The best news I read over the past two weeks arrived in this story via The Times-News. The headline reads: Saxapahaw businesses branch out into Graham. The businesses in question were what caught my eye. One is Haw River Farmhouse Ales. The other is a restaurant to be operated by the owners of The Eddy Pub. I’m a big fan of both places.
Good news on both counts for the suddenly hopping downtown Graham area. Note that hopping is a purely unintentional pun.
Yes, Graham’s downtown area is the latest happening place in Alamance County — following the incredible scene created in the former mill village of Saxapahaw and in Mebane. Suddenly restaurants and bars are taking a look and moving into the county seat, something promised when liquor by the drink passed by a citywide vote in around 2008 — just before the economy collapsed. For the next several years few new businesses of any kind opened anywhere, much less a bar or restaurant ready to capitalize on Graham’s new mixed drinks law.
Over the past couple of years, though, that’s changed. And now once vacant Graham downtown storefronts and buildings are starting to fill up. Press Coffeehouse + Crepes has been a popular addition. Located above Press Coffeehouse is the cocktail bar, Fitzgerald & Faulkner, which as generated fantastic buzz since opening a few months ago. My successor at the Times-News, Rich Jackson, is big proponent of the place and I promised to meet him there soon for a cocktail. A restaurant, The Verdict on the Square opened in 2016. Most recently Sutton’s at the Wrike opened for business, an extension of the landmark Sutton’s Drug Store in Chapel Hill. A large beer emporium is also opening downtown.
And now word is that Haw River Farmhouse Ales will open a taproom at 110 N. Main St. Regular readers are well aware of how much I like Haw River Farmhouse Ales, which opened in Saxapahaw in 2014. It specializes in Belgian-style ales (my personal favorite) made with natural ingredients and a robust and creative mixture of flavors. Ben Woodward, owner of Haw River Farmhouse Ales, knows what he’s doing and isn’t daunted by a risk or two. On my most recent visit to the tasting room in Saxapahaw I picked up this special item released just before Christmas in 2017. This version of Saxy Machismo is an incredibly strong brew aged in apple brandy barrels. It’s a smoked quadrupel ale with guajillo and habanero peppers. The peppers help mitigate an otherwise powerfully sweet brew. It’s sugary on the front in and smoky with some heat on the back. Consume this one carefully. The ABV is 12.2.
I like to sample the wide variety of offerings at Haw River Farmhouse Ales but don’t always have the opportunity. The thing that keeps me from buying its products more often is location. The Saxapahaw site is a little out of the way for me, especially because I avoid driving on the interstate. And once I arrive so there the tasting room is so small 20 people constitutes an overflow crowd.
So a larger site with 24 beers on tap is welcome news. According to the Times-News, the Graham location will seat 80 and feature a kitchen that produces “upscale Southern pub food.” Sounds like a future hangout to me.
Another site of interest will be the restaurant planned by the owners of the Eddy Pub. The concept will be far different, though. The owners (Claire Haslam and husband Doug Williams) are talking about a Italian menu at Radici with a wood-fired oven. Pizza will be an obvious specialty along with pasta and small plates. My brother-in-law owns two Italian restaurants in Illinois featuring wood-fired ovens and his bread is also spectacular. If Radici is half as good as Parmesans then our community will have an outstanding addition.
And then Monday’s Times-News included the story of Audrey Garton, an artist who is working to stimulate an arts community in downtown Graham, a place for people to exhibit their work.
Add in the growth of the Children’s Museum just down the street and Alamance Arts, the longtime landmark Graham Cinema and the nearby Soda Shop and its easy to see that Graham is shaping up as the kind of destination site downtown Burlington aspires to be.
I think Graham is getting there first.