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Nightlife Critics’ Pick Winners: Best in the Nest 2022

The best in Charlotte's nightlife as chosen by Nerve critics

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A composite image blending an historical archive image of a group at The Excelsior Club into an image of a group gathered at Super Abari Game Bar
An image of a gathering at The Excelsior club blended into an opening reception at Super Abari Game Bar (Excelsior Club: Courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library; Design by Justin LaFrancois)

If there’s one thing we’ve done our research on, it’s where to have a good time in this town. We’re more than happy to share what we’ve found.

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BEST NEW NIGHTLIFE SPOT: Starlight On 22nd

Starlight on 22nd is a bar and arts venue on East 22nd Street in Optimist Park, opened by artists and NoDa pioneers Ruth Ava Lyons and Paul Sires and their son, Orion, who runs the day-to-day.

Since opening in late 2021, Starlight has become a go-to nightlife spot for a number of subcultures throughout Charlotte, hosting events and themed nights regularly, including drag shows, open mic nights, live music, stand-up comedy, fashion shows, theatre productions, spoken-word poetry, disc golf putting competitions and more.

Starlight is located within walking distance of NoDa, Belmont, Villa Heights, Optimist Hall and the Blue Line, and cultivates a kitschy vibe that Orion describes as “NoDa nostalgic” — a fusion of his modern ideas and his parents’ eclectic, thrifted, artsy style.

All the decor is either thrifted, repurposed or created; the ceiling in the entryway is made completely out of streetlights, above the bar hang the old doors of The Evening Muse, and on top of each table sits a trophy or vintage trinket. And if you get bored, there’s a supply of board games in the back that always seems to be in rotation (our theory is that the good ones keep getting stolen).

Inside Starlight on 22nd
The funky interior of Starlight on 22nd is a fusion of ideas from Ruth Ava Lyons, Paul Sires, and their son, Orion Sires. (Photo by Karie Simmons)

BEST NEW BAR: Humbug

Have you been looking for a legit cocktail bar in Plaza Midwood that you don’t have to/can’t make a reservation for (especially now that Soul Gastrolounge is gone)? Well bah Humbug, we’ve got your replacement. If you didn’t know that they’ve opened a boutique, five-room, limited engagement hotel (Refuge) with a ridiculously amazing cocktail bar that’s arguably its claim to fame on Central Avenue, now you do.

If veteran mixologists Larry Suggs and Andrew Schools really wanted to flex, you wouldn’t be able to get in the door if you tried, but instead they operate this spot more like a speakeasy — at least more so than the so-called speakeasies that advertise themselves as such, which defeats the purpose of the speakeasy, but we digress.

The cocktails this magical duo cooks up will keep any newcomer and regular alike coming back for more. Plus, they’re keeping us on our toes with dinner pop-up series, flexible menus, $10 specialty cocktail nights, and creative themes that switch things up. December’s theme is Krampus so we can’t wait to get naughty!


BEST COMEBACK: Super Abari Game Bar

The original Abari was cool, but they don’t call the new location Super Abari Game Bar for nothing. When Abari on Parkwood Avenue and North Davidson Street closed in 2020 due to COVID-19 and rising rent prices, hearts across Charlotte broke — none more-so than owner Zach Pulliam’s. But after two years of hard work, dedication and sheer willpower, Super Abari emerged like a phoenix from the ashes on Seigle Avenue in the heart of Charlotte’s Belmont neighborhood.

As expected, Super Abari stayed true to its roots, featuring wall-to-wall games of every kind, including some iconic classics and a killer pinball selection. They added an amazing outdoor patio space and an unbelievably spacious interior as compared to the sometimes cramped space in the original location. The newly renovated location has allowed Super Abari to truly come into its own while maintaining the sense of inclusivity and community that so many had come to know and love. As LL Cool J would say, “Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years!”

Super Abari Game Bar
Zach Pulliam addresses attendees to the Super Abari Game Bar preview event on May 7. (Photo by Jonathan Golian)

BEST HOTEL BAR: E’terie Bar & Grill

Have you ever found yourself walking around the Second Ward area, circling the Nascar Hall of Fame ‘round midnight looking for a nightcap only to discover that you are in a damn ghost town? Dip into the Embassy Suites at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and South Caldwell Street and walk through the lobby until you find E’terie, a sleek little bar with a large lounge for … well, lounging. The service is impeccable, the martinis are mixed perfectly, and the popcorn is some of the best we’ve ever had. No, seriously, the popcorn is really good.


BEST PLACE FOR FUN & GAMES: Puttery

We got a chance to check this spot out before it opened in December 2021 and spent a great afternoon knocking balls around two themed indoor mini-golf courses: one that places players in a bougie library and another that places them somewhere in the Triassic period.

The idea for two wholly different courses offers a nice change of pace, but it’s the country club … err, bar and lounge area, that truly sets Puttery apart.

Indoor mini golf course at Puttery in South End Charlotte
Indoor mini golf at Puttery in South End (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The huge windows facing Hawkins and Rampart streets will have you wishing you were looking out on something other than the construction that has been and will be consuming the area for the foreseeable future. Pay that no mind, however, as the interior gives you plenty of things to shift your focus to. With comfortable lounge chairs placed in a plant-heavy setting and amazing cocktails and food items on the menu, you might just forget about the fun and games.


BEST PLACE TO DAY DRINK: Moo & Brew

Located on Central Avenue in the northern tip of the Elizabeth neighborhood, Moo & Brew offers large patio spaces and outdoor windows for walk-up ordering. Nothing can beat their Large Marge, a 20-ounce bloody mary, paired with a burger or grilled cheese while sitting outside. It’s a laidback spot in walking distance to any number of nearby bars, breweries and eateries in Plaza Midwood, Elizabeth or Belmont. And what’s more: the newly opened Gold Line gives access right through Uptown to any number of other hangouts if you get bored.

Here’s the thing: You won’t get bored.


BEST PLACE TO BAR HOP: Plaza Midwood

This might seem a bit repetitive, but Moo & Brew isn’t even in Plaza Midwood, so let’s just call it complementary. If you’re looking for the best one-mile stretch to bar hop in Charlotte, look no further than Central Avenue in the heart of Plaza Midwood. Sure, a lot has changed (read: closed) and there’s plenty to complain about, but there’s still a great combination of low-key dive bars, intimate music venues, vibrant restaurants, family-friendly breweries and more, all east of the train tracks.

You can even take a break from bar hopping to shop locally made artisan goods, jewelry, and vintage clothing! Plaza Midwood is (still) home to some of Charlotte’s favorite (and most iconic) watering holes like Thirsty Beaver, Legion Brewing, and Thomas Street Tavern — now with new editions like Burial Beer Co. Whether you’re looking for a night out or an afternoon of activities, this quirky energetic length of Central Avenue reaching from Hawthorne Lane to Iris Drive is packed full of fun for everyone.


BEST PATIO: Vaulted Oak Brewing

Since opening in summer 2021, Vaulted Oak Brewing has been an easy target for folks who see the proliferation of local beer as just another sign of gentrification. What could be more symbolic of Charlotte’s two bro identities than a bank turned brewery, especially one that still looks so much like a bank branch from the road?

Vaulted Oak Brewing
Vaulted Oak Brewing (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

All jokes aside, however, and Vaulted Oak is a pretty damn cool place to hang out, and a lot of that is due to what we’ll call three levels of shelter. First there’s the main tap room, which is similar to any other brewery bar, if a tad cramped. Then there are two awesome patios: one that’s mainly covered — garage style — with TVs, tables and plastic chairs, and another that’s fully outside, giving backyard vibes with picnic tables lined up and plenty of space for vendors, musicians, a smoker, and whatever else is needed to make for a special afternoon (beer and friends are usually enough, though).

And you can take that to the bank.


BEST ROOFTOP PATIO: Novelty House

Though Connolly’s on 5th is still right where it’s always been (on 5th), where the upstairs patio once stood is now home to the five-floor Binaco Tower, topped by Novelty House, a rooftop cocktail bar, with the exclusive Havana Smoke and Reserve lounge on the floor below. That’s what we call leveling up!

You may see pics of the floral decor, the neon “WISH YOU WERE HERE” sign, and the built-in mirror ring light in the bathroom and think “chintzy” or “so what?” But the truth is, the pioneers behind these two new nightlife destinations left no stones unturned when it came to cultivating an experience down to the most minute details. As a result, they’ve created a “novel” 5th Street destination that offers an elevated atmosphere unlike any other on the block.


BEST NEW PATIO: Burial Brewing Co.

Asheville-based Burial Brewing Co. opened its first Charlotte location in June on Thomas Avenue, and boy did they have a sweet skyline view for about two months. That’s when the ghastly new Central Square development started going up, including a parking garage that completely blocked off any line of sight to the city in the west. Ahh well, this type of shit happens, and it’s not as if Burial had some long claim to their view; they’re newcomes, too!

But still, even without an Instagrammable view, the vibes on the rooftop at Burial are cozy and cool, with a nice rooftop bar selection that means you don’t have to go up and down stairs all night.

And if it’s an extra breezy night, head downstairs, where another outdoor patio is sufficiently closed off from the world while still offering enough space to be comfortable.


BEST EXPANSION: NoDa Company Store Canteen

It seems that just about every week Camp North End is announcing a new tenant addition to its sprawling campus, and it was an only a matter of time before someone took over the event space that looks out on The Boileryard, the epicenter of the popular Friday Nights at Camp North End, where bands perform and people gather under the old water tower.

We’d venture to say that no one could have filled that space better than Joey Hewell and Scott Lindsley with NoDa Company Store have since opening their new Canteen location in September.

The 1,650-square-foot interior features a bar, oversized tables and seating for more than 50 people, and is the perfect stop for those Friday nights, when we used to have to wait in line at Company Store’s mobile tiki shack instead. As with the flagship location in NoDa, the Canteen serves a great lineup of local beers, wine and wine-based sangrias, including the ever-popular NoDaColada.


BEST SPORTS BAR: The Kilted Buffalo

It’s about time that someone got this space right. The Kilted Buffalo, located on Central Avenue in the space that formerly housed Pour Taphouse, is the perfect place to both watch and play games. There are about a dozen big-screen TVs, a large projector screen, an indoor astroturfed cornhole area, a ping-pong table, two pool tables, a comfy lounge area, ample space to hoot and holler, a full kitchen, a full draft beer menu and all the cocktails you need to watch your team get embarrassed (if you’re a fan of local teams lately).


BEST DIVE BAR: Hattie’s Tap & Tavern

A perennial winner in the Best Dive Bar category, there’s just no beating a night at Hattie’s. It perfectly balances the vibes between introvert and extrovert, whether you want to hang out inside and make friends around the bar or lounge areas, start up a game of pool with strangers, or go out back with just the one (or few) you came with to hold court at one of the picnic tables, you’ll find whatever vibes you’re looking for.

Hattie's Tap & Tavern
Hattie’s Tap & Tavern (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

As always, old-school game systems await if you’re interested in a game of Mario Kart on Nintendo 64, or even older-school game systems called board games for folks who are more analog-minded. Oh yeah, and the most important part of any dive bar: cheap drinks! Next round’s on us.*

*This is just an expression and we are not contractually obligated to, in fact, provide anyone with rounds.


BEST OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH: Gibson Mill

If you’ve ever wanted to experience what it may have felt like to walk into the disorganized, tchotchke-filled version of the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, look no further.

Boasting 88,000 square feet, the Depot at Gibson Mill is chock full of curiosities, vintage furniture, and even a humongous buffalo head. It’s no wonder this antique mall is lauded as the largest in the South. But that’s just an inkling of what the old mill in Concord has to offer. They’ve been adding tenants at Camp-North-End speed this year. Opened on Oct. 5, the Gibson Mill Market food hall features Cara’s Cookie Company, Johnny Rogers BBQ & Burgers, Taco Street, Churn Buddies Ice Cream, Defined Coffee, and The Market Bar.

Those vendors joined existing tenants High Branch Brewing Company and Luck Factory Games, the largest board game library and cafe in North Carolina.


BEST WAY TO SPEND A SOBER NIGHT: Wednesday Night Live

Wednesday Night Live is a weekly event series that includes free admission to the museums that are part of Levine Center for the Arts every Wednesday from 5-9 p.m., as well as live entertainment or programming each week.

The special programming rotates among the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, the Knight Theater and The Mint Museum. The current lineup includes everything from Brazilian dance performances to spoken-word artists to film screenings. The past year has seen fashion runways, guided exhibit tours with drag queens and plenty of other cool stuff.

Soon, Levine Museum of the New South will also join in on Wednesday Night Live at its new location in the former Wells Fargo Museum in Uptown.

Scheduled events for December include Youth Orchestras of Charlotte Concert of American Favorites at the Mint (12/7) and a “WARHOLidays” Party at the Bechtler (12/14).


BEST MONTHLY PARTY: Deep Fried Disco

That Guy Smitty is a magician — a musical alchemist with impeccable taste for infectious tunes and flawless transitions. The DJ born as Anthony Smith not only reads a room, he guides it with telepathic ease.

You — and everyone else — want to follow his flow, which shuns the hits and entwines hip-hop, funk, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and more. Along with DJ/drummer/producer/engineer Jay “VonFunkhauser” Cooper, who spins tunes that harken to the era of classic disco and funk, Smitty hosts the best damn dance party in Charlotte.

Mark your calendars for Deep Fried Disco’s upcoming New Year’s Eve party at Snug Harbor, where That Guy Smitty and VonFunkhauser welcome guest artists Charles Gatling, Oba Shanti and Steve Howerton.


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