Guides & EventsNightlifeThe Best in Charlotte - Best in the Nest

Nightlife Critics’ Pick Winners: Best in the Nest 2023

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

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: Goldie’s

In an ever-growing South End, nightlife venues are a dime a dozen, making it difficult for new arrivals to carve out a distinct presence or a loyal following. That doesn’t seem to be the case for Goldie’s.

Live music, drinks, two patios and a mini-food hall under one roof may be confusing to NIMBY locals, but the “chokehold effect” that Goldie’s has had on Lower South End is real, drawing a cult-like following that has patrons venturing further down South Boulevard multiple times a week! Maybe it’s the music. Maybe it’s the many TVs. Maybe it’s the foot-long hot dogs, pizza and burgers. Either way, right now, Goldie’s has the juice.


BEST HYBRID: Tattoos & Booz

Tattooz & Booz, the restaurant, bar, tattoo parlor and nightlife spot located on East 6th Street, has garnered as much attention for its hybrid set-up as it has for menu items like the Philly cheesesteak egg rolls, chicken and waffles or salmon and grits.

Tattooz & Booz Lounge (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Matthew Williams, who co-owns owns and manages the venue alongside his wife Kristen Wallace Williams, first had the idea for Tattooz & Booz more than a decade ago, as the couple has owned a few tattoo shops in the past, but putting these varying concepts together brought a long list of challenges for the entrepreneurial couple.

“It’s long days and long nights, but it’s definitely rewarding. I think we’re all really proud of what it’s morphed into. We never expected it to be as big as it is,” Kristen told Queen City Nerve.

Thanks to a unique concept and top-notch food menu, Tattooz & Booz built a buzz on social media, allowing Kristen to leave her corporate job and focus solely on the family business. Despite a shaky pandemic start, the spot has become a hub for countless brunch lovers, party dancers and ink admirers out there.


BEST FOR FUN AND GAMES: Super Abari Game Bar

When the original Abari location was forced to close amid the pandemic and rising rents, the gaming community and alternative nightlife seekers were devastated. Little did we know, the next chapter for Abari and owner Zach Pulliam was going to be bigger, better, and well worth the wait. In May 2022, Super Abari Game Bar opened in its new home on Seigle Avenue, complete with the familiar “living room lounge” that became synonymous with the entryway and a megabit more space, with emphasis on the mega.

If 5,000 square feet, 35 pinball machines, 54 arcade games, and the world’s largest playable Game Boy don’t scream super-sized fun, WTF does?! Plus, a collab with Dukes Bread gave birth to super-sized hot pockets for gaming fuel that you can wash down with PBR on draft at the low price of $1.50 on Throwback Thursday.


BEST COCKTAIL BAR: Humbug

When it comes to making a splash on the cocktail scene, Humbug, a craft-cocktail-bar-meets-neighborhood-dive on The Plaza, challenged the status quo before it even had a permanent home. Most “pop-up” concepts conjure an eye roll. Sure, their “themes” draw the crowds, but often they lose focus on the task at hand: crafting unforgettable cocktails that don’t need a Santa Claus mug to conceal the lack of complexity that comes with a $20 price tag.

An espresso martini in a glass on a bar
“The Goddamned Espresso Martini” at Humbug. (Photo by Timothy DePeugh)

But that’s why nobody can touch the OG Charlotte mixologist Larry Suggs, along with business partner and talented newcomer Andrew Schools, the masterminds behind Humbug. Name a better duo … we’ll wait. It didn’t take long for whispers of “the new pop-up bar inside Hotel Refuge,” to become a household name all its own that not only defined the hotel but surpassed its recognition.

Less than a year later, Humbug opened its permanent home in Villa Heights. The greatest cocktail hits on the menu honor Humbug’s pop-up roots with seasonal newbies like Have You Seen the Bear? and That Goddamned Espresso Martini, the latter even inspired a cover story in our paper earlier this year.


BEST WINE BAR: Bar à Vins

I don’t know who the first person was to dare pairing poor-man’s Lay’s potato chips with ridiculously expensive caviar, but you, sir or ma’am, are a genius! Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself at Bar à Vins in NoDa, and get ready to be addicted. Gone are the days of snobby sommeliers, assorted cheeses and meats, and stuffy service.

Bar à Vins sets a new standard, pairing consciously crafted wine from around the world with tasty snacks like tinned fish and quicos in an approachable, neighborhood atmosphere. Add a dash of hip-hop playing over the speakers and you have a wine vibe that everyone can enjoy (even peeps who don’t care for wine). After years of watching new concepts struggling to survive NoDa, we finally have something that feels sticky enough to become a neighborhood staple.


BEST PLACE TO DAY DRINK: Optimist Hall

The best place to crack a beer or grab a cocktail before 5 p.m. in Charlotte is Optimist Hall. The massive food hall located in the former gingham mill just outside of Uptown boasts a broad selection of cocktails, beers and bites.

Optimist Hall is home to The Spindle Bar, Billy Sunday and Fonta Flora Brewery, not to mention El Thrifty Social, a great game bar for an afternoon of booze-infused fun. But the best part is that you’ve got all that food right there onsite to help soak it all up and avoid crossing that line of no return with the alcohol. Some food vendors, like Bottiwalla for example, also sell alcoholic drinks, including boozy slushies, margaritas and craft beers.


BEST PLACE TO BAR HOP: The Gold District

The area surrounding the intersection of South Mint Street and West Summit Avenue has really come into its own as of late. Whatever you’re looking for, the Gold District has got it. Games? Slingshot Social. Craft beer? Craft Growler Shop and Tasting Room. Brunch? Ruby Sunshine. One of the all-around best breweries in the city?

Resident Culture. We’re only starting to scratch the surface here, but you get the point.


BEST PATIO: Sycamore Brewing South End

The folks at Sycamore Brewing pulled out all the stops in building their new South End location, which opened in May. The taproom spans two stories with a 6,000-square-foot second-floor patio and bar overlooking Charlotte’s Rail Trail and the Uptown skyline. On the ground level, Sycamore visitors can expect a beer garden, a full-service taproom with food offerings and the brewery’s new coffee shop.

Sycamore’s custom-built Airstream food truck is also stationed upstairs as a nod to the original taproom space that was located across the street and closed in October 2022, making the nearby patio all the more inviting.


BEST DRINK MENU: LaBARatory at Urban District Market

LaBARatory is the newest addition to the growing line of greatest hits created by Seoul Food Meat Company’s owners. Located in the Urban Mill District Market, this soju distillery is the first of its kind in the Queen City.

LaBARatory at Urban District Market (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The specialty soju cocktails may carry an $18 price tag but the 20-25% ABV behind the Korean vodka-based drink packs a punch that’ll keep you from wanting to do any more damage. The best part? Keeping to the science theme, drinks are served in beakers and test tubes while menu items are showcased as a periodic table of elements. OK, the real best part? The long list of local craft beers selling on draft for just $2 per 12-ounce pour.

They even built a pedestrian bridge so you can legally cross the greenway to Seoul Food (and vice versa) and keep your drink with you.


BEST ROOFTOP: Novelty House

When it comes to rooftop bars in Uptown, nobody can compete with Novelty House. Its seasonal Instagrammable backdrops, city views and nonstop party vibes still have Queen City nightlifers in a chokehold.

Novelty House. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Even weekend visitors and Charlotte novices find their way to the East 5th Street hotspot as if they followed the North Star. On a Friday evening, after sunset, the magnetic sounds of the live DJ spill into the street from the open-air rooftop signaling: “You know what time it is.”

From that point on, the entrance is an ever-revolving door until 2 a.m. Downstairs, Havana Smoke & Reserve and Saku Yakitori & Sushi Bar help Novelty hold down the block with cigars and late-night bites, making Binaco Tower a nightlife destination patrons don’t have to leave.


BEST WAY TO SPEND A SOBER NIGHT: Independent Picture House

French noir crime caper Rififi, coming of age Czech drama Cozy Dens, atomic blockbuster Oppenheimer and Chilean/French trans slice-of-life story Soy Nino. This is just a soupçon of the entrancing filmic feast presented by Independent Picture House (IPH), Charlotte’s indie nonprofit movie theater.

Actors and crew sit on stage in front of a screen at Independence Picture House
A panel discussion following a screening of ‘The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster’ at Independent Picture House. (Photo by Taylor Montalto)

Since opening in June 2022, the community arthouse cinema has transcended genre and audience classifications, running film series featuring anime, underground cult gems, 1970’s existential road movies and unexpected holiday favorites. IPH frequently hosts filmmakers to engage audiences in Q&A talkback sessions and screens films for local activists and causes, like Ukrainian docudrama 20 Days in Mariupol.

Plus, where else can you catch genuine local oddities like Night of the Cat, a 1973 Charlotte-filmed exploitation/grindhouse classic produced by Queen City Lawyer Michael G. Plumides?

More important question: With such intoxicating cinematic stimulants, who needs alcohol?


BEST HIDDEN GEM: Starlight on 22nd

Tucked away on an unassuming East 22nd Street in Optimist Park, you’ll find a laid-back and approachable Starlight on 22nd. Daring to defy the surrounding new developments, the dive-meets-lounge represents a safe haven for the odd, curious, and creative.

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)

The inside features a colorful hodgepodge of mismatched furniture, sculpted centerpieces, thrifted decor, and extravagant art served alongside cheap drinks, live music, open mic nights, and childlike bites.

Outside, dual patios peppered with string lights and picnic tables provide ample space for hula hoops, disc golf, pingpong and Jenga. Go during the day and stay past sunset to see what it feels like to wish on a star and have it actually come true.


BEST DIVE BAR: Smokey Joe’s Cafe & Bar

It hasn’t been around for 39 years for no reason. Smokey Joe’s has reigned supreme as one of the best dive bars in Charlotte for almost four decades simply because it dares to remain the same.

At Smokey Joe’s, what you see is what you get. The same Christmas lights we hang once a year, hang on at Smokey’s all year long. If one of the swings next to the sand pingpong court breaks, it may never swing again. And if you dare ask for an espresso martini, you may get laughed out the front door. This is a cafe and bar with an emphasis on the bar. Remodeling?

Sure, let’s add 50 more tchotchkes to the rafters and see if they notice. But that’s what we love about Smokey Joe’s; it’s a true dive bar and the fact that it doesn’t change is our obsession.


BEST WEEKLY PARTY: Hazy Sundays at Petras

Every first, third, and fifth Sunday, the back patio at Petra’s transforms into a DJ-fueled day party for Hazy Sunday. From the moment you walk up, you can hear the music bumping — hell, you can hear it from Calle Sol — vibrating out of the ostensibly closed Petra’s windows. But if you enter through the door in the alleyway behind Calle Sol, you’ll enter one of the greatest day parties in the city.

The vibe: All are welcome and no rules apply. Strangelings from all over the city in one space only focus on cutting loose on the dance floor. All bets are off if you think you’ll only be “stopping by” for one or two; 4 p.m. turns into 9 p.m. real quick when the drinks are flowing and the DJs are spinning. What makes it hazy? Grab $10 bucks for entry to eff around and find out.


BEST COMEBACK: The Punch Room

At a time when the craft cocktail scene was establishing roots in the Queen City, The Punch Room, located on the 15th floor of the Ritz Carlton Uptown, easily represented the blueprint. Punch bowls for two to six people boasted a complexity that would leave patrons buzzed and confused. “Did we just become craft cocktail obsessed?” Yes, we did.

Then, years later, while we were out exploring new craft cocktails spots, The Punch Room closed, leaving us to wonder if we’d ever be able to taste the OG again. Well, The Punch Room is back, baby! And word on the street is with mixologist Kel Minton (of Soul Gastrolounge and The Royal Tot fame) at the helm, coming home is going to taste better than ever.


BEST DATE NIGHT: Sweet Spot Studio

You and your significant other can knock out drinks, food and acquire new skills in one fell swoop at Sweet Spot Studio in the Oakwold neighborhood for a reasonable price. The entire experience could last up to three hours as you sip your complimentary glass of wine and learn to make an assortment of sweets, treats and pasta dishes depending on the set up for the night in question.

A kitchen workspace area in Sweet Spot Studio and Kitchen in Charlotte
A view from the classroom of Sweet Spot Kitchen (Courtesy of Sweet Spot Studio)

Sweet Spot also allows couples to bring their own alcoholic beverages from home or neighboring businesses and will set you up with cups to drink from as you learn from expert chefs on how to craft signature dishes that you can take home with you after indulging at the end of the lesson.

Don’t overdress as you can expect to make a mess, and certainly bring your appetite.


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