AKA: The Bean
Location: 50100 Governors Drive, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27517
Age range: Late 30s and 40s
Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was the correct address when I pulled into the parking lot, but walking through the door confirmed that this was, in fact, my destination. If a coffee shop, log cabin and dive bar could have a baby, Bean & Barrel would be it. The left side is entirely coffee shop, complete with well-loved couches, quaint high-top tables and scattered nooks for more private reading and socializing. The right is one wall-to-wall bar with a wine tap, liquor shelves, cooler for mixers and a large chalkboard of scrawled specials tucked behind it. Though the rest of the clientele were a good decade or two ahead of me in age, I felt perfectly welcome by both the staff and venue. I was greeted immediately, and the bartender, Lyle, took time to chat about the menu and tidbits of his personal life. Overall, the Bean felt like a place where I could really get to know someone.MenuThough Bean & Barrel is a coffee shop and bar hybrid, its food was a pleasant surprise. A step up from typical bar food, the Bean’s menu included entrees such as roasted chicken, fettuccine Alfredo and fish and chips. I was impressed the spot leaned toward a hearty dinner menu when appetizers would normally suffice. In addition to entrees, all between $12.95 and $16.95, the Bean offered appetizers, a few soup and salad options and an entire sandwich section. Such a wide variety of food options gave the Bean major points in my book because I would have been more than pleased with just its drink menu. In addition to 11 house cocktails, including my new favorite “Lyle’s Big Red Margarita,” it offers more than three dozen beers, a wine tap and a full bar. For such a quaint location, I was not expecting that kind of selection.Sexy factorFrom the outside, you would never guess such a homey bar could be nestled where it is, but this is exactly why this bar appeals to so many. Anyone looking for a place to wind down would feel perfectly at home in this eatery combo. The coffee shop and dive bar combination sets Bean & Barrel apart from any bar I’ve been to because it provides a space that most can’t — one that is both intimate and social. But the Bean’s strength is also its downfall. Though I loved the idea, personally, Bean & Barrel’s atmosphere definitely appeals to a niche audience.Verdict: 2 stars
If not for the location, Bean & Barrel would have gotten that third star. They did a prime job decorating the inside of the venue to give it a rustic and lived-in feel, but I struggled to separate this warm den from its stark strip mall shell. Though the inside won me over with its charismatic staff, extensive menu choices and notably quaint atmosphere, I could not quite immerse myself in the experience without it feeling a little forced. Maybe trivia on Tuesdays or one of the other daily specials is what gets the crowd rocking, but the Friday night I visited had a much more easy pace. The Bean felt like a great spot for nearby residents to come together and catch up because of its chill vibes and inclusive furnishings. If you’re expecting a packed crowd or party scene, this isn’t your place. I encourage anyone looking for a place to hang out with a friend or snuggle up with a good read to give this one the chance it deserves.