Downtown Durham is populated with great bars and restaurants within walking distance, but the scene lacks something very important: late-night eats. The opening of Queeny’s, a new restaurant and bar, looks to fix this — while also serving as a community space where comforting food and drinks, a podcast studio, and a bookshop collide.
Michelle Vanderwalker, Sean Umstead, and King Kenney opened the doors to Queeny’s last week, located just above Umstead and Vanderwalker’s award-winning cocktail bar, Kingfisher. The space feels slightly familiar, like a favorite neighborhood diner.
Housed in a 1914 historic building, Vanderwalker transformed the space into what feels like a cozy den — spiced up with wall murals tricked out in a ‘70s color palette, vibrantly colored furniture, and quirky light fixtures. “Queeny’s interior is largely hand-made with a lot of care and I hope to convey a feeling of warmth and a little nostalgia as well as a little delight in some fun details,” says Vanderwalker. Enjoy a cup of coffee in a Queeny’s-branded mug (Vanderwalker designed all of the ceramics); have a giant meal at a table — or solo, lounging on a couch with a tv dinner tray; enjoy a cocktail at the bar; spend time in the bookshop and reading nook perusing through a curated collection of books that Vanderwalker and Kenney handpicked; or record a podcast in a zero-fee sound-proofed podcast studio.
“We really wanted to make a menu that was truly downtown affordable,” says Umstead, noting that the majority of the menu is under $10. “We are a bar and a restaurant, equally,” he says. “You’re not committing to a dinner — you’re committing to a good time.”
Everything is a la carte so customers can just enjoy a sandwich or an order of fries — or both. And it’s encouraged to dip those fries in a frozen Irish coffee à la Wendy’s nostalgia. “I wanted to recreate the feeling of potlucks I’d host at my house — an open invitation with a diverse group of people,” says Vanderwalker. “You come knowing you’ll probably meet someone new and eat some really damn good food,” she says.
Chef Steph Bell, previously at Kingfisher’s pandemic pivot, QueenBurger (opening in American Tobacco Campus soon), playfully brings finessed versions of classic bar and diner staples to life. The birria dip, basically like birria tacos meets a French dip, is on track to becoming a fast favorite. A cold beer and fried pickles or crisper-style chicken tenders is a solid snack — while the melty queso fundido or nachos with hoop cheese will sop up the liquids at 1 a.m.
The pork chop sandwich pays an homage to Snappy Lunch’s famous pork chop sandwich and Umstead’s father’s hometown of Mount Airy. “We wanted it all to feel super familiar but more delicious than expected,” says Umstead. Don’t forget to ask about the rotating blue-plate specials as stroganoff and meatloaf are part of this equation.
The beverage menu consists of a small but well-rounded wine and beer list, including Queeny’s Kolsch, brewed with grapefruit, in collaboration with Durty Bull. At first glimpse, the cocktails seem basic, but Umstead adds subtle touches like a Tequila Sunrise with Campari, a frozen Irish coffee with Little Waves Coffee cold brew and ice cream from the Parlour, or an espresso martini with Jägermeister.
“My real hope is that people in Durham come and use the space however they want to use it,” says Umstead. “I want it to be what Durham wants it to be.” Queeny’s is currently open Thursday to Monday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., offering the full-service menu until closing and will soon morph into seven days a week, with ongoing special events, soon-to-be lunch service, and more. Follow @QueenysDurham for more information, including details on the Christmas Eve cookie party to benefit Families Moving Forward.
• Queeny’s [Official]
• Kingfisher [Official]
• Queen Burger Finds Permanent Home for Smashed Patties in Durham
• Snappy Lunch [Official]
• Durty Bull [Official]
• Little Waves Coffee [Official]
• The Parlour [Official]