The city’s student population might dominate the nightlife arena, but it has plenty to offer the more discerning drinker, including some historic pubs, intriguingly named bars – yes, Tin of Sardines, we’re talking about you – and some excellent whisky and champagne outlets. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite evening spots in our Durham nightlife guide.
Nightlife in Durham
Being a historic city, you’re never far from a well-pulled pint at one of Durham’s many excellent pubs, where you’re sure of finding a great thirst-quencher or three.
Boasting nearly as much character as its guest ales, The Dun Cow in Old Elvet is a traditional English pub. The food is homemade and traditional, including warming chillis and pork pies, while the ales are some of the finest in the city. The pub is split into several rooms, with the snug at the front being a cosy space perfect for winter evenings and the larger bar at the back getting busy on weekends with a mix of locals and tourists. With no gimmicks, no pub quizzes and no jukeboxes, this is a dog-friendly, back-to-basics pub doing the simple pleasures very well.
Another historic pub, this time dating back to the 18th century, The Garden House Inn takes great pride in its food and drink offerings, with seasonal menus throughout the year and regular dinner and Sunday lunch options. Highlights from the menu include the Durham-renowned triple-cooked chips, the lobster sandwich and homemade Scotch egg. With a well-compiled wine list spanning 30 bottles and a well-stocked bar including several rotating guest ales, The Garden House Inn is just a 10-minute walk from our Durham City Centre Hotel.
A chain pub serving a diverse range of ales, craft beers, ciders, wines and spirits, The Head of Steam is a vibrant pub near The Riverwalk boasting a roof terrace and courtyard, making it perfect for a summer tipple or two. The food menu is almost as diverse as the beer and cider collection, including pizzas, burgers and small sharing plates. Busy at the weekend, and with plenty of entertainment on offer for kids including colouring books and puzzles, you’re sure to find something to suit your taste buds.
Located five miles from the city centre, The Cross Keys Inn is well worth the trip for the food alone. One of the top rated pubs in Durham on TripAdvisor, this village drinking establishment is as olde worlde as they come, with exposed roof beams, traditional tables and chairs and low ceilings. The food is a mix of traditional offerings, including suet-crusted pie as well as more modern takes on pub grub, such as curries and chicken teriyaki. A dog-friendly pub, The Cross Keys Inn is the perfect stop for a post-walk pint as well as a destination pub thanks to its impressive food and drink options.
Tin of Sardines
Garden House Inn
From back-street bars offering over 200 different gins to whisky dens, champagne bars and venues that date back over 500 years, Durham has a lot to offer when it comes to after-hours fun.
Small but perfectly formed – especially if you’re a gin-lover – Tin of Sardines only opened in May 2017 but has already made a big impression in Durham. The name, as you might imagine, is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The bar is genuinely tiny (it can hold maybe 30–40 people), so it can feel like the proverbial tin of sardines on a busy weekend night. With over 200 gins on offer though, it’s a juniper berry lover’s paradise. The bar staff know their product inside out and are able to suggest the right tonic and accompaniment. If you’re claustrophobic, then Tin of Sardines – which proudly bills itself as the smallest bar in Durham – isn’t for you. For everyone else, it’s well worth the five-minute walk from our Durham City Centre hotel.
Another spirit specialist, Whisky River by Elvet Bridge serves up over 60 whiskies from across the world and a decent range of cocktails, doubling up with coffees, iced teas and cakes during the day. The bar’s big selling point though is its whiskies. Sourced from west coast peaty islands to east coast floral numbers and everything in between, there’s bound to be a tipple with your name on it. And if that doesn’t do the trick, their cocktails – including the Singapore Sling, Almond Espresso Martini and Bloody Mary – are the best for miles around.
There’s no bad time for champagne, or so goes the Ebony Champagne Bar’s ethos. With champagne for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and for a night out, the fizzy French stuff is always on hand. Boasting a prime location next to the Gala Theatre, Ebony is the perfect place for a pre- or post-theatre drink, and with a dizzying array of contemporary and vintage champagnes, 40 different cocktails, beers, wines and spirits, the bar has plenty to offer everyone.
Offering panoramic views of the River Wear with the rowing boats and the medieval Elvet Bridge, The Boat Club is the perfect spot for drinking in Durham’s rich history. With a decent range of food, including Pieminister’s award-winning pies, the 500-year old venue turns into a late-night dancing and drinking den at the weekends sound-tracked by cool house music and lubricated with several different cocktail menus.