East End Connector hearing comes amidst business park interest, DCABP and small biz frowns
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for April 28, 2010

Durham's Tobacco Road Sports Cafe opens at lunch today

Today marks the official opening of Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, opening with lunch service today at 11am. The restaurant's opening comes with might be an all-time record for downtown Durham space upfit -- only about 90 days from start to finish, though having the brand spankin' new Diamond View II doesn't hurt. 

It also marks the second location for the restaurant, currently based in Glenwood South and family-operated. The opening comes after a week-long soft-opening culminating in a pre-launch dinner last night.

The comments section here when the arrival was announced was energetic to say the least, with the restaurant's arrival starting to get chopped up into lots of different lenses about what Durham "is" or "isn't," and with the presence of the word "Sports" in the restaurant's name eliciting a number of different reactions.

I had a chance to have dinner there last night and walked away pretty surprised -- in a good way. 

(Full disclosure: the meal was complimentary, though the owners have been very direct in asking for positive and negative feedback, and I'm not spinning the review in any way based on the meal -- but it is only fair to disclose.)

Of course there's a sports theming to the place, though it's largely found in the television sets, which are... comprehensive, covering last night every ESPN (including, I suspect, "The Ocho") as well as MLB, NFL and NHL specialty channels.

But it's not a typical sports bar atmosphere, either. For one thing, there was no audio coming from the sets, so you can look but you're not inundated with the sound. (I'd imagine that'll change for major events like the Super Bowl.)

For another, sports related decoration is rather sparse. 

Wood tones and floor-to-ceiling glass separating some parts of the dining room draw much more attention -- as does the well-lit corner space at the DBAP. Sports memorabilia is to a minimum, and frankly, if you're seated in the right seats facing away from the television sets, you'd never know you were in a "Sports Cafe."

In other words, it's not a Carolina Ale House or Champps; not that there's anything wrong with those, but it's a very different vibe.

The closest analogy I can make is to BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, a chain of upscale casual dining restaurants, though Tobacco Road lacks the on-site microbrewery.

And one other thing: the food is actually quite fresh, and quite good.

There's an emphasis on local ingredients wherever possible, and everything on the menu is made fresh daily; you can actually order a burger medium or medium rare, for what that's worth.

My litmus test last night was Mrs. BCR, who despises sports but likes casual American dining as an occasional option. She was not enthused when I suggested we try the pre-opening meal, but she was up for a new adventure. 

She ended up quite impressed with the place, and we both figured we'd be adding it to our restaurant rotation.

It helps that it'll be one of the few places in Durham with really expanded hours: 11am until 2am, seven days a week.

The outdoor space overlooks the ballpark -- as one friend I ran into there last night said, it's perfect for watching Bulls games -- with an outdoor bar still under construction. Once the new Diamond View III opens up, abutting the patio area shared by Tobacco Road and the DBAP, it'll be located right in the heart of American Tobacco's eastern side.

The outdoor space will also host live music once the restaurant gets going, something I expect will bring out substantial crowds to the restaurant.

Incidentally, the restaurant is still holding a contest for the five non-profit finalists in its grand opening contest -- Clean Energy Durham, the Emily K Center, the Exchange Clubs' Child Abuse Prevention Center, Genesis Home and Threshold. Visit their blog to vote for your favorite; the winner will get $50 for every home run the Bulls hit this season, something pegged on the order of $7,000 or so to the winning non-profit.



Great news! Always good to hear when an addition such as this can be added to downtown in a down economy. I think that speaks volumes about the potential of our downtown.


Another dining establishment opening in Durham is a good thing.

This place will do well due to its awesome spot atop the Blue Monster in right field. They may draw some business away from Tylers, but hopefully there's enough to go around.


I am thrilled for Durham to have a place where I can watch sports on big screens while eating decent food in a comfortable setting - no place I know of offers all those amenities at once. And, I am equally glad that Durham has numerous alternative places to eat and drink, free from the tyranny of the TV.


I don't think there will be too much diverted from Tyler's for them to stay in business. Tyler's needs to keep serving up good food in addition to tripels and doppels. That seems to be where they're lacking, but I haven't tried Tobacco Road menu yet. Tyler's could use a few more flat screen TVs in the dining area though, and possibly outside in the courtyard.

If you really want to compare how a business keeps up with the times, or doesn't, look at DeVine's. I used to go there often, back and forth between Satisfactions to watch games on TV. Sat's went upgrade with the TV's and food, but DeVine's still serves the same menu and TV's from 1985 there-bouts.

You can't stand still and be successful. I hope Tyler's gets the message to keep competitive.

Samantha E.

Is the rumor floating around true that OnlyBurger won't be back at the DPAC on Thursdays now that this new restaurant is open?


i dont know about the onlyburger rumor but i did have a burger at tobacco road this weekend (part of the complementary soft opening) and it was amazing. i also had a huge bowl of mac and cheese that was divine. i really cant wait to go back.


"Tyler's needs to keep serving up good food in addition to tripels and doppels."

Keep serving up good food? Try start serving good food. I'm just stunned at how mediocre their food is, with such an amazing beer selection and space. Charlie's serves up better food than Tyler's...a great reference point actually, the quality of Charlies beer selection matches that of Tyler's food. If Tyler's had Charlies food, which is just good standard bar fare, it would be a huge improvement).

Lee L

I eat at Tylers a fair amount and they have plenty of good selections, but they could definitely learn to cook some potato chips. Made on site chips could be a great draw from them, but in literally many dozens of trips to Tylers, I have never seen chips that were not burned.

As far as the actual topic of this posting, Tobacco Road ;), what exactly is their plan for the seats along the top of the wall? Will they be part of the outdoor bar service or will they remain seperate from the restaraunt? I noticed the fence that was there enclosed a pretty big area but not those seats so I did not know if they would be part of the seatig or not.


Only Burger will still be coming on Thursdays at his regular time, he's just moving locations. He'll actually be located on the American Tobacco Campus near the railcar/coal shed (North of the Smoke stack) - in the parking area right near the Old Bull & Noell Buildings.


Lee L,
The seats outside of our fence (and closest to the field) are property of the Durham Bulls. I believe they are going to charge a small fee for people to watch the game from there. Our patio seats over 200 people and should still offer a great view of the field.

We look forward to hearing more from the Durham community!

- The Tobacco Road Team

Earl Weaver

If you're sitting outside the restaurant, will a home run ball hit over the blue monster end up braining you right as you're about to sink your teeth into a burger?

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