This article was written for our sponsor, the Town of Chapel Hill.

From the mountainous regions of Asheville to the Piedmont in Charlotte to the sparkling coasts of Wilmington, each pocket of North Carolina boasts its own unique landscape — and each piece of picturesque scenery is arguably best enjoyed with a frosty pint of local beer.

While historically, states like Colorado and Oregon often top lists for the best beer scenes in the country, over the past few years, North Carolina has been carving out its own niche, and generating plenty of buzz in the process.

For example, after garnering national acclaim, Asheville’s Wicked Weed was recently purchased by Anheuser-Busch, allowing them to expand their footprint well-past North Carolina. On a more local level, a number of breweries have been spreading their influence across the state, and the Triangle is becoming a beer and brewery hub in its own right.

One of the more recent additions to the Triangle’s roster is Gizmo Brew Works, a Raleigh-based brewery that just opened its second location in Chapel Hill, taking over the old Ramshead Rathskeller restaurant space off Franklin Street. After tireless weeks of rehabbing the Rathskeller space — lovingly referred to as the Rat by locals and ironically the first establishment in Chapel Hill to serve draft beer  — the Gizmo team has transformed it into a chic new taproom, complete with 50 beers and food provided by nearby local restaurants.

With so many options for a second location in the Triangle, the management behind Gizmo was drawn to the unique atmosphere offered by both Chapel Hill and the Rat.

“The Gizmo owners went there, looked around a little bit, and just fell in love with it. They knew that the history of the space brought a lot of nostalgia. It was kind of the perfect spot for us,” said Jennifer Wood, marketing and events coordinator at Gizmo Brew Works. “We definitely wanted to make it our own, but also pay homage to the Rathskeller with little things here and there.”

In blending the old with the new, the team kept the iconic rat painting on the back of the building, but added a Gizmo touch, painting their hop-gear logo into the background. Additionally, several of the drinks derive their name from the history of the building, including There Goes Papa D (referencing the original owner of the Rathskeller, Ted Danziger), and around the space, you’ll find plenty of historic photos used as decor.

Gizmo is, however, just one of the several new spots finding a home in downtown Chapel Hill. With an abundance of growth over the past few years — from the massive office complex at 137 Franklin Street to the new residential spaces at 140 West, Carolina Square, and Shortbread Apartments to the opening part-bookstore, part-cafe Epilogue — the downtown district may very well be in the midst of a renaissance.

This diversity of development not only increases the traffic and walkability of downtown Chapel Hill, but also lends itself to a full strip of entertainment, retail and restaurants, stretching from the heart of town all the way to neighboring Carrboro. In the midst of big changes and new dynamics, the businesses of downtown Chapel Hill have welcomed each other with open arms, collaborating to provide the community with a one-of-a-kind experience.

“One thing that I’m really excited to see Gizmo doing from the outset — and I think it makes a really successful downtown or community in general — is that they’re partnering with Imbibe and Bandidos, and once Dames is open and running they’ll be doing the same thing,” said Matt Gladeck, the executive director of Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership. “You can buy food from each of those places, and someone from the waitstaff at Gizmo will run and pick it up for you and bring it over.”

“I was in there the other night having a drink, and I ordered food from Imbibe,” Gladeck continued. “The woman sitting next to me at the bar had never heard of Imbibe and was commenting on how good it smelled. That type of collaboration and awareness, you can’t put a price on that.”

As more change comes to downtown Chapel Hill, it’s been a unique opportunity to test the waters on engaging both the student and local population.

“We’re trying to make sure that everybody knows this can be a meeting spot,” Wood said. “We open at [4 p.m.] throughout the week, so we’re encouraging any alumni, any grad students, any of the professors — if they need to have meetings, or want to sit down and do some classwork, we’re open to that. We just want to make sure that we’re a part of that community.”

For Gladeck, he hopes to see the evolution of downtown Chapel Hill continue to make the area more approachable for both local residents and students. Particularly, as more retail and restaurant spaces establish a base, he anticipates a shift in tone toward more entertainment-related complexes, whether it be barcades, additional music venues, or any other spaces that offer more than just shopping and dining. Thanks to their packed schedule of events, Gizmo’s new space is the perfect start.

“For our grand opening weekend, we had musicians come on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We also had a UNC versus Duke watch party on Saturday evening, since we have a large projector screen as well as about 12 TVs,” Wood said. “It was great. We were at pretty much full capacity on Friday, and we even had some people waiting in a line out the door.”

“We just want to make sure that people are excited, because I know a lot of people have actually been in that space when it was the Rat,” Wood continued. “They come in and see how it’s changed and say things like, ‘Oh, I remember when this area used to be the Cave.’ We really encourage that, and we love to add things we find on our social media, and ask if anybody remembers it from the old Rathskeller.”

In addition to hosting events throughout the week, Gizmo will also be using its new Chapel Hill taproom as an avenue for testing out a few single-release products. Wood and her team are looking forward to the opportunity to flex their creativity in the space, producing new and exciting beers and a unique atmosphere for Chapel Hill residents and visitors alike.

This article was written for our sponsor, the Town of Chapel Hill.