I walk into Aqua, a tapas and small plate restaurant, and sit down at the bar. I’m by myself, so I stick out my hand and introduce myself to the bartender, Ami. She’s very friendly and engaging, and convinces me to have an espresso martini. It’s delicious, but more like a dessert than an aperitif, and it goes down like chocolate milk.
Three people, two men and a woman, all young, sit down next to me. I suddenly become aware that I’m sitting by myself sipping a drink decorated with chocolate syrup, and I start to feel self conscious. I turn to the man next to me and say hello. I tell him I’m in town for a few days, that I’m a writer, but he already knows. He asks how I liked the grouper last night. I flash a look of confusion, and he smiles.
He tells me he’s a chef at Beaufort Grocery Too, that he cooked my fish the previous evening. Small world, I think. I tell him I enjoyed the restaurant, and that I’m eating at the original Beaufort Grocery tomorrow. He turns and calls to his friend and introduces him as the chef. He’ll be cooking for you tomorrow, he explains. I ask him in jest if the town is as incestuous as it seems. I can tell he’s not amused, but he gives me a courtesy laugh.
“You have no idea,” he says.
Later that night I see them both at the bar next door, Backstreet Pub, along with a handful of other servers that I had encountered on the trip. The waiter from Rhum Bar and the chef at Aqua are there, and both recognize me. I go to buy a beer and I recognize the bartender – he’s the guy who was mixing drinks the first night at the Arendell Room, and although I didn’t know it at the time, he was also the guy who would take me parasailing the next day.
For the sake of confusion, I won’t go any further – you get the idea. The large amount of boat traffic in the area has resulted in a closely knitted service industry, and everyone knows everyone, literally. It’s one of the things I really grew to love about Beaufort, the small size of the town forcing everyone to the same establishments. I will admit I don’t think I could ever live in those conditions for very long, however as a visitor it is good as gold – two days and you too will know just about everyone in town, and they’ll welcome you right in.
Sitting down at a place you’ve never been before and crossing paths with locals who remember and recognize you can happen in a larger town in theory, however the reality of it is that it will not. Take advantage of this and be friendly, be social, and they won’t just tell you about their town, they’ll take you by the hand and show it to you.
A few good places in Beaufort to grab a bite and get a drink:
Aqua: The fact that two other cooks from competing restaurants in town were posted up at the bar was a good sign, and this place did not disappoint. A great selection of tapas and small plates will satisfy those looking to graze over a few drinks, but they serve “big plates” as well. The bar is a good choice for couples who want to socialize.
Beaufort Grocery: I know it’s confusing, but don’t freak out – it’s not actually a grocery store. In fact, it’s the best and most upscale food presentation in town, definitely a spot to don some kakis (although you’d be fine in shorts). The saganacki is a really good place to start, and my double cut of pork was stuffed with mozzarella cheese, roasted tomatoes, and pesto. Share the love: Check out their sister location across the bridge in Morehead City, Beaufort Grocery Too, for a happy-hour wine tasting and tapas pairing.
Spouter Inn: Enjoy lunch and a glass of white wine on the back deck, then head to the on-site bakery and get down on a homemade dessert. The restaurant is located on the waterfront near the entrance to the inlet, one of the busiest sections of boat traffic. Grab a spot by the railing, and make it two glasses of wine.
Rhum Bar: The owner brought his love for the Caribbean back home to Beaufort with this relaxing waterside establishment. Soft reggae music, boat drinks, and views of the channel traffic make guests sink a little lower in their chairs. I went for a drink, and stayed for three. Get there early to claim a coveted spot on the lower deck above the dock. Rhum Bar was recognized as the runner up in Outside Magazines’s list of best apres-adventure bars back in March.
Backstreet Pub: They only serve beer (no booze), but this is where you’ll find the locals in the service industry unwinding after their shifts. As a visitor, this is a great place to get involved and meet people – if you’ve been dining out, you’re sure to see a familiar face (I saw three or four people who had waited on me that weekend). It’s a small, unassuming brick building a block off the water, tucked in next to Aqua in an alley. A spiral staircase takes you upstairs to an intimate music venue, a great place to catch a local band.
Hannah’s Haus: When I heard there was a bar attached to and associated with a hardware store, I had to see it for myself. As if men didn’t spend enough time at the hardware store, in Beaufort you can go out for a box of nails and come back hammered. It’s not near the water, but with over twenty beers on tap, live music, a casual atmosphere, and plenty of bar games (cornhole, foosball, darts), Hannah’s Haus is an interesting spot to check out.
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