The Federal

The FederalThe Federal
The FederalThe Federal
Bar, Eatery

914 W Main St
Durham, North Carolina, 27701-2025
United States

(919) 680-8611 | map

View: Place Reviews
Recent ratings and reviews. | Log in to view more ratings + sorting options.
Ratings by bostonbeans:
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Rated by bostonbeans from Massachusetts

4.34/5  rDev +3.8%
vibe: 4.75 | quality: 4.75 | service: 4 | selection: 4

Aug 15, 2015
More User Ratings:
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Reviewed by Sludgeman from District of Columbia

4/5  rDev -4.3%
vibe: 4.25 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 3.75
Visited on a Sunday night about 9pm. There was a band outside with plenty of seating. I sat inside.

V - a bit dark, used looking, lots of old beer paraphernalia, with wine and mixed drinks as well. 4.0

Q - Served my wicked weed sour in what u considered a stemless wine glass. Otherwise seemed fine. No complaints. 4.0

Ser - Friendly and helpful.

Sel - A good selection of local North Carolina beers. About 15 beers on tap and standard BMC in the cooler but I did see some Rodenbach bottles. The other drafts were decent Allagash, Boulevard and Left Hand but nothing most of us haven’t already had. 4.0

F -
Aug 12, 2019
Rated: 3.79 by Bruce5 from Pennsylvania

Jun 21, 2016
Rated: 4.15 by fehrminator from North Carolina

Apr 23, 2015
Rated: 4.34 by ljdrinksbeer from North Carolina

Mar 14, 2015
Rated: 4.85 by Ieatplates from North Carolina

Jan 22, 2015
Rated: 4.5 by RDBJ from North Carolina

Aug 11, 2014
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Reviewed by jerefreakinmiah from North Carolina

4.65/5  rDev +11.2%
vibe: 4.25 | quality: 5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4.75
Always a treat to eat and drink at The Federal! I ate the spare ribs MANY times when it was on the menu. The rest of the menu is good too, but the specials are the real appeal to me...

...Other than the cool Bottle Reserve list they have. I've been annoyed a few times when they've had items on the list that aren't there (Devil Dancer listed for over a month when they were out!), but I've found gems like Black Note Stout, KBS, vintage Breakfast Stout, etc. Plus, you can buy bottles and take them home; love when restaurants make that option available for their guests.

The draft list is small, but enjoyable. Allagash White is always on tap and that's just fine with me.
Jul 18, 2014
Rated: 4.5 by KevinGordon from North Carolina

Jun 22, 2014
Rated: 4.5 by SmellsofMahagony from Texas

May 21, 2014
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Reviewed by Leftbob from North Carolina

4.33/5  rDev +3.6%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4
Looking at a number of the current reviews The Federal seems to be described as a dive.... If that's the case I guess I like bars that are a dive.

Yes it is near Duke....most of Durham seems to be. The Duke flavor can be a bit much but no more than the Tarheel flavor down the road.

This is a beer website so I had better discuss the beer. They don't have a zillion taps so someone has had to be selective and they do a pretty good job at it. Taps cover the spectrum of beers and are a nice mix of local craft brews.

I'm an IPA type they usually have Bells 2-Hearted and Founders Centennial (my preferred) and just recently for a brief period were offering Bells Hopslam.

They usually have some Belgians as well. My experience is that the restaurant can tax the staff numerically but if you're sitting at the bar and are at all amiable they take care of you.

All in all it's a bar I can relax in ...enjoy a couple pints and usually a enjoyable conversation with someone in the place.
Jul 16, 2012
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Reviewed by Beerness from North Carolina

3.73/5  rDev -10.8%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4.5
Well, I'll talk about the beer, but I first must acknowledge what I think is one of...if not THE best burger in the triangle...Au Poivre style....damn good. They have a nice menu besides, with creative specials based on fresh, local ingredients, but I always get the burger, so I don't know about those. Oh, and the fries are pretty great too, with garlic and parsley sprinkled on them.

It's a pretty cool scene, with a nice variety of seating options...booths, bar, tables in the back, and patio out front. Always a plus for me when places provide a multitude of atmospheres just based on the seating. Yeah, they've got a little bit of the smokey, hipster college bar thing going, but...still like it. Though, they do get negative points from me for being full of dookies ;)

As for beer, they have a solid draft list, with rotating local seasonals, along with beers like New Belgium 1554 and Bell's Two-Hearted. Then a bottle list about twice the size, that puts some emphasis on local selections. And of course, related to the hipster thing, there is no shortage of PBR.
Jun 08, 2011
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Reviewed by BernardusHo from North Carolina

3.95/5  rDev -5.5%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4
This is a college bar next to a few others that has outdoor seating. Decent selection of taps, Bells 2 Hearted, Hop
Wallop, etc. Bottles of Chimay, Delirium, and I think 3 Philosophers. Menu selection limited but sort of upscale with Mussels and an Italian sandwich with delicious meats. There was a Duke basketball game being played a half a mile away but a couple of Dukies had to ask to turn the TV to the game - strange. This is a cool place to mellow out or sit outside. Other than that, its just a college bar.
Feb 08, 2009
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Reviewed by jimbotrost from Michigan

4.22/5  rDev +1%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 3.5
Did not expect much from this smallish looking place up by Duke University. Upon sitting down, that all changed as the unpretentious atmosphere welcomed me to an actual beer bar. Quite a mix of patrons but that wasn't what I was there for. Great bottle list, less taps than the multi taps in the area but the selections were well thought out. I was drinking Foothills Oktoberfest which I thought was good and was exactly what I was looking for, some malt, some balance, not overpowering on this evening stop. Great pizza next door at I love Manhattan pizza. I would stop back
Oct 17, 2008
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Reviewed by tastybeer from North Carolina

4/5  rDev -4.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4
One of my favorite Durham food with beer places. Dark but friendly with an old school feel. Always a decent amount of good beer options. I definitely appreciate that if you want bud light or something equal you have to get it in a bottle. They save the taps for more yummy beer use. Occasionally something less available turns up on tap which is nice too. They have Bell's two hearted, Victory prima pils, Avery Czar + hercules, among various other tasty options. The food is great though I heard that it was amazing before when they had a different chef...but who's to say. I love their pulled pork on nachos with salsa fresco on the side. Great deal for two to three especially if you want way more than enough for dinner and still have plenty money left over for beers to help it down.

Always a good place to check out.
Sep 05, 2007
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Reviewed by wedge from North Carolina

4/5  rDev -4.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4
Walking into a place like this, you wouldn't expect the kind of quality in tap selection as the Federal has. About 15 taps, including (at the time of my visit): Avery Czar (9 oz. pour), Tripel Karmeliet, Hercules...good stuff. All in a place that might be considered a "dive" by people that don't know any better. Most of the stuff on the walls is old brewery signs, ads, clocks, pictures and the like...very retro and dark. You seat yourself if you're in the mood for some food. My girlfriend and I had the nachos with pork which more than satisfied our hunger. A pretty cool place to go and it wasn't too packed when we went, although most of the Duke students were probably on their way home for Thanksgiving. I'll be back.
Nov 24, 2006
Photo of ElGordo
Reviewed by ElGordo from Oregon

4/5  rDev -4.3%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 3 | selection: 4 | food: 4.5
Ah, the Federal. For a place only six blocks from my house, I don't go there nearly enough. Decor is a really cool mixture of old breweriana (lighted and painted signs, trays, clocks, etc.), vintage cigarette ads, and old Federal Electric Company stuff. Very cool. About ten tables and booths accomodate diners, and a dozen or so seats at the comfy L-shaped bar. Around 15 taps offer a broad selection of imports and quality American micros, and no crap. Bottle selection dips into vintage old-man brands and some more micros and Belgians.
Food is overall pretty damn good. I've had sandwiches at lunch and risotto at dinner, and everything has been quite tasty. Good vegetarian options. Service can be spotty at times, but they try hard. When it's not packed full of Duke students, this is a fine neighborhood hangout and dining destination.
Jan 19, 2006
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Reviewed by Sayson from North Carolina

3.88/5  rDev -7.2%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4 | food: 4.5
I eat at the Federal most often for lunch. The food ranges from pretty good to exceptional. I had a brisket sandwich on sourdough the other day that was quite memorable. I also like the carnitas.

The waitstaff tries hard, but oten seems stretched too thin. I've not dealt with the bartenders much. They have a good beer selection, though I don't know how fast the kegs turn over. When I have had beer, it's been fine. They also serve beer in room temp glasses, not frozen, which saves me the trouble of sending them back. I recommend The Federal as a must stop in downtown Durham.
Nov 19, 2005
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Reviewed by sinistrsam from Maryland

4.14/5  rDev -1%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4
The first thing you notice even before walking in the door of the Federal is the eclectic group of people who are always outside taking in the air and some solid brews. When you enter the dark spaces you’ll start to notice the style, or rather, lack thereof. 30% garage/industrial, 30% late 60’s-early 70’s living room, 20% dive and 10% you just can’t put your finger on. The kiwi management has never once been anything but very nice and helpful, courteous and knowledgeable about the beers they have at that particular time (it changes every week or so).
Now to the important stuff. The only thing more eclectic than the crowd is the draft selection. No more than 15 or 17 beers on tap, they span the world of beers in a way usually reserved for large beer bars with something to prove. I had a Czar Imperial and tasted a Hennepin but have had many others ranging from local NC brews to Dogfish head 90 minute to a Milk Stout. They also have a pretty decent bottled selection, but I’ve only tried the drafts.
Although the scene on Main isn’t exactly hoppin’, this place is a great way to begin and a very chill way to end an evening; always plenty of space and plenty of good beers to sample.
Oct 25, 2005
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Reviewed by asabreed from New York

4.2/5  rDev +0.5%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4
Though it's new to me, let's face it, the bar scene in Durham isn't that fantastic, mainly because there are only around 4 or 5 tucked into the areas around W. Main. The Federal, however, seems like a pretty cool place to me.

Kind of dark, kind of a dive, with a seemingly cool crowd of all ages and all types (which you have to like, or at least I do). They have maybe around 16 brews on tap, but just to show you, I got a Hennepin (also in a Hennepin glass, which scores even more points for the bar), and my friend got an Avery Czar. I forget what else they had, but I know they had some other good stuff. I'm just into trying completely new stuff, so sometimes it's hard for me to remember the good brews if they're not so new to me.

Some other folks my friend knew ended up joining us later, and we had a pretty good time, as we stayed there until close to closing.

It's small, dark, there's good beer on tap, and there's a pretty good crowd. If you're in Durham it's not hard to get to, so you should certainly check it out if you're in the area.
Oct 24, 2005
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Reviewed by Tang07 from California

4.45/5  rDev +6.5%
vibe: 5 | quality: 5 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4.5
Federal is my kind of bar. Sort of a dive, but that is what gives a bar character. It is not a manufactured tavern a-la Applebee's with bunch of random crap from Jimmy's Random Crap Wearhouse on the walls. The Place is dark like a bar should be. It has some outdoor seating which is in demand in the evening. It has a great beer selection and awesome food.

It is my favorite place to go eat and have a beer. They have a good stock of regular beers plus beer of the month/week.

The staff has some urban/gothic/Betty Paige type ladies which is a nice change from the supper chipper suspender and button wearing folks at the stupid chains.

I usually order an IPA or other ale that is on special or something seasonal. Either my wife or I order the carnitas EVERY TIME then something else. The carnitas are EXCELLENT and their other food is pretty good too. Well presented and tastey.

Their beers are not really of the standard type. They really have some very unique beers... and PBR if you're in that kind of mood.

I will be leaving Durham soon and I want to take this place with me becasue it is within walking distance from my house, and I can beer up and not have to worry about driving...
Sep 28, 2005
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Reviewed by brentk56 from North Carolina

3.73/5  rDev -10.8%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4 | food: 4.5
Located adjacent to the renovated Brightleaf Square area of downtown Durham, The Federal looks like a typical craggy urban pub, a little run down but with enough character to convince you to enter.

Once inside, you see a number of wooden tables in the front, a good sized counter bar as the centerpiece and another dining room in the rear (where I did not venture). There is a big screen TV just to the right of the entrance. The tables being occupied and rather spartan I sat down at the bar and ordered a Dead Guy, a burger and fries.

The first thing you notice is that this is a beer that has given some thought to beer. There are 14 taps and most of them are interesting - Maredsous, Youngs Double Chocolate, Tuppers Hop Pocket, for example. (No BMC, although you can buy Miller in the bottle.) The variety is reasonably good, although I would like to have seen a Porter and a Winter Warmer in the mix, it being a chilly early March night. Shiner Bock might presage Spring, although I can think of better bock selections. The only NC beer was French Broad's ESB, which was a little surprising, as I would have expected an Edenton, a Cottonwood or a Highland in the mix. In fact, I saw a poster for Duck-Rabbit and asked the bartender about it. He said they had the amber but dropped it. I suggested that they ought to reconsider the Porter, as that was much better than their amber. In any event, those are quibbles and I should be more thankful for the selection.

While I would give the beer selection a B+, what makes this place is the food. And who would have guessed! Not an ordinary burger but a Federal burger au poivre, which was quite an interesting twist - a burger with a bite! And, the fries were exceptiona, too. Nice and crisp, with the skin on and seasoned with a spicy herb salt. From the comments of other diners, I could tell that the chef in the kitchen was well beyond preparing the typical pub grub you would expect in a place like this.

So by NC standards, where few restaurants give much thought to their beer lists, we have a place with a decent beer selection and terrific food to boot. And, the best part of all, it was very reasonably priced.
Mar 04, 2005
The Federal in Durham, NC
Place rating: 4.18 out of 5 with 23 ratings