Behind the bar at 9th Street’s Dain’s Place, you’ll notice a small wooden square crudely cut during the owner’s junior high shop class. Against the unfinished and roughly hued wood, “Dain’s Place” is burned in hand-carved letters. Dain, the owner, who has wanted to own a restaurant for his entire life, doesn’t remember exactly when that vision solidified into a bar. When Dain did open his bar, however, luck was on his side: The first week he was open, George’s Garage—now closed across the street—was forced to close its incredibly popular lunch buffet because of tax issues. The majority of the customers surprised by the padlocks on the door walked across the street to Dain’s for a great burger and a beer. Next, during a large ice storm, Dain—living nearby and used to winter weather—opened up unlike every other bar in town. Word got around and people from all around walked to Dain’s—the only time the bar has had a line out the door. Needless to say, profits were good.

On top of constant accolades for its burgers and beer selection,’s “City Guide” ranked Dain’s Place the 10th best college bar in America. Yet Dain shrugs it off, almost embarrassed: “I wouldn’t say we’re a college bar. We’re just a bar right by Duke.” Indeed, Dain’s is not a college bar, but within beer culture it holds a quite academic place—Dain’s is like an annotated bibliography and should be treated and respected like one. Upon encountering a new field of study be it physics, Marxism or beer (I do find the three pair well together, if you’re ever interested), annotated bibliographies provide a road map. From these compilations—understanding the danger of established canons—your study launches with self-direction and the passion of intellectual pursuit.

In this way Dain’s serves as a launching pad. Yes, the bar is cool. Everyone’s nice and the walls are covered with Dain’s assorted family heirlooms from growlers to an airplane propeller. The most important quality, however, is that the bartenders are not only knowledgeable and passionate about beer, they—as professors—can instruct even the most annoying frat flop about the world of beer. We as North Carolinians are quite lucky; North Carolina has a very solid brewery scene. Because this is a column with a word limit, I will only briefly point to the three breweries located in Durham knowing that the state’s best breweries lie outside of town but—as is my point—find out yourself!

The most promising and unique brewery in town—Fullsteam Brewery—pushes the local food movement into the beer sphere with the “Apothecary” series’ local and heirloom ingredients. Though retaining those classic tastes in the “Workers’ Compensation” line, the brewery is making good on its stated commitment to develop a “distinctly Southern beer style that celebrates the culinary and agricultural heritage of the South.” Additionally, for the past 10 years or so, Triangle Brewery Company has been establishing itself as a regional brewery of interest. Finally, Bull City Burger and Brewery—the newcomer on the fermenting block—incorporates the tradition of the gastropub into Durham’s culinary scene. Both the Pro Bono Publico Porter and Jack Tar Stout quench the thirst and still leave room for one of the best burgers I have ever eaten.

Now that you know the departments in town, use Dain’s like your independent study advisor. The professors you’re working with know their subject well and happen to have a beautiful critical anthology chilling on tap or in bottles behind them. Go to Dain’s and ask what Durham Breweries they have. Talk to the bartender about each beer’s taste, and if it’s on tap, ask for a sip before deciding. Once you have learned the local breweries from this controlled “undergraduate” environment, go to the breweries themselves. Talk with the brewers about their craft, their passions, expectations and intentions with their beer. Then go by Sam’s Quik Shop—a great library—to find some homework. Finally, go back to Dain’s. Either expand into breweries in the Triangle or North Carolina at large or apply your new knowledge in a more educated critique of the beers you already know. Whatever you do, recognize the beers for their quality and the bartenders for their knowledge and profession—in both meanings of the word.

Dain has always maintained that his bar should feel like “going over to a friend’s house and drinking their parents’ beer in the basement.” Always supportive, Dain’s father said the bar has “esprit de corps.” Beyond all of this, Dain is—despite his large and somewhat intimidating beard, inescapably—a Peter Pan figure whose childlike excitement derives from and constantly translates a reality fashioned upon his childhood dreams. Like Sam Malone from Cheers—who Dain grew up idolizing—Dain has always found his celebrity in the regulars who recognize the man behind the beard. In the end, it’s just the Cheers’ theme song: We—beers and patrons—all just want a place “where everybody knows your name.”

Josh Brewer is a Trinity senior.