Nightlife Critics’ Picks 2019
The freaks come out at night, and that’s when you’ll find us slumped up against the jukebox in a dive bar enjoying the show.
Best New Nightlife Spot: Single Barrel Room
Single Barrel Room is Plaza’s best-kept secret. The speakeasy atmosphere of the small cocktail bar is very intimate. The ceilings are coated in green velvet and they have large (fake) animal heads on the walls. The cocktail program and the bar itself is run by Brain DuBois and Ally Goddard. Brian and Ally have worked to make Single Barrel Room a safe space for LGBTQ community members, as well as a high-quality cocktail bar. Charlotte is full of transplants and trans folks and all are welcome for a great time in the inclusive space.
It’s not just a hangout, either. Single Barrel has raised a lot of money for local charities through fun fundraising events and dinners, such as the recent Friendsgiving that offered an LGBTQ-friendly locale and a Thanksgiving meal to any folks who may not be close with family, have friends nearby or any place to go in general. Other events include Secret Sundays, during which DuBois picks a top-shelf or rare bottle of specially ordered bourbon and sells good pours for out-of-this world pricing — a whiskey lover’s paradise.
Best Karaoke: 8.2.0
You just left a concert at one of the handful of music venues at the AvdXchange Music Factory. You are drunk and just aren’t done singing for the night. Slide your happy ass in to 8.2.0. Karaoke bars are always a party, but at 8.2.0 they pack the karaoke party in to one room for a sing-a-long extravaganza. 8.2.0 has the three pillars of a good time; drinks, music and pizza by the slice. The elevated stage in the karaoke lounge is a platform for drunk friends to become superstars and for you to enjoy the most intimate mini-concerts of your all-time favorite hits.
It’s not American Idol, but you can showcase your vocal talents through your favorite Amy Winehouse or Adele tune. Make sure you do your vocal cord warm ups, though, and drink some soothing tea with honey afterward. Just kidding, of course you should have a beer or a cocktail. After all, it’s only karaoke.
Best Bar to Get Dressed Up For: Merchant and Trade
Your late-spring tennis shoes coated in grass stains from yard work will get you turned away at the entrance of Merchant & Trade. Since you have to get dressed up, you might as well go all out for the rooftop views of BB&T Ballpark and Romare Bearden Park. Merchant & Trade has a wicked cocktail program curated by beverage director Henry Schmulling, long glass-rock firepits and a wall of connected TV screens for a huge projection of… well, whatever they have on.
Think about Merchant & Trade like Fahrenheit on steroids, a Barry Bonds amount of steroids. After you’ve got your date night started off right with a few cocktails and Insta-worthy views you can walk down to Valhalla or Hooligans and get plastered in your suit or dress, but more about that to come.
Best Place to Bar Hop: Brevard Court
When someone says they’re going bar hopping, you probably imagine them Ubering to a bar in one neighborhood, staying for a bit, then Ubering to another one. A large order for friends who like staying in one place for long periods of time. For those that like to keep their cards close to their chest, Brevard Court is a dream come true. Often referred to as the French Quarter or Latta Arcade (which is the name for the indoor section that’s popular with the Uptown lunch crowd but closes before things get interesting), Brevard Court gives Q.C. nightlife adventurers the best of both worlds: the opportunity to bar hop while virtually standing in place. Home to French Quarter Restaurant, Nefelie’s, Valhalla Pub and Eatery, The Cotton Room, Zablong, Istanbul Hookah Lounge, and QCBC, there’s plenty of food and booze to last you and your friends all night long.
Best Place to Day Drink: NoDa Company Store
NoDa Company Store is known for being one of the coziest hangouts in the neighborhood, and arguably, in the city.
A bottle shop meets playground for the day-time drinker, a post-brunch beer can quickly turn into evening shenanigans exploring NoDa when you start at the Company Store. Grab a glass of sangria on tap (or mulled wine if you need to warm up) and settle down in one of the many nesting areas inside or out.
Not in the mood for sangria or mulled wine? Don’t worry, there are plenty of local brews to wash down a snack from the food truck parked out front (or back, as we’re still a bit confused as to which side is considered the front).
After you’ve fallen in love with Noda Co. Store during the day, it won’t take much to convince you to join owners Joey and Scott for Meatless Mondays, a free, community-style dinner featuring a different vegetarians dish each week! Or head out on Sunday for a similar vibe during which they grill out free of charge in the warmer months.
Best Hangout: Hattie’s Tap & Tavern/Tip Top Daily Market
No frills, no dress code, no cover charges, no bullshit. The humble strip mall on The Plaza doesn’t look like much, but’s home to two of the most chill spots to kick back at in the city. On one side, you’ve got Hattie’s, the dog-friendly, video game-hosting, giant-Jenga-on-the-picnic-tables bar that turned 5 years old this year and has never lost a step as a go-to for a night with no pretense.
Just a few doors over, Tip Top Daily Market is a bar with plenty of beers and on tap and an impressive selection of cans and bottles in the beer shop that awaits if you can make it past said bar. Speaking of impressive selections, Tip Top moonlights as a record shop, allowing you to peruse the vinyl while you sip. Hand-in-hand, the two offer just about the best way to spend the day when you don’t want to worry about shit else but the drink in front of you.
Best Patio: Thomas Street Tavern
When anyone mentions going out in Plaza Midwood, you already know one of the suggested stops will be none other than Thomas Street (lovingly called T Street) Tavern. Maybe it’s the live music, or possibly some of the food plays a role in its popularity, but anyone who knows what they’re talking about will tell you of all the attributes of Thomas Street Tavern, the greatest is the back patio. While it’s one of the largest outdoor spaces in Plaza Midwood, you can find pockets that make it feel cozy and intimate. Whether you’re tucked away in a booth or circled around the fire pit inside the covered outdoor bar, you can find a way to steal away from the busyness of the bar.
Or you can try your luck playing ping pong, Bimini ring or corn hole. If you’re going to play ping pong, take heed, there are very serious ping pong players behind the netting, don’t grab a paddle lightly. If you’re having second thoughts, set up on the old-style stadium seating looking down on the tables and see if it’s something you’re really ready for. Regardless of the reason you’re at T Street (which is located on Thomas Avenue, strangely enough), as long as the heaters are working when it’s cold outside, it’s where you’ll want to spend most of your time.
Best Rooftop: The Chamber at Wooden Robot Brewery in NoDa
Novel NoDa apartments may block the view of Uptown from the rooftop of the new-ish Wooden Robot location adjacent to it, but you can see the skyline from everywhere else in Charlotte so we won’t use that as judgment.
The Robot’s rooftop area still has plenty of views stretching miles to the north and west, which provides a photo-worthy sunset backdrop for having a beer after work. With lots of seating and a couple of games, this rooftop is a great space to hang out above the hustle and bustle of a Friday or Saturday night in the neighborhood.
Best Place to Spend a Sober Evening: Axe Club of America
When you’ve had a long week or broken up with your significant other, you may have the urge to drink until you’ve found the bottom of the bottle. Ditch the drink and opt for Axe Club of America instead. With two locations in the Charlotte area and one in Winston-Salem, Axe Club of America is sharing the sport of axe throwing with scorned exes and alternative sport lovers alike. It’s the perfect excuse to release stress with friends or coworkers during the week (or weekend) without drinking alcohol, which means…no hangover!
Before you know it, you’ll be throwing an axe like your name is Paul Bunyan and trying to join a league. Make an event out of it for an alternative happy hour or compete against your friend for $20 per hour. (For clarity: You can’t BYOB, but if you do end up wanting to grab a drink, Axe Club is a private club and paying customers have the option of ordering beer!)
Best Dance Party: Su Casa
Just when you thought Charlotte was culturally starved, the average person asking the right questions stumbles upon Su Casa. An event held at Petra’s in Plaza Midwood every fourth Saturday, Su Casa is an Afro-Carribean event like no other. Best described as an immersive art and music experience, Su Casa partygoers are prepped and ready to dance the night away to the sounds of Afrobeats, Afrohouse, Zouk, Azanto, Soul and Soca.
Once inside, you’ll feel like you’ve won the golden ticket to one of the most epic and intimate house parties you’ve ever been to. Added bonus, you can get your face painted so you can really feel like you’ve been touched by culture. By the time you leave, you’ll feel like your cup is full and you can drink from that glass for the month leading up to the next one.
Best Comeback: Knocturnal
Last summer, one of Charlotte’s most popular parties became a victim of its own success when Snug Harbor announced it could no longer host Knocturnal due to the overwhelming size of the crowd it attracted. It was a sudden and shocking declaration, coming just before the weekly hip-hop event’s 7th anniversary, and leaving its community of DJs, breakers and emcees without a home. Like a good neighbor, nearby SERJ stepped in to host for the month of September, but Knoc’s future after that still seemed uncertain. That is, until the Knocturnal staff announced its new home would be Brooklyn Lounge.
Brooklyn Lounge is significant, because it’s in the building that formerly housed The Breakfast Club, the first big venue in Charlotte to throw B-boy and B-girl jams and where most of the older breakers in Charlotte first met, or in some cases, got started dancing. Now that Knocturnal has moved to Brooklyn and a bit away from the ever-expanding Plaza party crowd, it has become refocused on the fundamental elements that made it such a fun and intriguing night in the first place — the dancers, the DJs, the emcees and a renewed sense of community. There’s still lots of ass-shakin’, though. Some things never change.
Best Strip Club: Uptown Cabaret
If you’re itching for booze and boobs, place your bets on Uptown Cabaret. Situated in South End, the convenient location alone makes it easy for Charlotteans to take in the sights and smells (both good and bad) of adult entertainment. If you’re feeling frisky after work, you can take advantage of Cabaret’s many weekly drink specials and escape from reality for a bit. If you’re looking for pretty girls to take your mind off whatever it is that’s distracting you, you’re going to find “the perfect combination of class and style.” If you’re not ready to turn down after your turn up, the fun doesn’t stop at Uptown Cabaret after two. If you’re aching for undivided attention, you can pay to adventure to the second floor for a private dance. But mostly, if you’re hungry, you’ll get a chance to eat from the breakfast buffet while you indulge in the sights of beautiful ladies.
Best Speakeasy: Backstage Lounge
Behind Southbound on South Boulevard is a truly hidden gem of a speakeasy. Enter through a real and functioning barbershop with a red velvet curtain, and into the swanky interior of Backstage Lounge. Choose which booth named after a dead Charlotte club to sit in — will it be The Pterodactyl or Tremont Music Hall? Let’s be real, 75% of South End visitors have probably never heard of either, but Backstage Lounge isn’t catering to the new, it’s paying homage to the old. And that’s refreshing. So is the seasonal small cocktail you’re greeted with.
The drink menu hits on all classics, plus boasts barrel-aged cocktails and new creations such as Red’s Dragon, made with Bacardi Dragon Berry, muddled strawberries, Thai basil and a house-made pepper syrup. The windowless setting and plush seating invite you to stay for hours and explore each page of the cocktail menu. There are not many places to better spend that kind of time, if you have it to spare.
Best Hidden Gem: Surf Inn
Skeptics might say that we shouldn’t boast about the Surf Inn in order to maintain its hidden gem status, but we believe that even if we drew you a picture, you probably couldn’t find it. The Surf Inn was established in 1976 and has been a dive-y speakeasy only known from word-of-mouth promotion ever since. Nestled under a flight of stairs in a puke-green 1980s office park, the Inn is hidden far out of sight. No signs, no directions, no noise — just know-how and know-who. This critic remembers stumbling upon the patio of the Inn using only the sense of smell, convinced they were in the wrong place. The Inn hosts karaoke on Saturday nights, good dart boards and a few pool tables. You will get your liquor in a plastic cup and the place smells like old cigarettes. The Surf Inn is located in east Charlotte and it truly is a magical place that you should get someone to take you to.
Best Dive Bar: Smokey Joe’s
A dive bar doesn’t really follow a certain theme, and Smokey Joe’s will not be placed in a box. There is one constant for Smokey Joe’s, however, and that is live music every night of the week. Outside of that, the team there kind of bounces all over the place. Built into the ceiling above the bar is a grotto that even Hugh Hefner would be jealous of, which can be seen perfectly from the log cabin-esque living room set up near a wood-burning stove. One pool table out of the way if you don’t want to be bothered during your high-stakes game and another just by the bathroom to make sure you interact with everyone. Outside, there’s a ping pong table in the sand so you can compete barefoot or you can just watch the pros play from the dim-lit patio area that surrounds it.
Best Bartender: Yoshi Mejia
When we caught up with Yashira Mejia, better known as Yoshi, in June, she was working at the now-closed Loft & Cellar. She discussed her plans to pursue more individual opportunities and pop-ups on her own, but little did we know just how ready she was. The day we published the story, Mejia announced she would be leaving Loft & Cellar to strike out on her own. Since then, she’s become more active on the pop-up scene, working events like Serving the Culture, Champagne and Chicken, and Durag Fest. “I am currently focusing on creating events where people of color can feel comfortable in our own element — culturally conscious experiences to welcome others to partake in different happenings in the city,” she said. That’s a mission we can get behind.
Best Variety Show: Chevy Does Charlotte at Canvas Tattoo
Chevy Does Charlotte was variety at its finest. The last event started with spoken word and ended on a stripper pole under the pergola in Canvas Tattoo & Art Gallery’s backyard. Toss some live-art performances, comedy acts, storytelling, burlesque, sketch comedies, plays, musical performances or fire acts in the middle and we had one of the most eclectic variety shows Charlotte’s seen in some time. Though there doesn’t seem to be a set schedule for upcoming Chevy Does Charlotte shows, Shivali Bas and Amanda McNeill are on the winning side of creative event organizing. We recommend checking them out on Facebook so that you don’t miss the next one.
Best Drag Show: ‘Yes, God’
Anthony Stamey and three siblings grew up queer in the Bible Belt. As tough as that experience was, it certainly provided them with a story to tell, people to parody and inspiration for entertainment. That inspiration was the force behind Yes, God!, a drag show and stage production Anthony launched with his brother Ryan in 2018. The second running of the show took place this summer and featured Anthony and Ryan as their drag personas — Charlotte Douglas and Robyn O’Ladies, respectively — leading a church service featuring silly announcements and original hymns as the pastors of their own church of drag. The performance is hilarious, but also about inclusivity in a world that tends to be the most exclusive.
“We want queer people — and other people who were pushed out of the church or would like to still maybe be part of the church, but feel like they can’t — we want them to be safe and let them know, you are not alone just come and have a cathartic experience with us,” Anthony told Queen City Nerve.
Best Weekly Party: Drago at Single Barrel Room
Single Barrel Room has made it a goal of theirs over the past year they have been open to be a safe and inclusive space in Plaza Midwood. They continue their support for the LGBTQ community by hosting a drag bingo night each Thursday night in support of local LGBTQ charities. The event is one helluva good party, with hosts like Valerie “Aunt Carol” Rockwell entertaining guests between wardrobe changes. Who doesn’t love bingo and drag? The best part of this weekly event is the good cause behind it. Over the years our communities have taken long strides in expelling the hate surrounding the LGBTQ community and Single Barrel Room continues by donating to charities like Transcend Charlotte, Time Out Youth, Loaves and Fishes and many more.
Best Monthly Party: Repainted Tomorrow at Tip Top Daily Market
There’s been a lot of talk lately about Charlotte not having its own musical identity, but those talking would abandon that belief if they attended Repainted Tomorrow, a monthly showcase of the young producers and artists creating our region’s illest sounds. Each second Saturday at Tip Top Daily Market, the Vacation Pay crew presents Repainted Tomorrow to a crowd made up mostly of Charlotte music scene insiders. The vibe is laid back with no conflict or pretension, just people who love music, excited to hear “that next shit,” the basic elements of which are usually brilliant jazz loops and esoteric instrumentals over deep bass lines. Resident DJs Simon SMTHNG, FLLS and Axnt keep the energy flowing, while guest artists introduce something new and exciting to discover each month. Live painting brings it all together with an intriguing visual element. There’s no other night quite like it — and that’s exactly what we need more of.
Best Annual Party: Halloween Fiasco at The Milestone
Halloween parties are undeniably fun and there’s no shortage of them here in the Queen City, but nowhere does Halloween like The Milestone. The annual two-night Halloween Fiasco features local bands dressing up and performing as big-name and sometimes has-been national acts. Examples from previous years include Hectorina as Hank Williams, Dr. Circustein as Gorillaz and Jaguardini as Nine Inch Nails. The results are both dope and hilarious.
What really sets the mood, though, is the Gore Gore Luchadores’ all-ladies wrestling squad body-slamming their way to charitable donations in a pool full of zombie blood. Yes, it’s every bit as wild as that sentence sounded. The costumes are always crazy, too. Like every Milestone party, there’s a lot going on, and we love every second of it.
This work by Queen City Nerve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.