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Memories of Chapel Hill

A recent graduate reflects on her four years at UNC and shares a few of her favorite spots around town for locals and visitors. 

My senior year is coming to a close, and as a soon-to-be graduating Tarheel, I am obligated to express my appreciation and gratitude for four phenomenal years at UNC-Chapel Hill. I could go on about the many reasons to enroll at this university, but besides the school’s credentials, the city of Chapel Hill in itself is a college town worth visiting.

When I first moved to Chapel Hill, I had the infamous nickname for the town stuck in my head: Chapel Thrill. Although Chapel Hill’s lively bar scene has its place, this Southern town has plenty of other noteworthy areas of interest including sports, history and landmarks. The UNC Tarheels do not only identify with UNC, but with Chapel Hill as a community. Although some residents of Chapel Hill may not have attended the university, they will cheer on the Tarheels, especially for football and basketball.


Historically, no other town can call itself the birthplace of the first public university in North Carolina (nor any town call dibs on hosting the greatest rivalry in sports). Some landmarks include Sutton’s old-fashioned drugstore and soda shop and The Carolina Inn, which is the most popular place to stay in Chapel Hill. If you visit in the spring, expect to start your weekend on Friday evening at their “Fridays on the Porch,” a weekly outdoor event featuring live music and menu specials. You’ll also have warm chocolate chip cookies waiting when you arrive, along with the option of afternoon tea on Sundays.

If you are in search of adult beverages, breweries are taking over the Triangle, and Chapel Hill has two noteworthy ones. Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery, which opened in 1996, is home to the insanely delicious Blueberry Wheat beer. Though this is a seasonal selection, its opening day each April is a true holiday. The brewery’s three year-round beers include Kenan Lager, Old Well White and Ram’s Head IPA. Stemming from Top O are its venues, including the Great Room, which is ideal for formal gatherings, and Back Bar, perfect for a casual beer while playing a round of pool or game of trivia. Back Bar also features a cask beer program and is the first establishment south of the Mason-Dixon line to institute this program.


Cask beer replicates how beer was created in the 1800s, as it is dry-hopped, served through a manual beer engine and supped at 50-55 degrees. Though cask beers have soft carbonation, they also have prominent flavor. Top O has a separate location for its distillery. In fact, the brewery’s vodka, gin and whiskey have become so popular that Top O created mini bottles for portability and convenience.

Founded in 1995, Carolina Brewery on Franklin Street features an assortment of state classics, ranging from Sky Blue Golden Ale to the seasonal Bullpen Pale Ale. This is the fifth oldest brewery in Chapel Hill and, in 2007, they opened a second brewpub in nearby Pittsboro to extend sales and brewing capacity. Carolina offers tours on Saturdays at their Pittsboro location and will happily go into detail about the brewing process beginning with the grist mill to serving tank and tap. After a tour, you’ll be confident enough to create your own homebrew.


In addition to breweries, local bars are hot spots for both Chapel Hill locals and state natives. On a warm, sunny afternoon, nothing beats a drink on the porch of Pantana Bob’s. In the spring, this bar features live musical performances from the likes of Liquid Pleasure and Craig Woolard Band. It’s the perfect place to break in your dancing shoes. He’s Not Here is a two-story bar featuring an outdoor area lined with picnic tables and a stage for bands, plus two indoor bars. The upstairs bar is your ideal college joint equipped with karaoke machines, darts, an arcade game and a killer playlist. The downstairs bar houses the overflow, especially when a Sunday night Blue Cup special is drawing in students. For a classier vibe, visit The Crunkleton, a sophisticated, almost underground bar with cocktails crafted from the finest ingredients. The signature cocktail to try is the Elderflower Sour.

Back on campus, there’s something enchanting about watching the seasons change around the Old Well. Every day of my last semester, I have purposely walked by the Old Well to soak in the scene and reflect on my four years. Modeled after the Temple of Love in the gardens of Versailles, this structure symbolizes the endurance of the university. Campus tradition says that a drink from the Old Well on the first day of class will bring good luck. I’ll be sure to take a final sip before I leave and will never forget my time in Chapel Hill no matter what the future holds.

Photo credits, from top: Old Well, The Carolina Inn, Top of the Hill Great Room and Carolina Brewery courtesy of Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

Mary Rebecca Harakas is wrapping up her spring internship with Deep South. We wish her all the best in her future endeavors!

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Modern Oyster Bar Co