Boozin' on a BudgetFood & Drink

Boozin’ on a Budget Goes to University City

A good old-fashion college bar crawl

ReeCee Raps and Aerin Spruill at Flying Saucer
ReeCee Raps and Aerin Spruill at Flying Saucer in University City. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

For this year’s Beer Issue, we thought it would be fun to carry out another edition of our Boozin’ on a Budget series, in which we tour certain neighborhoods and ponder the nightlife, the walkability, and the all-around vibe of the spots we visit. 

Since we visited South End for last year’s Beer Issue, we thought we would head north this time and check out University City, so we hopped on the Blue Line and made our way to the J.W. Clay Boulevard stop to visit the Boardwalk area. 

As usual, we brought a few friends. There are the Queen City Nerve staff members: editor-in-chief Ryan Pitkin, publisher Justin LaFrancois, and digital editor Karie Simmons. Then there are our contributing writers, Dion Beary and nightlife columnist Aerin Spruill. And joining as a special guest this time was ReeCee Raps, a Charlotte rapper whom you can check out at @reeceeraps on Instagram or hosting the DOAP Hip-Hop Open Mic at Crown Station every Thursday.

The team started on the patio at the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, located in the corner of the strip mall at 9605 N. Tryon St. 

Ryan Pitkin: What are we all drinking?

Justin LaFrancois: I’m starting with a 10.1% Stone Japanese Green Tea Imperial IPA right now.

Ryan: I’m having a Cabarrus Vanilla Coffee Blonde, it’s only 4.7%. 

Dion Beary: I’m having an Allagash White because there’s no [Catawba Brewing] White Zombie. I don’t know the percentage of Allagash White, it’s good though.

Justin: Allagash White is the OG wheat beer. 

ReeCee Raps: I have the Big Easy Fruited Sour 7.3% from Wise Man Brewing in Winston-Salem.

Ryan: Aerin, you’re drinking Topo Chico Hard Seltzer because you’re cutting off beer. How long has that been a thing?

Aerin Spruill: Two long fucking weeks. 

Karie: Allagash White for me, too.

The Boozin’ on a Budget crew at Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in University City
The Boozin’ on a Budget crew (from left) Ryan, ReeCee, Aerin, Karie, Justin and Dion at Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in University City. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Justin: I lived in that building you can see from here, [ReeCee] lived in the same complex [Ashford Green] and Ryan lived in the next one over [formerly Colonial Grand].

Dion: I have not lived here. I worked out here for a while when I was living in south Charlotte, so I would have to take that long 485 loop all the way around. It was about a 40-minute drive on 485 to get all the way here. And then I just remember being like 23 and still kind of dating college girls sometimes, and then a lot of them would be living out here in apartments, and it’s just too long of a drive from south Charlotte.

Ryan: I lived here probably about four or five years, I would say. The funny thing is, I lived out here when I wasn’t going to college, from like 19 to 23, and then as soon as I moved into the city, into NoDa, I started going to UNC Charlotte, but I just couldn’t live here anymore at that point. I had enough. 

Justin: I had my 21st birthday right here on this patio. I got here at 1 a.m. and in that one-hour period I was able to drink enough of these high-ABV beers to fall asleep on the ground right there and throw up in the back of a taxi cab. I don’t even think Ubers were a thing back then. University City and Flying Saucer specifically was like my introduction into being an adult and away from my parents. This is the first place I ever lived where I wasn’t living with my parents.

ReeCee: I lived here for two years. My first two years coming to Charlotte after leaving Kansas City. This was my first time living alone, being in University. I was living there with my dog and we would walk all through here, through the lots, we would smell all the food around here. I never really came here specifically a lot, but I think University is its own place. Now that I don’t live in University City, I don’t usually come back. I come back like every once in a while. Like, I was performing at Press Box the other day, but besides that, I don’t really come back. But I didn’t really have to leave the University a lot of times when I lived here, like for food, and we have so many food places here. I just loved how convenient it was. 

Ryan: Yeah, I think it works as the only neighborhood that I know of that has city in its name in Charlotte because it is like it’s separate.

Justin: It’s the north’s Ballantyne, or Ballantyne is the south’s University City. 

Karie: Is there like a central hub or anything, some sort of main street?

Ryan: I’d say that’s where we’re going after this: the Boardwalk. 

Dion: That’s exploded so much. When I worked out here, Boardwalk was there, obviously, some other stuff, but it’s like way more shit over there now.

ReeCee: Even since I’ve left, I’ve been gone two years, and it’s a lot more stuff over here now. 

Aerin:  My first memory here was really bad, it was before I even moved to Charlotte, and I’ve been here now for 10 years. It involved my friend driving to Uptown for our night out and driving us home and me using a poster board because she was in school still, to like, roll it into a cone to vom the whole way from home to her complex. 

Karie: That’s kind of skillful.

Aerin: I had family around here. I now work here in this area. I’ve always thought of University City, I’m trying to think of the right word to say this, because I don’t want to catch any flak. Rustic and rural are the words I’m going to use. The more controversial, the nicest version I’d say would be urban, and we know that comes with all a litany of connotations. 

Ryan: Those words are opposites, though? 

Aerin: Well, there’s a lot of shopping centers, there are a lot of homes.

Ryan: It really is a strip-mall city, town, neighborhood, whatever. 

Aerin: So I never looked at this for nightlife. I came up here for promoter parties of, like, Sport E. Odie, stuff like that, and no one cared about the drive, whether they lived here or not, but that’s the space they wanted to be in, and for me, it’s hard for me to attach nightlife to shopping center spaces, especially if it goes from a restaurant by day to a bar by night. Like my first experience, Picasso’s is where I went. I came up here for Elevation a couple of times and got Golden Krust [Caribbean Restaurant] afterwards. It’s weird because it is congested in a way that feels more like Uptown, but at the same time, it’s so spacious. I mean, even driving here on Tryon tonight it’s like (sighs). When I’m up here for work, I feel like there’s never anything to eat or I don’t trust that the food is going to be good. Like, that’s the dilemma I’ve always had. And then living in Elizabeth it’s like, it’s just too far.

Dion: To your Elevation point, it’s actually the Blackest Elevation campus is in University City. 

Justin: Where are these statistics?

Dion: Just anecdotal, having been part of the culture for two years. 

Justin: I’ve never stepped foot into one of those places and I never will. 

Ryan: I go to enough bad concerts to try that out.

Dion: Each one has its own kind of, like, culture that it builds, and its own kind of personality. And I feel like, it’s embarrassing to even talk about it, but each of them has their own kind of vibe to it, and you see it is always kind of known as the quote-unquote Black Church.

Aerin: Agreed. 

Dion: There are a lot of white people at Elevation who would be like, “Man, I just need a classic Black church experience,” and they would leave their campus and go to UC for a weekend to get the Black church vibe. It’s like a completely different thing. 

ReeCee: My first performance was in University, at Red’s@28th at the open mic that they did every Wednesday. Red’s is not here anymore, but that was my first performance, so University will always hold a special place in my heart just because it was the first place I came to here.

Ryan: When I first met you, you had semi-recently moved here and were making things happen in University. I was impressed. You were doing open mics like at a burger bar connected.

ReeCee: Yeah, we started doing an open mic there [at Burgerim]. We brought in a band. It was called Unplugged Open Mic. A lot of rappers and hip-hop artists performed with bands for the first time right over there in that complex. And the burger joint isn’t there anymore, but we ended up moving it to a different venue. University City is like home. I do miss it when I come back. 

Ryan: When I think of nightlife in University City I think of the Wild Wing Cafe that used to be on Mallard Creek [Church Road] when I lived in the Thornberry Apartments next door. It moved recently and it’s Paparazzi CLT now, but it was a Wild Wing, and it was the first bar that I could ever just walk to from my home, which caused its own problems (laughs). What I think about though is how, during that year or so that I lived there, they passed and implemented the law that you can no longer smoke inside a bar. So I remember the before and the after, because it came into effect on January 1, and then the next day we’re like, “This sucks,” and then one month later we’re like, “God that must have sucked that we had smoke all up in our face indoors.”  

Dion: I can’t even conceive of that now.

Karie: I remember going to dinner with my parents as a kid, and the hostess goes, “We have a non-smoking section.” It doesn’t even matter, it’s still the same area. That’s crazy. 

The team moves on to Boardwalk Billy’s Raw Bar & Ribs, located at 9005 J M Keynes Drive.

The Boozin’ on a Budget crew at Boardwalk Billy’s Raw Bar & Ribs
The Boozin’ on a Budget crew at Boardwalk Billy’s Raw Bar & Ribs. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Ryan: This is the first place I ever did karaoke, and it was a live band playing right there in the corner. I don’t think it was supposed to be karaoke, but they were like, “Anybody want to come up and sing some songs?” And I did Sublime’s “Bad Fish,” and I think I kind of killed it. It was right at the start of the video phone era because my friend got me on video and I was like, “I can’t believe this is what’s going to happen anytime I do anything now.”

Justin: I worked here, and it was my first job in Charlotte. I worked here for a little over a year as a busboy and then a server and then a shift lead, and then I got fired for being late.

Aerin: I was here years ago, and I thought this was so much bigger. What’s that place in the mall with all the arcade games? 

Justin: Dave & Busters? 

Aerin: I thought it was that big! And the stairs were, like, half a mile long. And now I’m here, and I’m like, “This is nothing like what I remembered.” 

ReeCee: I was here last week. 

Karie: You knew someone outside. 

ReeCee: That’s because I’m famous, though. (laughs) I’m very popular. I’m a hip-hop extraordinaire. Not really. But, yeah, I’ve been here once. They don’t have a lot of vegetarian-vegan options, I’m just going to say, for the record. Vegetarian? Yeah, if you vegan, you can eat French fries. But I have walked a lot around here. I did do the whole paddle-boating thing. It’s just a whole area I look at it as, rather than just Boardwalk Billy’s.

Ryan: I feel like this is a good time to pay tribute to the number one bar that I used to get just completely sloshed at, which was Bad Dogs, which used to be right there. Did anybody used to go there?

ReeCee: Famous Toastery is fire. 

Ryan: Yeah that’s where it was. When you moved here, it was already gone, I think. But Bad Dogs was known as just, you could be 18, 19, 20, whatever, it didn’t fucking matter.

Justin: You know how most college towns have all these different college bars. For us here, that was Bad Dogs. 

ReeCee: Well I’m glad it’s a Famous Toastery now because I really like the avocado toast.

Justin: I’m glad too because it’s not gross and disgusting like Bad Dogs was and I love breakfast.

ReeCee: I like being on the water. I like this whole area as a whole, it’s so cute. 

Ryan: They have completely annihilated all the buildings. There was a bar over there. Firewater.

Justin: I worked there.

The sun sets over the boardwalk in University City
The boardwalk area in University City. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Ryan: It’s gone. Everything’s gone. They got rid of those ones too, Sushi 101 was over there back when I lived here. Everything’s gone. I used to come here to this boardwalk when I was a little kid. We would have Easter dinner every year at an Italian restaurant in this location before Boardwalk was ever here. Ciro’s is also nice. We used to go there when my sister worked there. 

ReeCee: I’ve never even looked at that place. I’ve never even made eye contact with that place. 

Ryan: Ciro’s was in our 30 Spots We Must Protect At All Costs piece. It’s been there a long time. 

ReeCee: Wow, I guess I need to give it a look. 

Ryan: Karie, you were a little concerned about your first time ever doing a Boozin’ on a Budget, scared about the levels of drunkenness I think.

Karie: Yes.

Ryan: We’re a little bit into it now, not even halfway, though. How are you feeling?

Justin: Verbatim Karie said (reading text): “Question about Boozin’. Do people get really drunk at these things? I’m scared.”  

Ryan: So now that we’re in our second bar, how are you feeling? 

Karie: Still scared. No, not really. 

Ryan: You’re just the rookie of the group.

Dion: I’m a rookie, too, but I’ve drank with you guys at the bar many, many times. 

Aerin: I feel like I drink a lot compared to the three of you on a regular basis. But I’ve been there where I’m like, “Y’all ain’t gettin’ me.”  

Ryan: Well Aerin’s been writing nightlife columns for me for a very long time.

Justin: Aerin is on a 12-step program going the opposite way. 

Ryan: Nowadays you’re more tame, you’re more grown, but I used to get emails at Creative Loafing from people like, “Can you check on this Aerin person? Is she in the office? I think she might need help. And if she needs anyone to reach out to.” 

Aerin: I’ve gotten emails about how to break the bad habit, but honestly, I am an introvert at heart, so when I go out, I have to be drunk in order to write about it. 

Ryan: What you get in your writing down pat, and really express well, is the feeling of waking up hungover and realizing you have plans and really having to rally and drag yourself to a place. 

Karie: That internal conflict of, do I want to do this? 

Ryan: And she always describes that first sip, where you’re like “My hands were shaking as I put it to my lips and I’m just on this back patio like, ‘Oh, God, I’m here.’” 

Dion: I think you (Aerin) are one of the most talented writers in Charlotte. I love your writing. There’s context about the city and personal context and you also talk about the thing you’re doing, and you do it so well and it makes me so jealous sometimes when I read it. Like, “She’s so much better at this than me.”

The team is walking across J M Keynes and North Tryon Street to get to Golden Owl Tavern, which is part of the newly opened UNC Charlotte Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, located at 9041 Robert D. Snyder Road.

Ryan: OK Karie, so tell me what your fears were about doing a Boozin’ on a Budget. 

Karie: It had a lot to do with the location of the Boozin’ because I’m so unfamiliar with the University City area. Literally, the only thing I associate it with is the fact that IKEA is here and when I first moved to Charlotte, IKEA and Target was like my saving Grace. I thought, as long as I know where they are, I’ll be alright, because I needed to get stuff. That’s literally the only time I would ever come up here and then I would go back, and so I had never ridden the light rail, didn’t know what places existed up here. 

I wasn’t scared of the public transportation, it’s just mostly not knowing — in Charlotte you can kind of sense in different neighborhoods what the vibes will be like. I did not know the vibe here. I just didn’t know what I was getting into. I think maybe there was a tinge of social anxiety about not knowing what to expect or how close things were in proximity to each other. 

Ryan: That’s the thing about University City is that, even the spot we’re in is just a tiny part of it. We used to consider ourselves as living in University City because we lived near Northlake Mall but there was no mall there. So now no one would think of that as University whatsoever, but even beyond that, what really is University City, there’s a rural part, there’s Reedy Creek Park. There’s IKEA. That whole spot is blowing up. 

ReeCee: IKEA, they give you one way in and one way out. 

Ryan: Here’s my real problem with IKEA. It’s not that hard to build the shit. The shit is easy to build. You just follow the directions, it’s fine. If you move, then you’re fucked. You got to take that bed apart, and there’s no putting it back together. 

ReeCee: IKEA, I used to look through the catalog as a kid, look at the swings and stuff, like “I’m gonna get that.” Then as an adult, when I moved here, I think IKEA was the biggest disappointment because everything is just so wack. And I was just like, How the fuck do I get out of this store?! 

The team arrives at Golden Owl Tavern. 

ReeCee: I feel like this is so, like, bruschetta. It’s giving me bruschetta vibes. Like, not even kidding (laughs)

Justin: My favorite place to be in the entire world is a hotel bar. I don’t know why, there’s just something so fancy about it. I’ve never been fancy in my life, and there’s something so fancy about this place. This place is so nice.

Karie: So at first, when I saw this place was called The Golden Owl, I thought to myself, that’s weird, because at home I have a platinum owl. And I was like, “Why would they name this place that when it’s not even that impressive?” So that was what I was thinking. 

ReeCee: I’m totally down with that because, look, my owl at home is triple platinum. Soon to be diamond owl out here. 

Aerin: I’m wondering who’s going to come and clean the glasses up after we leave outside. Because it seems like that was the part he was least interested in about us going outside. All these damn doors are closed. He knows we’re not walking back in here to bring our cups. And I was like, Yeah, yeah, I get it. Tell ‘em.

Karie: This is a forward thinking woman. She’s thinking about all the steps.

Aerin: Yeah because he’s right. I’m not going to bring ‘em back in. At least I can throw mine away. No one else can.

Dion: I’ll say as a former fuck boi, retired fuck boi, I’m engaged now, hotel bars have always been a great place to meet people who want to have sex that night. I’m just saying for all the single people here. So if you ever wanted to just meet people who wanted to like…

Aerin: …hook up. Then they go back to their homes. 

Dion: Yeah, because they’re in a hotel, they come downstairs to the bar because they want to get a little drunk and then you meet them. Those were the days. I would not trade in what I have now for that. But it was… I love my fiancé. 

The team brings their drinks out to the patio.

Dion: I never want to come off as pretentious or unapproachable because my deepest love in life is just bringing people together. Like randomly, once a month I’ll be like, “Let me get everybody I know together.” 

Justin: To go to Hattie’s for karaoke so it ruins my night. (Justin works there) My favorite thing about this Golden Owl place is this patio, for sure. They got these shitty metal planters, with these shitty tiny little flowers. Golden Owl Tavern is — I’ve only been in a select handful of hotel bars in my life because hotels are expensive, but when I do end up in one, they’re fucking awesome, and this one is exquisite. Absolutely exquisite. I can’t comment on the service because we just talked to one guy, but the place looks great. And how could something like this even exist in University City? When we lived here, could you imagine a Marriott being here?

Ryan: Yeah, there’s a Hilton right across the street.

Justin: Sure. The Hilton makes sense because it was the only one.

Ryan: I wonder if Paris has ever been here to stay at that Hilton.

Justin: Paris like the town?

Ryan: No, I don’t wonder if the town has ever come here. Like, you wrap the map up and bring it here? What the fuck?

Justin: (laughs) Well why would Paris Hilton have been here?

Ryan: Don’t you think that if you had a bunch of Pitkin Hotels everywhere, or LaFrancois Hotels, you’d be like, I want to go try to stay at all of them? 

Justin: First of all, the Hilton is not the Hilton family.

Ryan: Yeah, it is.

Justin: Are we for real here?

Everyone: Yeah!

Justin: Get the fuck out of here.

Ryan: Dion said earlier that Karie does have Connecticut energy. She’s from Connecticut. Then he said I have Baltimore energy, which is crazy because I’m from Connecticut, too. So I just want, since you are an energy analyst, who’s got what city’s energy out here? What’s ReeCee’s energy?  

Dion: She’s got Seattle, Austin or Portland energy. Like growing cities, smart cities, musical cities. Aerin has that Chicago energy. 

Aerin: OK, that works, so I was born in Aurora [Illinois]. 

What follows is a long, drawn-out conversation about Kanye West that can’t fit here. Then the team walks back across Tryon and makes it over to Wild Wing Cafe, as blood-alcohol levels continue to rise. 

The crew, minus Aerin, treks over to Wild Wing Cafe
The crew, minus Aerin, treks over to Wild Wing Cafe. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Ryan: Aerin dipped out on us.

ReeCee: Yeah she left without giving us a farewell. And now we got our bulletproof vest ready.

Karie: Oh, wow. Why? 

ReeCee: For the Armored Cow. If the cow’s armored I definitely need to be armored. 

Karie: Oh, all right, got it. 

ReeCee: You didn’t bring yours? 

Karie: No, I must have dropped it. 

The team finally makes it to Armored Cow Brewing, their last stop for the night. 

Justin: This is the second time that I’ve been to Armored Cow Brewing. The first time that we came here, Beto O’Rourke stood up on a table and was like, “Fuck y’all’s politics,” or something like that.

Ryan: Yeah, last time we were here, Beto O’Rourke was speaking. He was chugging beer.

ReeCee: Why the fuck did he come here? 

Justin: He was campaigning to be the president at the time that Donald Trump, Joe Biden. Was it Trump’s original election or the next time? During Trump’s re-election. 

Ryan: What are you drinking? 

Karie: It’s actually so good. It’s an Orange Creamsicle hard cider.

ReeCee: It’s the best thing we’ve had all night. 

Ryan: That’s good because we haven’t kept track of literally anything else we’ve been drinking since the first stop. 

Justin: I asked for their highest ABV IPA.  

Karie: I just wanted to say that I only know Dion from Twitter, and it’s so nice to meet you in person. Listen, I wasn’t on — I wasn’t on Twitter when I went, before I came onto Queen City Nerve but now I’m on it, and Charlotte Twitter is the juiciest – the spiciest. 

Justin: Everybody who’s on Charlotte Twitter should add more things to their life so they got something to do rather than bitch on Twitter.  

The team has their sights set on one last University City destination, Applebee’s, in search of vegan food for ReeCee and a mythical Fireball Margarita for Ryan. But alas, they walk in 20 minutes before close and cannot get sat. They will have to go without.

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  1. Excellent Bar-Crawl experience. I really like it because you have the capacity, hopefully the capacity, to walk to all the establishments you covered in the University City area. Thursdays and Friday nights seem to be the busiest here but that is how it is in most college towns. Thanks for the coverage!

  2. very entertaining!! i’m headed to Golden Owl on Saturday for my dad’s birthday dinner so the description was a little sneak peek for me. also grew up in University area and agree with a lot of the sentiments here. thanks for this!!

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