Every now and again I remind myself how I’m slowly becoming set in my ways, the same way some folk wear their contempt for short skirts, tattoos and rap music on every wrinkle of their furrowed brows. The ones you can glance at and guess the myriad complaints that are going to tumble out of their mouth.
And every time I feel my carefree youth slipping away and this bitter spinster bubbling to the surface, I force myself outside of my comfort zone.
Recently giving a new “hip” location the good ol’ pregame try came in the form of an early morning invitation via text to Optimist Hall. I took a deep sigh. On the one hand, I appreciate being considered a “good addition” to the group if only to serve as a reject who wears out their welcome — think Kelsey drinking too much champagne on an episode of The Bachelor.
On the other hand, Optimist Hall brings the pessimistic, Clint Eastwood grimacing on his porch GIF out of me.
Even though it’s been open for two years, I often struggle to even conjure the food hall’s name when it comes up in conversation. “What’s the name of that place again?” I ask my boyfriend over and over again before being met with a familiar sigh and a begrudging answer. And yet, I think he understands that my absentmindedness is largely a result of my disinterest.
I am sure this opinion runs contrary to many in Charlotte and may be met with disdain, but even if my woes align with only a handful, then all is well with my soul.
First off, the parking lots are plenty and yet there is rarely a parking spot to be found. After hiking from the back lot on my recent trip, I arrived at the “meeting place” (which you’ll certainly need to establish if traveling separately from your horde): Fonta Flora Brewery.
Unlike my usual “fortune,” I passed no vacant spots on my long journey. Instead, I was met with the fury of borderline road rage as hopeful visitors searched frantically for their spot. It was at that moment I regretted opting out of Uber.
I lingered at a patio table in the hot summer sun with familiar faces for a brief moment before deciding that the solitude of a beer would benefit my grumpy demeanor. And a pint of FFB’s Tip of the Vibers seemed to do the trick. I began to let go of my initial inhibitions up until someone said, “So where do you think you want to eat?”
Oh no. I was banking on the fact that, in my hour-and-a-half of tardiness, food had either been eaten or at least decided upon and that, in the event food hadn’t been eaten, everyone would go to the same place.
But that’s one of the things that actually draws Charlotteans to Optimist Hall — picky eaters be damned, there’s something for every palate. Go wherever the hell you want and we’ll meet back after the fact.
But for someone like me that wants to get in and get the eff out, who already grabbed a slice at Benny Pennello’s just so she wouldn’t have to brave the food indecision and the subsequent wait time, this place is an actual nightmare.
A small segment of the group split off to “enjoy” the game room, tacos and margaritas at El Thrifty. I decided to gamble on the larger segment, braving the upstairs food stalls in the hopes that I could continue to avoid ever stepping foot inside the cantina-meets-game bar.
At that time of evening, after climbing the steps to the courtyard, the sun was getting ready to set on the rustic charm of the old refurbished mill. The combination of twinkling string lights and hope for a bit of refreshing AC extended a welcoming invitation. Inside Optimist Hall, the frenzy of anxiety returned.
It was parking lot déjà vu: non-drivers navigating the space with no regard for anyone else’s presence. Standing awkwardly in the middle of the aisle trying to decide if a menu will tickle their fancy. The irritation of having to wait in a long line to place an order at the place you’ve already set your heart on or having to settle for something else. Eyes darting furiously in search of an open table, floor space or tiny desk to accommodate you and your party.
And the look of absolute defeat when you’ve found said seat and someone slides right in front of you even though you had your blinker on in anticipation of the previous party to leave.
The icing on the cake was two-fold. The first, a 20-minute wait for two tacos and a side that didn’t conjure so much as a, “Wow, that was good,” and certainly not a, “That was worth the wait.”
The second, an ultimate “I just blew out the candle on your cake” moment: my response to a picture of a meal someone in the group was actually excited to eat sent via group text “What’s that? An egg over hamburger meat?”
Absolutely no, thank you.