” M.E. Gray, an agent with Keller Williams Realty in Asheville, told me recently.

It’s a godsend, she said, for the favorable attention it attracts to the city, as well as for the tourists and homebuyers who come in and spend money.

“It’s a curse,” she said, echoing the sentiment of other real estate agents to whom I spoke, “if you’re in the service or retail industry and you can’t afford a home you can be proud of. Prices have escalated, and people such as teachers and police sometimes have to go further afield” to find affordable housing.

The writer of the Vogue piece, Jennifer Rice, alienated some Durhamites with her first-sentence proclamation, “Durham is perhaps known first and foremost as the home of Duke University (and its famed basketball team), but it’s becoming a destination for much more than just Blue Devils games.”

Say, has she been talking to Stephen Miller, the president’s adviser in charge of Elitism, who once wrote that were it not for Duke, there’d be no reason to ever visit Durham?

Duke is an undeniably essential part of Durham’s appeal, but what makes the city hip has nothing to do with what Rice cited: hotels with 3,000-thread count sheets, restaurants that serve foods that won’t even make you burp, such as the one where you can get a – meaning one – soft-boiled egg wrapped in garlic and sage sausage for $9 – and frou-frou coffee shops that call biscuits scones.

Judging by the surfeit of restaurants on her list, one might conclude that hipsters just sit around eating fancy victuals and slurping sugary coffee drinks.

That can’t be true, though, because then they couldn’t fit into those skinny jeans.

The things that make Durham hip, I’d say, are its effortlessly diverse neighborhoods, its friendly residents and the number of ways you can have fun without spending a lot of scratch.

If Vogue thinks Durham is hip now, it should’ve seen the place before the Upright Citizens Brigade shut down Brothers III and the 14 Karat Dinner Theater and someone incomprehensibly suggested moving the annual Bull Durham Blues Festival inside.

If Dame Anna Wintour, Vogue’s influential editor-in-chief, calls me up on her next visit to Durham, I’ll show her what’s hip.

C’mon, Anna. Let’s check out the Independent newspaper – sorry, I refuse to call that delightful alternative weekly The Indy – to see what’s shaking.

First, we’ll see a play at Manbites Dog Theater. Don’t you worry, hon. You can keep your style-forward stilettos on, because we’ll park right across the street and walk 20 feet to the front door.

Then we’ll walk 100 yards up the street to Motorco, to what used to be a car dealership but is now a funky music hall where you can hear everything and anybody from rap music to Loudon Wainwright III. Depending upon when you arrive, I’ll take you to the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Bimbe and Bull Durham Blues festivals, and to a game at that Pro-Am basketball league they have every summer at N.C. Central University.

Oh, and Dame, if we eat too much at Dame’s Chicken & Waffles or Cafe Beyu, I’ll take you over to one of the free exercise or yoga classes they have for senior citizens – not that you’re old, Anna – or to the Duke wall, which might be the most egalitarian spot in the Triangle and where you can do all the walking and people-watching you want on an esteemed university’s campus.

In the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” when Jimmy Stewart and his angel, Clarence, sidle up to the bar, the cantankerous bartender hips them. “Hey, look,” he said, “we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere. Is that clear?”

That’s how Durham residents feel, too: we’ve already got enough character and atmosphere to share – which we gladly will if you come in and behave yourself.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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