Last weekend was an annual reminder of how lucky I am to have an amazing group of friends that I’ve known since childhood. We grew up in a small town and became fast friends in elementary school (and in some cases even before that). We all went to colleges in different states and have settled down in locations across the east coast of the US, but it’s as if no time has passed every time we get together. There is something about growing up in a small town that seems to forge lifelong friendships. Perhaps it is the amount of time that you spend together, or the shared experiences, or the lack of secrets, but regardless of the reason, it is remarkable. I hope the town where we currently reside is small enough to give my boys a similar experience.
For our girls weekend this year we chose Raleigh, NC, a mutually convenient destination for all of us. My friend from Staten Island and I were able to take an extremely cheap flight on Frontier Airlines from a tiny airport near my house to Raleigh for only $98 roundtrip. The other two ladies live in South Carolina and were able to drive to Raleigh. We would have had a great time anywhere, but Raleigh proved to be a perfectly charming Southern city.
We stayed at the Hilton, just a few miles outside of town due to my procrastination in booking (and because of the cheap last minute rates). If I booked a little earlier, we could have stayed at the Capital Hotel, which was within walking distance of downtown. The Capital Hotel gets decidedly worse reviews than the Hilton, so there are always trade-offs (walking access to the city vs. an updated hotel with better amenities).
Our first night was low key, with dinner at a nearby restaurant recommended by a friend and former Raleigh resident (thanks Corrine!). It was a trendy place called Cowfish in North Hills, which had both burgers and sushi on the menu. The place also has an extensive beer selection to quench your thirst while you peruse the lengthy menu. If you can’t decide between the sushi and the burgers, you can order both by getting a Cowfish Bento box like my two friends. It comes with a mini-burger, sweet potato fries, edamame, Thai pickles, and your choice of a four piece roll.
The décor is quirky and hip with a large fish tank in the middle. My favorite was the Elvis-Buddha shrine near the restrooms.
Since the bar closed early, we headed back to the room to finish catching up over a bottle of wine. A lot has happened since the last time we were all together so we didn’t turn in until 4AM.
The next morning, we got off to a slow start with coffee and a late brunch at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey with the best Bloody Mary’s ever (assuming you like your Bloody Mary’s extra spicy). Beasley’s is part of the Ashley Christensen empire and serves food that could be described as creative Southern with dishes like fried chicken, pimento mac & cheese custard, creamed collard greens, and roasted beets. We stayed there a long time and enjoyed every minute. First, it was hard to decide what to order since everything sounded good, and then a storm whipped through Raleigh so we had no choice but to stay and keep drinking. The waitress was outgoing and happily gave us some insider advice for hitting the town later that night (although, when evening came none of us could actually remember the names of the places she recommended so we wandered instead).
While walking around Raleigh, we also tested out the strength-to-weight ratio of some of the animal-shaped bike racks in and around the city, and held up giant acorns in what appeared to be the central gathering place for all of Raleigh’s homeless. While the city had its fair share of restaurant and bar options, the shopping options were much more limited.
I dragged the ladies to Furbish Studio, which is a store that I’ve heard about for years through I Suwanee – a blog that I read on a daily basis. The store is colorful and quirky, with a lot of style crammed into a small space. I picked up a few small trays and a camel that looks very similar to this elephant that is resting happily on my bookcase.
After shopping, we went back to the hotel for a short nap and then gussied up for dinner and drinks. We dined on Mexican fare at Jose & Sons and tried out most of the margaritas on the menu. Russ would be disappointed to know that no one tried The Springsteen – made “for the boss” with Patron Silver and Patron Citronge. The service at Jose and Sons was slow and our first round of margaritas took forever to materialize, but the food made up for the wait. Like all of the restaurants that we tried in Raleigh, this Mexican restaurant had a decidedly Southern flair. Two of the ladies had Collard Wrapped Tamales, which they raved about and one even insists that it was the best meal she’s ever had. We were pretty hungry by the time our food arrived so that may have played a role. My fish tacos were solid and I will definitely eat here again if I find myself back in Raleigh.
We wrapped up our night at the Foundation – a bar in the basement of a building on Fayetteville Street. It’s a dark and moody and serves local beer and spirits from North Carolina, including moonshine if you’re so inclined. There is limited seating in the bar’s cramped quarters so they have a strict limit on the number of people inside at any given time. After an awkward introduction, we were able to snag the end of a table occupied by two friends to drink our beers, which was no easy feat given our feast at Jose & Sons. While we would have liked to try the Raleigh Times Bar and Flying Saucer, it was too cold to barhop.
We also agreed, with a unanimous vote, that our next girls’ weekend would involve a Trolley Pub tour. It’s a massive pedal powered vehicle where you can go on a pub crawl with 14 of your closest friends. Right now, they offer these tours in Raleigh, Wilmington, and Arlington. Who’s in?
We ended our weekend in Raleigh on Sunday with brunch at Joule Coffee – another AC restaurant that receives huge accolades. During our long wait for a table, we received an education in coffee including the advantages of a pourover. What I learned is that I’m not a coffee aficionado and far preferred the drip coffee. Before our wait was over we were all in tears listening to our friend tell us about one of the books she read to her kids recently called December. The morning took a turn for the better when our food arrived and I ended my weekend in true Southern fashion with a meal of shrimp and grits.
By the end of the weekend, we were exhausted but happy. Our annual tradition is alive and well and will hopefully include even more classmates next year.