There are an assortment of different activities, businesses, bars and art that set each of our city’s neighborhoods apart. As the community newspaper, we find it important to let you in on all of the city’s little secrets. In our new guide series, where we will detail how we enjoy our time, we hope to inform you on new places that you haven’t experienced yet to lock in your daily itinerary. Below we check out the artistic sights of Plaza Midwood and Commonwealth while also reviewing retail shops and favorite bar crawls and lunch picks.
PLAZA MIDWOOD ART TOUR, AS CURATED BY PAT
With gentrification’s grip closing in and many neighborhood staples closing, it may seem like there’s not much for arts and culture going on in Plaza Midwood. As a 16-year resident of the neighborhood, I can disprove that misconception with a leisurely walking tour of Plaza Midwood.
Architecture: The ambling tour begins at my condo complex, built as a pair of apartment buildings in 1941. Starting on The Plaza near Belvedere Avenue, the area is thick with Victorian houses and craftsman cottages, architectural wonders from bygone eras. Check out historian and Plaza resident Tom Hanchett’s historic/architectural walking tours for an in-depth look at these marvels. My favorite, at 1600 the Plaza, is a turreted 1890s Victorian that was hauled by mule train to its present location in 1915.
Galleries: Head down The Plaza to “downtown” Plaza Midwood, an area centered on the intersection of The Plaza and Pecan Avenue. A couple of blocks east is The Light Factory, in the former cafeteria of the Midwood Elementary School, built during the depression and now used as the home of International House, Action NC and other organizations. The Light Factory hosts photography workshops and exhibits such as Joshua Galloway’s In Line of Sight exhibit, which consists of his photojournalism work during the protests resulting from George Floyd’s killing in 2020.
If the walk has made you hungry, grab a sandwich at Common Market – on the side of the bodega is Mike Wirth’s mural honoring departed patron Jon-O – and sit at one of the Street Eats tables that line Thomas Avenue. Here, you’re a stone’s throw from Plaza Midwood’s street art epicenter.
Murals: In the parking lot at the corner of Thomas and Central Avenue is a painting I call “Plaza Midwood’s Where’s Waldo?” Scattered in the mural by Matt Moore and Matt Hooker are more than a dozen references to the neighborhood, including The Penguin, The Diamond, Lunchbox Records, as well as designer and CLTCH gift shop co-owner Scott Weaver. In an adjacent lot is a mural depicting legendary NC drag queen Brandy Alexander, painted in 2016 by Nick Napoletano and the Matts (Hooker & Moore) in response to anti-transgender legislation.
Head down the alley towards Gordon Street to see skeletal musicians jam in the briny deep as Odysseus sails past the deadly sirens in artist Shurkin’s mural gracing the side of Snug Harbor. Across the alley, a grasshopper and a bumble bee alight on greenery in a mural on the side of Sherwin-Williams paint store. As you return to Thomas Avenue, you’ll notice on the side of Pizza Peel, Niki Zarrabi’s mural of streaking, trailing flowers. I call it “Orchids on Acid.”
To your left is a seating plaza on Central, graced with a sort of stunted obelisk. Ruth Ava Lyons and Paul Sire’s mosaic depicts a thriving tree of life on one side and a mystic hand of power on the other. It’s a good encapsulation of the neighborhood – tree-lined, and despite ongoing gentrification, artsy and endearingly strange.
RYAN’S MIDWOOD RETAIL REVIEW
I’m far from the type to actually leave my house with the intention of “going shopping.” I’m not even sure the last time that happened, but I know where I was headed when it did: Buffalo Exchange. The Central Avenue thrift store where I used to buy damn near everything I wore save for socks and underwear became one of the first business casualties of COVID-19 in Charlotte, but Plaza Midwood remains home to some of the only retail spots I hit regularly around the city.
Book Buying: With the closing of The Last Word on North Tryon Street in 2018, Book Buyers became my go-to book shop. Opened in 1999, Book Buyers is an OG on the block, with owner Richard Rathers overseeing a vast collection of books, but also, Lee Rathers sells vegan products from her store The Greener Apple, housed in the front of the shop. Cute and furry kittens, rescued by Virginia O’Riley, scamper down the aisles looking for you to give them a permanent home.
Head Shops: My beloved Buffalo Exchange was replaced by L.A. Vapors last year, and the team there immediately went to work turning the storefront into a mirror image of the Myrtle Beach strip, but I prefer to spend my money at Charlotte CBD or High Life Smoke Shop, depending on what I’m looking for. Charlotte CBD is a boutique-style CBD shop that based its business model on some of the West Coast’s best dispensaries. Staff there aren’t just salespeople, they’re consultants. High Life is good for your more typical head-shop needs, from pipes to vape pens.
Gifts: Boris & Natasha have packed up and moved out of the neighborhood (are you starting to see a theme here?), but local designer, artist, event planner and all-around cool guy Scott Weaver’s boutique shop CLTCH keeps the weird alive in Plaza Midwood. CLTCH is more of a gift shop than a clothing store like B&N, but the vibes are similar. Jewelry, accessories, perfumes, socks, cards, handbags, art and more, and all of it with that eccentric flavor that just makes sense when you meet Scott.
Music Equipment: Ok, this entry isn’t necessarily one of my regular stops. In fact, I’ve not visited Gold Tone Workshop yet, but I know it’s a welcome addition to the neighborhood. The guitar and amp repair shop was opened by Junior Astronomers bandmates Philip Wheeler and Colin Watts last fall, and serves as a nice, laid-back alternative to the more high-end Midwood Guitar Studio. It’s a great venture to help kids and novices alike break into the music world, be it for shits and giggles or to pursue something deeper. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t also go to Midwood Guitar Studio.
Footwear: I’m no sneakerhead, but I learned a lot about the culture while writing a cover story that focused on this exclusive sneaker boutique back in 2015. Since then, the addition of beSOCIAL, a collaborative cultivator for creatives located in the back of the shop, has made it an even more important part of the neighborhood, hosting critical conversations and inspiring connections across the creative community.
JUSTIN’S PLAZA BAR CRAWLS
The options to drink are plentiful in Plaza Midwood and Commonwealth, and the proper bar crawl can fit into any themed night you are looking to have in the neighborhood. Dive bars, cocktail bars, music venues and the like are scattered throughout the neighborhood and I’ll walk you through how I prefer to experience all of them.
Cocktail Night: Craft cocktail bars have popped up in neighborhoods across the city, but Plaza Midwood is home to one of the originals, Soul Gastrolounge. Soul is a great place to both start and end your night of cocktails in Plaza. If you are lucky enough to grab a seat at the bar, you get access to their highly intelligible bar staff that will work off your favorite flavor profiles and educate you on the spirits along the way.
The next stop is easy enough to find since it is just at the bottom of the stairs from Soul. Tattoo, attached to KiKi Bistronome, is a quaint little cocktail bar with an eclectic serving style. You can get a drink that is smoked by a golden pineapple. Take your drink up to the rooftop patio to execute your people-watching skills, head back downstairs and close out your tab. We’re moving on.
Now that you’ve established your fancy buzz, you’ll want to play some games to maintain your focus. Cross the street at the intersection and head down Pecan Avenue and you’ll come across Stroke, an indoor minigolf bar. It’s a mix of country club and speakeasy aesthetic with a great drink menu. Pay to play a round, it’ll last you for two drinks. Tab out and let’s walk over to the next speakeasy style bar, Single Barrel Room, where the ambiance of green velvet ceilings and matching upholstery makes for a great cocktail night feel.
Dive In: You will usually find me at a dive bar where I can actually afford to indulge in $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons. Common Market is always a good place to start. You can feel out what kind of beer you are drinking for the evening while perusing the can coolers. Chill out on the sticker-slapped patio with your friends and shoot the shit before taking a long walk over to Midwood Country Club to gamble on the pool tables and dart boards. Midwood Country Club hosts my favorite bar pool table in the entire city.
For more close-quarters action you’ll head to the Thirsty Beaver Saloon. I’m not a huge fan of this spot because I don’t enjoy country music and didn’t enjoy being as close as possible to 50 other people even before COVID existed, but I do enjoy finishing off my blackout at this spot if that’s what kind of night I am working toward.
One of my favorite night-cap dive bars is Thomas Street Tavern because if I can prop my head up long enough to enjoy it, watching then attempting a game of ping pong on the outdoor tables can be quite the delight. There are two fire pits and oftentimes live music playing on the stage inside.
Live Music: What I miss most from the pre-COVID times, and where I will spend a majority of my time in the post-COVID world, are bars that have live music playing every night of the week. I start out at Petra’s for whatever acoustic, jazz, spoken word, or full-band performance they have going on. I usually don’t enjoy paying covers because I am broke, but I always feel good about it when I am supporting local musicians and owner Perry Fowler, a local musician himself.
After a set or two there, I head down to Skylark Social Club for a bit more of an intense scene as they usually have a hardcore or metal band playing. It’s a great way to keep your energy up if you’re looking to stay out all night.
Finally, I end my night at Snug Harbor. It doesn’t really matter if I’m doing cocktails, dive bars or whatever, I always end up at Snug Harbor. They keep the music going as late as 2 a.m. and you will never not have an experience worth talking about the next day.
LEA’S PLAZA LUNCH PICKS
I moved to the Plaza Midwood neighborhood in June and since then, I’ve had more than my fair share of days when I didn’t feel like cooking. Just my luck that I live on a street flooded with options from BBQ to sushi to ramen. Here’s a quick look at places to grab a bite to eat while you’re in Plaza and my favorite menu items from each.
Midwood Smokehouse: You can’t beat the simple pleasures of meat that’s been smoked for hours until it practically melts in your mouth. Paired with hush puppies, mac and cheese, and loaded fries, Midwood Smokehouse’s barbecue is unbeatable. This Plaza staple is located at 1401 Central Avenue and open for inside dining or takeout via the convenient little takeout window out front. Midwood Smokehouse is open to celebrities and regular folks alike on Sunday-Wednesday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. on Saturday and Friday.
What To Order: Burnt Ends, caramelized cubes of brisket tossed in a cola-based barbecue sauce. $16.50/$21.50
The Diamond: I’m a sucker for diner food, so naturally, I’ve been going to The Diamond since first trying their food in high school. The menu is a hodgepodge of burgers, bar food and Greek food. I never get tired of the cozy decor and friendly waitstaff.
What To Order: Pig wings, deep-fried pork shanks rubbed with a cinnamon-chipotle seasoning served with a side of house-made honey mustard. $10.95
Akahana: Known for their buy-one-get-one sushi, offered every single day, Akahana’s menu is extensive and includes options for sushi lovers and skeptical first-timers.
What To Order: Lotus Blossom Roll with crab salad, and cream cheese topped with tuna, mango, mango sauce, and eel sauce. $15
Fuel Pizza: Most NY-style pizza joints lack gluten-free and vegan options, or at least any that are worth writing home about. Fuel’s slices are equally unpretentious and delicious. If you’ve walked down Central Avenue in the heart of Plaza Midwood, it’s hard to resist the urge of their buttery garlic knots and slices that, while they aren’t the biggest in the city, will never leave you hungry.
What To Order: Cinnamon knots, fresh dough that is hand-tied and tossed in sugar. $7.99
Deli St: My roommate and I can practically roll out of bed and end up right outside the front door of Deli St., making it our go-to breakfast spot. We go back and forth on the best menu item.
What To Order: Salmon special, smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers, red onions and cucumbers on an everything bagel. $9.25
GRANT’S GREENWAYS AND BIKE-FRIENDLY HANGOUTS
Charlotte has implemented a number of improvements to the city’s cycling infrastructure in recent years and Plaza-Midwood has benefited from many of them. Marked via numbered signs with a crown and bicycle emblem, bike route 7 is a cyclist-friendly connector between the NoDa and Plaza Midwood neighborhoods that takes riders into the heart of Plaza Midwood.
Route 7 intersects with Route 1 at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Thomas Avenue. Route 1 can be picked up and taken to points west, including the bars and restaurants at nearby East 7th Street as well as Independence Park, which provides an easy path to access the Little Sugar Creek Greenway.
These established bicycle routes avoid heavier trafficked areas by cutting through slower neighborhood streets while utilizing protected lanes and dedicated signals for cyclists at busier intersections to provide the safest travel possible between neighborhoods.
A great first stop for cyclists descending upon Plaza Midwood is the centrally located Common Market, at the intersection of Commonwealth and Thomas avenues. Not only is the eclectic bodega situated at the intersection of bicycle routes 7 and 1 where plenty of bike parking and a permanent self-repair bike station can be found, Common Market is a well established social meetup spot for cyclists and non-cyclists alike, where loitering is encouraged and appetites for beer, wine and food via their deli can be satiated for an affordable price. Common Market is recommended as an ideal meeting point for first-time visitors to Plaza Midwood (as well as established locals, but they already know).
Several restaurants and bars are accessible by bike or foot once you’re in the neighborhood, as has been covered in many of the previous entries above. Pricing ranges from $5-$10 for a slice of pizza and a soda at Fuel Pizza or coffee and light food faire at Undercurrent Coffee. For those with bigger appetites and deeper pockets, higher end dining options are can be found at English-style pub The Workman’s Friend and the newly opened Supperland, which offers Southern cuisine, all within the $15-$30 price range.
For the uninitiated or newly transplanted Charlottean, Plaza-Midwood is an ideal neighborhood to descend upon via bicycle without a plan, explore, and easily find food and drink adventure as well as one of the greatest natural resources that the South is known for: easy and friendly social interactions with strangers.
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