I had seen the signs for live music outside Osbourne's earleir in the day (Thursday) and had decided I would pop in later to check it out. This was, however, before I heard about the folk night in the Dun Cow (see seperate tip) which sort of trumped it as I am a folkie at heart. I did decide to drop in early just to see what it was like. I should apologise here to Red Box, the band playing that night and oictured setting up. I am sure you were very good but I cannot be in two places at once.
I should note that this really is a "night" place, it does not seem to open until the evening. When I arrived, it was just starting to fill up with a predominantly young and pretty smartly dressed crowd, although I did not feel uncomfortable in my pretty casual clothes (trainers etc.) and was greeted warmly by the barman who I had a pleasant conversation with. It was from him that I gleaned most of the following information.
Osbournes has a band on a Thursday night, with various genres being represented. There is an open mic night on a Sunday which is apparently mainly of the singer / songwriter variety although all styles are welcome. There are also various DJ nights at the weekend. Check the attached website for current events. Even if there is no music on, it is still a pelasant enough place for a drink in the evening.
Dress Code: Smart casual, although trainers do seem to be permitted. I am not sure about the weekend though.
I had intitially visited the Dun Cow as I had been told it was one of the best little pubs in Durham, and it certainly did not disappoint. In the tiny front bar, i was given an extremely friendly welcome by both staff and regulars alike. This is definitely a regulars pub, as everyone knows everyone else. During a conversaton with one of the locals, I told him that I was a musician of no fixed ability and he told me there was a good folk night every thursday which, by great good fortune happened to be the day it was. I also noted that it must be a good real ale pub as it has regularly featured in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide.
I returned later that evening equally hospitably and told that if I wanted the folk night, it was in the back bar which turned out to be considerably larger than the frint one. That was just as well as there were a few musicians and a decent sized crowd there to watch them. It was a typical acoustic folk session and the standard very good. It was predominantly English but with a smattering of Scottish and Irish as well. I also heard a few Northumbrian tunes which I had not heard before, which was interesting. Someone must have mentioned to the lady apparently leading the session that I played a bit and was offered a chance to join in with a borrowed guitar (I didn't have my own with me) so I joined for a couple of sets, great fun.
I was only in Durham for a couple of days so I don't now what the folk scene is like generally but this is a great place to start and perhaps make a few contacts if that is your thing. Admission is free, which is always a good thing if you are on a budget.
Apologies for me being in my own photo but it was the only angle I could get an image with a lowering sun.
Dress Code: Casual, it is just an ordinary pub.
The cinema in Durham closed down while we lived there, a pity, it was old and charming. I think a new one may have opened there by now.
We always went to the cinema in Darlington, south of Durham. It had an ok selection of movies, also had movies in the the early and late afternoon, and on Tuesdays it was only 2,50 pounds to see a movie, cheap indeed.
OK, so nightlife might be a bit limited, and students are often compaining about the lack of places to go out...but one thing Durham is not short on is pubs. All sorts of pubs...old traditional ones, modern ones which are more like bars, studenty ones, themed ones, rough ones...
The Court Inn - next to the courthouse, has good food and is popular with international students for its Sunday roasts.
The Shakespeare - on the Bailey, supposedly the oldest pub in Durham, all wooden beams and real ales.
The Swan and Thee Cygnets - On Elvet Bridge, with a riverside terrace, popular for its real ales.
The Fighting Cocks - at the start of North Road, this place is notorious as being quite rough and not student friendly...I'm not sure if it deserves this reputation, but if you look obviously studenty-like, maybe it is best to err on the side of caution! Seemed fine on the one occasion I went though.
The New Inn - opposite the uni library, very popular with students, especially with sports teams.
These are just a few pubs in the city centre...for a quieter drink, try one of the pubs out of the centre. Up in Neville's Cross (a couple of miles out of the city) the Duke of Wellington is a good one, as is the Garden House up towards County Hall and the Rose Tree in Shincliffe. There are too many to mention here, but every neighbourhood has at least one pub.
Durham's claim to fame for many years was being host to the worst nightclub in Britain, the infamous Klute. It is still there, still as unfathomably popular as ever, and has even been revamped with a VIP lounge (). Its old rivals on North Street weren't much better, and have a habit of changing names very frequently...I think one goes by the name of Bar 21, not sure about the other, but look out for the queues of drunken females who, even on the bitterest winter night, wear less than some people wear for swimming and somehow manage not to freeze. A new club, which seems to be the current favourite, is Loveshack, down by the new library/theatre complex on Claypath.
Bars...we'll start with North Street, the liveliest end of town which often resembles the set of a horror movie after dark. Wetherspoons and Walkabout (in the old cinema) are the two big ones here. Up in town, on the Bailey you've got Fabio's, a pretentious and loud bar a floor above La Spaghettata restaurant. Down under Elvet Bridge, in the old boathouse, is Chase, which really should be better than it is...I mean, if I was going to save a building from dereliction and renovate it into a trendy bar, I think I would have gone for furniture that doesn't look as if it was bought at a charity shop, and can you really buy carpets like that anymore? A drink on the balcony in summer is great, but inside is dingy. Opposite, built inside the actual bridge, is Jimmy Allen's...an intriguing place on many floors, the one problem I have with this is that it is too loud. Clubs have loud music because people go to dance, but there's no room in Jimmy Allen's to dance, so you end up with people sat round tables yelling their heads off at each other attempting a conversation....there are tables outside by the river in summer though. A quieter bar is the new Bishop's Mill, with several themed rooms...one looks like an old library with a fireplace, another is dark with blue lamps...it's next to Loveshack in the new development.
Dress Code: The less you wear, the more local you appear! Something that has baffled scientists for decades is how people in the North East, women especially, wear practically nothing on a night out and don't feel the cold!
Weeknights tend to be student nights, while Fridays and Saturdays are the big local nights. It used to be that the two rarely mixed, and students were advised against going out at weekends, and to stick to college bars and the students' union...but now, it seems this is not as true as it was.
Step forward... The Swan and Three Cygnets. Definitely the best pub in Durham, an unusual place in that locals and students seem to drink there together in harmony. Large inside, it is great in winter, and with a huge beer garden even better in summer. The drink is first class (it's a Sam Smith's pub) and extremely cheap. It can be found at the bottom of Elvet Bridge, which is not far from the cathedral.
It's also near lots of decent restaurants (mostly Italian) and is situated on the river. Pretty great really and having spent 4 years as a student in Durham, i've had lots of time to check the pubs out; i'm convinced that this is the best place there is.
Other pubs worth visiting if you see them; The Shakespeare (an old school, homely pub), Jimmy Allen's (your more trendy wine bar) and The Court Inn (near the prison and police station but don't let that put you off! Good beer and really great food).
At one point the City of Durham had more pubs than you could shake a stick at. I believe there were over 30 along Elvet alone.
For a tourist I would most easily recomend the "Swan and three Cygnets" on Elvet Bridge. It's got good real ales, old-fashioned food that is good value and an outside seating area overlooking the bridge.
I would also point you towards "The Shakespere" on Saddler street with it's rabbit warren of little room. Unlike the Swan & 3 it's a bit studenty in term time.
If you want a place where town & gown mix more easily then "The Dun Cow" is worth a look. Its beyond the Swan and 3 opposite Old Shire Hall.
The Market Tavern is also a good choice, but most of the rest have little to recommend them.
Really cosy and friendly traditional English pub on Old Elvet, just 5 minutes walk from the city centre. This place hasn't changed in decades but why to change something when it's not broken!!
They have a good choice (and excellent quality!) of English and local real ales, also a changing guest beer. Pop in for lunch on a Friday- you get fresh (made in the morning) home made pies, warm sandwiches and chillies! For instance, try a steak&mushroom pie (absolutely gorgeous!) and wash it down with a pint of Castle Eden ale.
Definitely worth trying out!
"The Dun Cow" down Old Elvet. Another incredibly small pub, serving Whitbread beers. It's so small you could easily walk past it.
It's well liked by students and even has "The Dun Cow Lecture Rooms" at the back. A nice place for lectures, I think :-)
Ah, "The Big Jug". Takes me back to when I was a lad.
This was the pub we came to most often in Durham when we were young (and for the most part, under-age). It's up Clay Path, not so far from the market square.
When we were young this was a "Bikers pub", full of guys in black leather, with a dirty, rough, unshaven look (very stereotyped, but true none the less); The rooms were full of smoke (not all of it from cigarettes) and there was a juke box in the back room that had only heavy metal classics on it. In those days even I liked a bit of Motorhead and Black Sabbath.
Today it's completely changed - in fact it's not recogniseable as the same pub. It's clean and airy inside, no Juke box, and it sells reasonably good (but no frills) food at an incredibly cheap price. It's gotta be the cheapest place to eat in Durham.
The market Tavern (next door to the market hall) is a nice pub, and one of those that we used to frequent as lads.
It's a nice pub with a bit of "atmosphere" inside and a decent amount of history, as told by the sign by the door.