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Ten Eclectic Places to Check Out while Visiting Greensboro for the National Folk Festival

by Ian McDowell

The National Folk Festival is hitting the streets of Greensboro this weekend. Beginning Friday, it’s estimated that more than 100,000 people will attend the festival, now in its second year in Downtown Greensboro.

If you’re visiting the festival, the City of Greensboro has lots of guides and maps to help you get around the area while several main streets are blocked off. Buses and other public transit will be running around the clock to get you to the action. Buses fare will be free beginning at 3 p.m. Friday.

New this year is a semi-official stage south of the tracks on Elm Street designed to create flow between the festival area north of center city and the dozens of brick and mortar businesses that really need you to come down a few blocks and visit them.

Beyond that, we asked local cultural guru Ian McDowell to suggest 10 eclectic spots around the city that you should check out while visiting the National Folk Festival in Greensboro.

If you’re a resident of the area, you may want to revisit these classics. If you’re visiting for the first time, pick one and you won’t be disappointed.

Brown-Gardiner Drugstore Lunch Counter. 2101 N Elm St.

Classic drugstore lunch counter like you thought didn’t exist anymore. Same ambiance and entrees you would have encountered in 1957, plus those three magic words, fresh-squeezed orangeade. (Photo courtesy Greensboro Daily Photo.)

Elsewhere. 606 South Elm Street.

I’ll let them describe it. “A living museum in an old thrift store housing one woman’s 58-year inventory . . . . Our artists, scholars, and creatives in-residence are excavating the past to design new futures.” So much bizarre fun you’ll forgive them using “creatives” as a noun.

Beef Burger. 1040 Gate City Boulevard

Forget those fancy $12 burgers; the 99 cent Biff Burger (the place’s name when it was a vintage chain) is just meat and bun, flame-cooked in a roto-broiler that drips meat juices on the bun while toasting it, dipped in a very special sauce. Accompany with fried okra and wash down with Cheerwine. Admire the retro ambiance, the wrestling photos, the phalanx of vending machines. Fun fact: owner Ralph Havis won big in the NC lottery three times in the last two years. Maybe that luck will spill on you with that delicious sauce.

Van Loi 2. 829-D W. Gate City Blvd (behind Napa Auto Parts, or GPS 2729 Farmington Road).

Triad’s best barbecue is duck (they also have very good pork; be sure to ask for the jowls). $12 buys a half duck cut up over rice that serves two people, and $22, a whole duck, which serves 4-5. They chop it in the kitchen, but if you love A Christmas Story, ask them to do it in front of you. Crispy, moist, tender, smokey-sweet and fatty in the best way. Also have the best Pho in town. Other recommendations: shredded pork rolls, crispy quail, crayfish, papaya salad.

Bog Garden. 1101 Hobbs Road

A genuine nature preserve in the middle of town, right behind Friendly Shopping Center and an easy walk from the classic K&W Cafeteria. The wetlands and the lake can be viewed from a half-mile-long boardwalk and are a haven for native and migratory birds, including barred owls.

Green Hill Cemetery. 901 Wharton Street.

Adjacent to downtown, Greensboro’s oldest public cemetery occupies over 50 rolling acres with ornate vaults, statues and obelisks. The earliest burial dates from 1840. Trees include redwoods, Oglethorpe oaks, Apache pines, Ogeechee tupelo, Devilwood, Japanese flowering apricot, and gingko. Bring lunch and celebrate Dia de los Muertos early. I’ve treasured this place ever since acclaimed writer Kelly Link (short-listed for this year’s Pulitzer) introduced me to it the same Christmas she gave me a mummified llama fetus (long story).

Geeksboro Coffeehouse and Beverage Co. 2134 Lawndale Drive.

Besides coffee, they have wine, ice cream & craft beers, and free access to classic board games, and classic and modern videogames. Friday is Board Game Night, but anytime is fine for a macchiato or a bottle of Fire and Blood and a round of Risk, Warcraft, Pandemic, Star Trek Catan, Back Street Boys Around the World, Guesstures or NBC’s Mating Game (to name the first six boxed games I noted on their shelves). Take a photo with the full-sized Dalek, but don’t do rude things with the plunger.

Seoul Garden. 5318 Market Street #C.

Lots of free side dishes. For an “appetizer” that’s pretty much a meal, try the Korean pancake, which comes in either seafood or kimchi varieties (the “small” option is pretty big, and the “large” option is like a medium pizza). The Korean barbecue, particularly the beef bulgogi, is a good choice for newbies, but I always want the grilled yellow mackerel with roasted elephant garlic and the soft tofu stew with oysters, scallion and egg.

Weatherspoon Gallery, UNCG. 500 Tate Street.

Current visiting exhibitions include Matisse drawings and sculptures and the provocatively titled “Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915 – 2015.” The permanent collection includes works by Picasso, Chagall and the Japanese wood block master Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (check out the awesome “Kiymori and the Skulls” and “Abe no Kafu fighting a Bear”).

United House of Prayer for All People Cafeteria. 101 S. Dudley Street.

Heavenly (and hella cheap) southern/soul food buffet in the basement of a church near NC A&T State University. Fried fish (made fresh to order), smothered pork chops, mac and cheese, green beans and cabbage are particularly recommended. If you’re fine with swine, try the pig’s feet or pork neck bones. Some of the best iced tea and lemonade in town. A great place to take your Southern grandma (unless she’s your mean old racist Southern grandma, in which case, leave her in the home till the Good Lord puts her out of your misery). (Photo by Greensboro Daily Photo)

We invite you to suggest other unique spots in the comment section below.

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