Chapel Hill is a Southern charm fest. Anchored by the University of North Carolina campus, the city attracts a constant flow of students, travelers and entrepreneurs with its quaint architecture, myriad street murals and vibrant food and music scenes. Over the last few years, Chapel Hill has also seen an infusion of top-notch drinking destinations for those with tastes beyond collegiate taverns or The Cave — the oldest, most revered dive in town. In fact, you can sample local craft beers, progressive wheat-based vodka distillations, boozy Prohibition-era cocktails and rare imported wines all within 30 minutes of RDU Airport. Here’s a guide to some of the best places to sip nearby.

1. Crossroads Bar at The Carolina Inn
After undergoing a $14 million restoration, the Carolina Inn’s new look balances the traditional character of its 1924 architectural bones with modern amenities and clean, contemporary lines. This is most evident inside of the renovated Crossroads Bar, an über-masculine lounge featuring rich leather club chairs, seven decades of framed Daily Tar Heel illustrations (a UNC publication), and a handful of flat-screen TVs for watching the game. Sidle up to the mahogany bar and peruse the solid selection of local craft beers, such as Carolina Brewery — or order a signature Tar Heel Tea, combining lemons muddled with mint and a healthy pour of bourbon then topped off with sweet black tea. Cheers! 211 Pittsboro Street, Chapel Hill, carolinainn.com

2. Top of the Hill Distillery
The latest venture from Scott Maitland and Esteban McMahan, owners of Chapel Hill’s popular Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery, the Distillery is a bare bones warehouse space and tasting room. (The ambience is provided by the gleaming pots and stills visible beyond a floor-to-ceiling glass wall and a vintage, army-issue bicycle belonging to McMahan.) No matter, all attention is on the organic distillations anyway. Using 100% soft red winter wheat harvested two hours east in Scotland Neck, N.C., the distillery currently produces three different spirits: Carolina whiskey (also known as white dog or moonshine), wheat-based vodka (notably sweet and smooth) and a beautifully floral Piedmont gin. Reserve a tasting in advance and compare against other known labels for yourself. While you can find all three bottles at many local pubs, wholesale distribution remains regional. So you may want to pack a few bottles for the plane. 505-C W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, topodistillery.com

3. The Crunkleton
Located in the heart of Chapel Hill’s main drag, Franklin Street, The Crunkleton is a "members-only" bar — a nod to antiquated North Carolina blue laws that mandated drinking establishments either offer food or require memberships in order to serve alcohol. As this rule is rarely enforced today, anyone willing to pay $5 at the door of Crunkleton’s can enter with three friends and receive "a lifetime membership." Which is good, because you may never want to leave. From the bow-tied bartenders to the Wurlitzer jukebox to owner Gary Crunkleton’s meticulously crafted Prohibition-era cocktails, the bar wraps patrons in the comforts of a bygone era set to a modern, indie soundtrack wafting from the speakers. Recommended: The Bumble Bee, a frothy combination of bourbon, honey, lemon, lime, egg white, cream and citrus bitters served inside of a martini glass. It’s deceptively gentle going down. But two may leave you teetering around the pool table. 320 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, thecrunkleton.com

4. Steel String Brewery
Opened three months ago inside of a small strip mall in neighboring Carrboro, Steel String Brewery is the hot new hops mecca of the Triangle Area. The brewery’s Rubber Room Ale takes its name and inspiration from Chapel Hill’s most famous recording studio and uses locally grown rye and New Zealand Motueka hops to infuse flavors of lime, grapefruit and biscuit for long, easy sipping. Stout lovers will also enjoy the Manzanita Black IPA, a hop-heavy, IPA-Porter hybrid that gives a lot of chocolate and coffee notes, perfect après jam sessions at Fridays on Franklin or the Festifall Arts Festival. 106A South Greensboro Street, Carrboro, steelstringbrewery.com

5. Glasshalfull
Next door to Steel String Brewery, restaurant-wine bar-bottle shop Glasshalfull offers something for the oenophile on the go. A rotating selection of nearly 300 wines from around the world is there to peruse en route to local celebrations. But if you have time to linger, settle down at the marble bar for 3 oz. tasting flights, 5 oz. glasses of exotic pours and see where the night takes you. From Bastianich’s 2009 malvasia to the 2008 Paitin barbera d’Alba “Serra,” there is a little something for all palates and staff are happy to pair wines with items on the restaurant menu. But if the open tasting options don’t currently feature something that suits your taste, you can also purchase a bottle from the adjacent shop and enjoy it at a table instead. Sort of choose-your-own-wine-adventure formats, as it were. Game on. 106 South Greensboro Street, Carrboro, glasshalfullcarrboro.com


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