a retro-chic hotel with giant cocktails + bustling rooftop pool

by Avivah with Offline

Photo by @justinbeisner

The Need-to-Know

What: Downtown Durham’s retro-chic hotel with snazzy lobby lounge, fancy cocktails + restaurant

Where: 202 N Corcoran St, Durham, NC 27701

Web: Website | Menu | Instagram

Why we love them:

  • They’re an eclectically-cool hotel smack-dab in the heart of downtown Durham. 
  • They’re big supporters of local artists and musicians, regularly hosting events in their lounge (think live shows, open mic nights, and epic all-night dance parties).
  • They’ve got unbeatable rooftop views (poolside!) of the downtown cityscape.
  • Their seasoned executive chef has cooked for Prince Charles, William, and Harry, so you’re basically dining like a royal here.

Unscripted 101

After over $19 million in renovations, the iconic Jack Tar Motor Lodge in downtown Durham has been transformed into the Unscripted Hotel. With mid-century architecture intact, Unscripted playfully blends vintage vibes with luxurious modern touches. Boasting over 70 stylish rooms, a badass rooftop pool and lounge, and gorgeous sunset views (plus a coffee shop, bars, and restaurants), Unscripted isn’t just a hotel to recommend to out-of-towners. It’s a new DTD staple—and for good reason. 

We won’t beat around the bush here: Unscripted has developed quite the rep for putting on a poppin’ downtown par-tay and is an absolute go-to year-round. It’s a bustling, hip spot with serious style (think old school Vegas or 1960s LA, but with a tongue in cheek twist) open to everyone 21+. Their mantra is simple: have fun. Noted. We can *definitely* do that.

Unscripted could easily coast on the fact that during the summer, they’re the only pool party in town, or that they’re just one of the few spots offering a stunning rooftop view—but they don’t. Nope, these guys just keep one-upping themselves in all areas of the hotel’s offerings, hosting open-to-the-public special events, weekly live music nights, serving epically oversized cocktails, boasting an award-winning French chef, and more. No wonder out-of-towners and locals alike flock to this spot.

*ps: want to see what’s up next at Unscripted? Click here for their calendar of upcoming events*

Now, don’t be fooled by the fact that “The Patio” (their popular rooftop pool area) is closed for the cold season, because the party has merely moved downstairs to “The Studio”, their mid-century modern designed lounge, and is more rockin’ than ever. Sporting a graffiti mural and more modernist look, “The Studio,” as it’s called, is a seriously solid hangout. There’s a full bar, additional food options, and a craft coffee bar. During the day, it’s a comfy spot to grab a cup of joe and get some work done. And while it’s generally pretty relaxed, be warned/excited that the space transforms into a hub for live shows featuring local artists, a full-blown dance club on Friday night. 

What to order

We’ve just got to warn you, it’s pretty impossible to take a seat on one of the many retro arrangements inside of “The Studio” and not feel the urge to down a snazzy cocktail (or two). With an ambiance so perfect and a rotating cocktail selection of both boozy mainstays and seasonal sips, you’ll definitely want to kick back and cozy up at Unscripted for awhile.

They’ve got six standout signature cocktails on their menu (plus some bonus winter cocktails rolling out weekly) throughout the season and we’re going to break down our faves for you, sip by sip. 

Starting with their seasonal riffs on classics, they shake things up with their Fresh Start, a gimlet-style spicy concoction featuring celery-pear nectar worth every sip, while their Drink Cider Unscripted is definitely the fanciest mulled cider in town. They’ve also got a Quiet Storm which is their grown-up expert-made version of a Dark & Stormy.

And no shade to standard margs, but the 14K is what margaritas *wish* they could be thanks to some added oomph from their housemate carrot-ginger juice, candied carrot garnishes, and—you guessed it—edible glitter. And if you’re into your cocktails loaded with chocolatey goodness like us, you’ll order up the Double C’s, which is essentially a decadent chocolate martini (with chocolate chip ice)! 

Being smack-dab in the middle of a foodie city, Unscripted gets held to a pretty high standard— but you better believe they deliver. Their Head Chef is L-E-G-I-T (he’s cooked for Prince Charles, William, and Harry, if that helps give you a sense of his pedigree) and his eclectic menu has lots of tasty shareables, perfect nibbling alongside some boozy delights. 

The most popular items include Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes and Lettuce Wraps made with chicken, julienned veggies, and a soy-mirin glaze. We’re big fans of the Lobster Roll Sliders, which feature blackened remoulade and a heaping portion of sweet, succulent lobster. We’ll also personally attest to the fact that The Perfect Guac lives up to its name.

If you’re looking for something larger, their Patio Burger is a go-to choice for hungry carnivores. And with two types of cheese, balsamic onions, and sugar bacon, it’s easy to see why. But don’t fret veggie friends: they also offer the Beyond Burger, which is totally vegan (and totally delish).

The downstairs menu offers somewhat different items (homemade quiche, breakfast sammies, etc.), but you can order anything anywhere. Among other notable items, The Studio and All-Day Cafe features a more extensive wine list and a full-service espresso bar. They’ve also got a croque monsieur, the Mister Crunch, which, according to their team, will “knock you flat to the floor but you’ll go down with a smile on your face.” Quite the sales pitch if we do say so ourselves. 

Pro Tips

  • If you’re a lover of live music, ooh-wee you’re in for such a treat with Sounds of the Studio. It’s Unscripted thrice-weekly evenings full of live music by local musicians across the hip hop, jazz, and vocal percussion genres, plus specialty priced cocktails and eats FTW. Wednesday 6p-8p
  • Thursday 6p-8p
  • Saturday 9p-12a
  • You’ve got to be 21+ to hit up Boom!, their dope DJ-spinning after-hours dance party, but with a rotating lineup of local DJs, it’s a guaranteed groovy get down. Friday 9:30p-1:00a
  • The Open Mic Night at Unscripted draws in a wide range of local talents (poets, storytellers, and comedians to name a few!) that put on a helluva show. Every first and third Sunday of the month: 7-9p
  • The hotel is pet-friendly everywhere except for the patio.