Raleigh is for Gay Travel

Published Date Author: , April 23rd, 2014

Photo Courtesy of VisitRaleigh.com – Brian Gassel

Farmer's Market Raleigh

Photo Courtesy of VisitRaleigh.com

Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. Raleigh has always been considered a fairly liberal small metropolitan southern U.S. city that people receive a good education in, because of its many public and private Universities, and then leave to go out and change the World by moving to a much larger populated area.

But here we are in 2014 and the World has suddenly realized that Raleigh, its people and geographic location is much, much more and especially for GLBT people. Raleigh is currently listed as the fastest growing major city within the USA by several major business publications including Forbes.

Not to be outdone in food and beverage, Raleigh has really upped the cooking and locally produced beverage bar as well for international foodies.

As any locals know, Raleigh, the City of Oaks, isn’t just divided by old food traditions and new cuisine; we’re deeply divided by our respect for traditional food preparation traditions including barbecue or seafood philosophies. But the traditional flavorful preparations and barbecue domination, through local establishments like The Pit or Clyde Cooper’s BBQ or The Angus Barn or 42nd Street Oyster Bar, has given way to a thriving wine and slow-food culture that is best witnessed at a number of bustling and award winning foodie haunts.

Dinner in Raleigh

Photo Courtesy of VisitRaleigh.com

Stanbury , which opened on a quiet block north of downtown in September 2013. The decor is unfussy – wooden tables, a few votives, an open kitchen – but the spot’s take on modern American cuisine is adventurous. The seasonal, ingredient-driven menu, which changes daily, recently included Chadwick Creek oysters ($3 each), pan-fried North Carolina triggerfish ($12) and a scrumptious plate of crispy pig’s head with beluga lentils, arugula and an oozy 63-degree duck egg ($12). Desserts don’t disappoint, but consider going next door to Escazu Artisan Chocolates, where chocolate is made on-site and the truffles with clove-scented caramel are almost too pretty to eat.

Or go nouveau – or rather, nuevo at Jose and Sons, a slick new restaurant that draws on the owners’ heritage to produce a mash-up of Southern and Mexican cuisine. The culinary fusion seems natural when you bite into pimento-cheese-topped tostones ($6) or the belly-busting entree called Chicharron and Waffles (corn-masa waffles, a pile of pork belly cracklings, sriracha sauce, and a poached egg; $11).

Raleigh Convention Center - Raleigh

Photo Courtesy of VisitRaleigh.com – Michael Zirkle

The increasingly diverse dining options downtown are typified by Bida Manda, a new upscale Laotian restaurant where walls are lined with woven bamboolike sticks. Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha, the siblings who own the place, also incorporated personal elements into the decor, like a black-and-white image of their smiling parents in Lao wedding dress that greets patrons. Standout dishes recently included a rich pork belly soup with coconut curry, vegetables and rice noodles ($16.90) and spicy green papaya salad with ginger-and-garlic pork neck, peanuts, lime sauce and a basket of sticky rice ($17.90).

The acclaimed Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen now oversees five ventures in the city (with more on the way). But the casual cafe Joule Coffee, which opened in September 2013, may be her finest yet. The cheerful interior is punctuated with jolts of color from vermilion chairs and benches, while glassed-in alcoves flanking the entrance provide quiet nooks in which to peruse the Sunday paper.

After choosing the beans for your pour-over coffee (all from the local Counter Culture Coffee roasters), focus on the excellent brunch menu. The puffy sweet potato hot cake ($12) is sure to recharge your batteries, as will the Hangover, a delectable bowl of grits, melted Cheddar, bacon, pico de gallo, scallions and sour cream ($12).

Further, The Raleigh’s entrepreneurial bent also fueled an explosion of new craft breweries over the last several years, so take a tour of our many on-site taprooms to find your new favorite beer. At the cavernous Raleigh Brewing Company, try the cheekily named Hell Yes Ma’am, an easy-drinking Belgian Golden. At the sleek bicycle-themed Crank Arm Brewing, which has beers like Unicycle Single Hop Pale Ale and Pumptrack Pumpkin Porter, old gears and chains are integrated into the industrial decor and wall-mounted art installations.

And at the cozy Trophy Brewing Company, flavorful small-batch beers like the rosemary-scented Rose Gose are poured from trophy-topped taps.

North Hills

Photo Courtesy of VisitRaleigh.com

The downtown Raleigh area known as the Warehouse District, traditionally know as a GLBT business and entertainment area, which is the location of most of the GLBT & friendly nightclubs Legends Nightclub, Flex, Fifteen, Spy, Deep South, was also once just a sector of dilapidated redbrick buildings, where gay people only went to at night to dance and cruise for a quick romantic date.

Over the years, due to a much larger GLBT & allied population, this downtown district now houses high-rise condominiums, high tech international businesses, boutiques, art studios and galleries along with the well-established gay bars & restaurants, with more to come. Start an exploration of the neighborhood during the daytime at either the female Chiefs and life-partners owned vegetarian restaurant Fiction Kitchen or female owned The Borough or Cafe de los Muertos or Humble Pie or Flanders Gallery, a bright space that exhibits varied contemporary art – a tractor covered in crochet, fantastical animal sculptures – with an emphasis on emerging area artists.

Then head across the street to CAM Raleigh, the city’s first contemporary art museum, which opened in 2011 ($5). A recent exhibition showcased art made by using mapping technology like satellite imagery and Google maps. Then stop at Designbox, a gallery, shared working space and shop that sells, among other items, cartoon cards from the in-house illustrator Paul Friedrich.

Among the many sites to make sure you pop into on any day or night is the LGBT Center of Raleigh, which houses the largest GLBT lending Library within the southeastern USA as well as meeting space, local GLBT artist exhibits and community programs on any topic one can conceive concerning GLBT subjects and causes.

Raleigh’s expanding Art and Culture offerings has gained it the title Smithsonian of the Southern USA. When travel writers think of museums, they think of Washington, DC, the Smithsonian Institute, and even New York City. But more and more travelers looking alternative destinations think about Raleigh and other GLBT friendly mid-size U.S. Cities. Often called the “Smithsonian of the South,” Raleigh is home to many museums.

North Carolina Museum of History

Photo Courtesy of VisitRaleigh.com

Raleigh’s most well-known museums include the North Carolina Museum of History, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and for GLBT parents traveling with their children Marbles Kids Museum. In addition, the North Carolina Museum of Art, which has been run by Larry Wheeler, one of the World’s leading art curators who is also gay, or the J.C. Raulston Arboretum, which also was founded and named for a historically significant gay man – Dr. J.C. Raulston of Raleigh, both within a short drive from downtown Raleigh.

Further, during any night or day no visit is complete without taking in one of the many North Carolina Symphony or North Carolina Theater productions or any number of smaller theater or music venues around town.

There is an abundance of GLBT Travel information about Raleigh at the Greater Raleigh CVB GLBT Guide; the Raleigh Business and Professional Network; the LGBT Center of Raleigh, and the OutGuide; or the Out Raleigh Pride Festival.

There are so many great things to do in LGBT Raleigh – come and see for yourself!

Willie D. Pilkington runs the Raleigh GLBT Report, and is an avid booster of gay Raleigh!

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