Tag Archives: raleigh

21c Museum Hotel

Stepping into the foyer of the 21C Hotel in Durham, North Carolina, the first thing that caught my eye was the green marble and silver leaf ceiling — one of the brilliant Art Deco details preserved in this ornate and beautiful building.

Hill Building Durham, North Carolina

Right in the heart of downtown Durham, 21C is an adaptive reuse project in the old Hill Building, an Art Deco dream built from 1935-1937 and designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon– legendary designers of the Empire State Building.

Repurposed Bank | Durham, NC

The 2400 square-foot Main Gallery is located in the old banking hall where busy tellers once lined the room and the sound of businessmen’s clicking heels echoed off the checkered terrazzo floor. You can almost hear John Sprunt Hill, the building’s namesake, negotiating a Trust from behind the original pecan wood paneling.

Vintage Pictures of the Hill Building, Durham, NC
(left) 1937 | (right) 1965 | Courtesy The Herald-Sun via OpenDurham + Preservation Durham

John Sprunt Hill, a local lawyer, banker, and philanthropist who lead the civic and social development of the city in the early decades of the 20th century, also served as president of Durham Loan & Trust Company, later Durham Bank & Trust Company — for which “The Hill” was first built. The Hill building has since housed other bank offices on its 17 floors.

Luxury Hotel | 21C | Durham, NC

Its last bank tenant was SunTrust Banks before Greenfire Development stepped in in 2006 to begin the Hill’s transformation into a 125-room luxury hotel.

Counting House Restaurant | 21c Hotel

From 2013-2015, Greenfire teamed up with 21C Museum Hotels. With a sweep of their adaptive reuse wand, they added a contemporary art museum, an upscale hotel, bar and ballroom as part of the 21C brand, founded by contemporary art collectors and preservationists Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson.

Luxury Museum Hotel | Durham

Originating in Louisville, the 21C Museum Hotels celebrated 10 years in 2016! The concept was born from Laura Lee’s passion for contemporary art and desire to share it with the public. Laura and Steve saw the shift to commercialism in Louisville and thought that would be a good place for their preservation project to begin. Every 21C Museum Hotel is in an old, repurposed building.

Contemporary Art Museum Durham, NC
courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels

I love when hipstorical places combine historic charm and architecture with modern and contemporary touches– and that’s exactly what the 21C Hotel in Durham, North Carolina does. Every 21C hotel hosts a free contemporary museum that’s open to the public. The 10,500 square-foot 21C Durham museum is open 24 hours except when it’s closed for private events. Curated exhibits are presented on a rotating basis, and guided docent tours are offered twice a week!

Repurposed Bank | 21c Museum Hotel

My favorite part of the building, and my favorite part of just any adapted bank, is the vault. 21C’s “The Vault” is located on the lower level and serves as a lounge for private events like bourbon tastings and cocktail parties. Here, again, is a place where vintage meets contemporary: leather button-back seats line the walls that are home to original safety deposit boxes from floor to ceiling, while original money art sweeps the floor.

Ellis Stone Department Store | Durham | Hipstorical

The Counting House restaurant on the ground floor was once Ellis Stone department store. This gourmet dining room swallows guests with its 23-foot ceiling, and some more contemporary art on display is the perfect side-dish for your seared monkfish or lamb chop. Or book out the Main Gallery for your event, and you’ll get catering cooked right off the line!

The Counting House Restaurant | Durham

Care to accompany me up to my room? The Penthouse Suite takes up the entire 15th floor and is home to 1,000 square feet of glam. Kitchen, 1 ½ baths, bedroom, living room, private balcony with panoramic view of the city– what more could you ask for? Even the standard rooms still have the original floors, big bathrooms and a seating area instead of a desk.

Guest Room | 21c Hotel Durham

21C Museum Hotel in Durham screams glam. It both harkens back to a the Hollywood feel that its Art Deco design emits and envelops you in the opulent indulgence of a luxury hotel filled with a vast collection of contemporary art. If or when you’re in Durham or Raleigh, a stay at the 21C will not disappoint. Go ahead, treat yourself.

A special thank you to Meredith and Kelsey at the 21c Museum Hotel, Durham CVB, OpenDurham, and Preservation Durham!

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Durham? Email me and help me build my archives!

American Tobacco Campus

Stepping through the neon-sign archway of the American Tobacco Campus, the Lucky Strike smokestack and water tower are silhouetted against the bright North Carolina sun. The staggered warehouse chimneys that once fed hot summer air to drying tobacco now cast a jagged shadow across the concrete walkways. A retired train is perched upon a reclaimed rail system suspended above the square, a stream cascades loudly down concrete slabs, and string lights weave across a bustling piazza. Locals and tourists alike chatter and nibble at cafe tables and enjoy a lovely day in Durham.

American Tobacco Campus

Cigarette and tobacco history may be controversial, but what is cut and dry is the mark that American Tobacco made on the city of Durham, North Carolina and the entire country. It’s a story of economic and entrepreneurial success of bright business moguls — a history preserved in these 19th century factory buildings, reimagined as a million square feet of apartments, offices, restaurants, and more.

American Tobacco Restoration | Durham

The Hipstory

It began during the Civil War. When North Carolina soldiers brought their unique brightleaf cured tobacco to war, it went viral. Tobacco peddlers John Ruffin Green and William Thomas Blackwell, riding the success of the tobacco trend, teamed up in 1868 to found Genuine Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco, which would provide a moniker for the city for years to come.

Historical Photo W.T. Blackwell and Co.
1870s | Ben and Snow Roberts | via OpenDurham + Preservation Durham

Meanwhile, Washington Duke returned home from the Civil War to become a tobacco farmer. From 1870 to 1890, his company expanded from a shed on his farm to a factory in downtown Durham. His sons took over the business at its peak, and Washington went on to found Trinity College (which would become Duke University).

1920s Photo Old Bull Building Durham
“Before” | 1920s | Duke Manuscript Collection, Digital Durham | via OpenDurham + Preservation Durham
American Tobacco Campus | Durham, NC
“After” | 2016

As the century approached its turn, loose leaf tobacco and cigarettes grew in popularity, with Duke & Sons shredding the competition. In 1890, they acquired Blackwell’s Bull Durham brand along with Lucky Strike and over 200 other tobacco firms — and The American Tobacco Company was ignited, controlling 90% of the world’s tobacco production and distribution.

Historical Photo American Tobacco Company
1950s | Herald-Sun | via OpenDurham + Preservation Durham

American Tobacco prevailed for over 80 years until the health risks of cigarettes became widely known in the latter part of the 20th century. The company attempted to bring on products and brands outside the tobacco realm, but the changing attitudes toward tobacco and competition in the marketplace forced American Tobacco to close in 1987.

Bull Durham Tobacco - Old Bull Building

The Buildings

The W.T. Blackwell and Company building (also known as the “Old Bull” building) was constructed in 1874 and manufactured Bull Durham Tobacco — the first nationally marketed brand of tobacco products — until 1957. It’s adjacent to the main American Tobacco campus and remains part of the American Tobacco Historic District. Its distinct Italianate-style architecture and colorful, graphic Old Bull advert on the front of the building make it an iconic piece of Durham history. Once the world’s largest tobacco factory, it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and is now occupied by apartments.

Repurposed American Tobacco Durham

The 14 buildings and three structures that make up the main American Tobacco Campus were built between 1874 and the 1950s and were all working factory and office buildings for the company (renamed Fortune Brands) until it was snuffed out in 1987. The buildings sat abandoned for over 10 years, aside from being used for tactical training by the local police. After being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, the property, including its crumbling smokestack, was purchased by Capitol Broadcasting Company (owners of the Durham Bulls) in 2001.

Lucky Strike Smokestack Durham

American Tobacco Campus Today

After four years of renovations, Capitol Broadcasting reopened the campus in 2005 with commercial residents. American Tobacco Campus is now home to apartments, a theater, an event venue, a YMCA, the former Burt’s Bees HQ, and a radio station. You can get an old-fashioned cut and shave at the barber shop or see the original coal-fired boilers from the tobacco factory at Power Plant gallery. Locals can apply to be a part of the American Underground– 26,000 square feet of subterranean startup incubator offices.

American Underground Durham

Choose from the variety of restaurants that offer Japanese, Cuban, Southern, or Southwestern cuisine, pizza, steak, burgers, and sandwiches. Or sample creations at the dining lab for students of the International Culinary School. Sip on coffee from the cafe, sample beer at the taproom, or stretch out on the big lawn for a concert or festival. There’s a little something for everyone– whether you live in Durham or come from out of town!

Full Frame Theater Durham, NC

Durham is a transformation city. More than half of its residents were born out of state, and the city’s downtown has seen mass redevelopment and adaptive reuse sparked by the creative reimagining and historic preservation of the American Tobacco Historic District! For those who are planning a trip to Durham– the Tobacco Campus is a do-not-miss. And if you’ll be in the Raleigh area, a day trip to Durham will be worth your time! It’s filled with history and creative examples of #hipstorical! Roll on over.

Burt's Bees Durham Tobacco Campus

A special thank you to Durham CVB, OpenDurham, and Preservation Durham!

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Durham? Email me and help me build my archives!

Babylon Restaurant, Raleigh

Babylon Moroccan Restaurant Raleigh

A wooden swinging gate is perched open at the entrance to Babylon. Exotic aromas and romantic decor draw diners through the gate and into a palatial courtyard, where a long pool reflects images of lush vines climbing brick walls.

Raleigh Restaurant Outdoor Seating

Through the door, hand-laid Moorish tiles cling to the ceiling, and lush velvet couches beckon to be lounged upon. Twelve-foot hanging drapes in rich red hues pull back to reveal a secret party room with sparkling chandeliers, and behind another hidden door is a private wine library for exclusive tastings of the finest reds and whites from around the world.

Moroccan Restaurant Raleigh Babylon

Lovers climb a back staircase to find a celebration space fit for the most elegant of brides and grooms (or brides and brides or grooms and grooms).

This is the opulent world of Babylon.

Raleigh Wedding Venue Babylon

Babylon’s Hipstory

The structure that’s now home to Babylon’s restaurant and event space was first built in 1900. From the building’s beginnings until it closed in 1930, it was home to the Melrose Textile Mill, which manufactured underbritches and bathing suits.

Melrose Knitting Mill Raleigh History

The business thrived with the coming of Raleigh’s first public swimming pool, but like so many mills, factories, and business across the country, it was hit hard by the stock market crash and closed its doors for good just a year after Black Tuesday.

Between 1930 and 2009, the building sat vacant, sad and lonely, save for a short stint when it housed a roofing company in the 1960s. Nobody knew it yet, but hosting that roofing company would bring the mill its savior.

Event Space Raleigh Babylon

In 1969, Abdul Zalal, a recent Afghani immigrant, began working at the roofing company and, in 1979, he bought the mill.

Though Abdul was the first to truly see the potential in this historic building, he didn’t quite have the means or the foresight to undertake a restoration. Instead, he installed a new roof, boarded up the windows, and left it vacant for several more years until Samad came along with a passion for history, food, and Morocco.

Raleigh Bar Babylon Restaurant

Like many people who are hipstorians at heart, Samad Hachby passed by the Melrose Knitting Mill for years, each time becoming more and more curious about its past and more and more excited about its future. A crumbling structure that many surely passed by each day without a second thought– to Samad, it was a diamond in the rough.

Outdoor Patio Raleigh Restaurant

The knitting mill finally got its day in the sun when, in 2009, Samad befriended the building’s owner, Abdul, and talked him out of turning it into a gym. Instead, the dilapidated mill was restored and reimagined with the creative, hipstorical passion of one Samad Hachby from Casablanca, Morocco.

Lamb Tagine Moroccan Restaurant Raleigh

Babylon restaurant honors Samad’s Moroccan roots and is designed to make you feel like you’re in a Moroccan home. The menu is inspired by traditional Moroccan and Mediterranean dishes and was first created by Samad himself as he experimented in the kitchen, recreating meals from his home country: bronzed chickpeas, harrira soup, braised lamb tagine, and couscous tfaya, to name a few.

Chicken Tagine Babylon Moroccan Restaurant

Samad was passionate about creating a truly authentic North African experience, so much so that he traveled home to Casablanca multiple times to bring back decor like the handmade marble tiles that cover the restaurant’s ceiling.

Babylon Restaurant Private Party Room

The restoration took two years and, in 2011, Samad opened Babylon’s doors with a warm Moroccan welcome.

And that’s just what we received at Babylon. With my cousin and friends in tow, we enjoyed an incredible meal of lamb and chicken tagine, couscous, calamari, sausage and bruschetta. Babylon was our North African oasis, a welcome escape from the North Carolina heat, where wine flowed as freely as mirthful conversation.

Cocktail menu Babylon Restaurant Raleigh


If it were not for an Afghani and a Moroccan, the Melrose Knitting Mill may have been lost forever. It may have crumbled.

Babylon is a beautiful reminder of the hard work of immigrants that American cities are built upon. This place represents so many American businesses. It represents America. Our country’s history would not be if it were not for the hard work of immigrants– immigrants who saw the potential in a place and built it up into something beautiful.

Any hipstorian knows how important it is to honor our history and heritage, and ours is one of immigrants. Let us work together to build up what has begun to crumble and to restore it– to reimagine it as something even more beautiful.

The former Babylon Restaurant is has been reimagined to incorporate Italian cuisine under the same owner and the same roof. Learn more about Mulino: www.mulinoraleigh.com.

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Louisville? Email me and help me build my archives!