Aerin It OutColumns

Not All Protagonists Wear Capes in LoSo

LoSo-so def

Protagonist’s new location in lower South End. (Photo by Kelsey Kline)

Upon waking up two Saturdays ago, I frantically searched for my cell phone to discern the time, confused as to what day it was and if I’d overslept, the previous night’s shenanigans still swirling around in my head as I pieced together the timeline of events.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it wasn’t a workday and all of my belongings were conveniently placed on the bedside table next to me. Nervously, I pulled myself into a seated position on the bed and smacked my teeth searching for the presence of a hangover. Whew, no nausea.

I started rummaging through text messages trying to remember what was on schedule for the day, hoping I wouldn’t find any commitments. No such luck. I ran across a group text message from Thursday. An invitation to a “potential” birthday celebration at Protagonist for one of my first friends in Charlotte.

Aerin Spruill

Instead of following up, I held my breath in the hope that the “It’s actually happening” text would never come. At 11:51 a.m., the dreaded text came and indicated I had roughly an hour to get my butt in gear and head to the new Protagonist location in LoSo. (Sidenote: can we all agree that trying to make “LoSo” happen should be met with the same vigor of repulsion as “fetch” in Mean Girls?)

As I sat cautiously in the back of my Uber surrounded by the smog of the previous night, I felt like a kid pestering a parent, “Are we there yet?!” It’d been so long since I’d made my way to that part of South End that I’d forgotten how much of a “trek” it can feel like.

When we arrived, I tumbled out of the Uber and took in a deep breath of fresh air before resting my eyes on a group of friends sitting at one of the picnic tables on the outdoor patio just a few steps from the entrance to Protagonist.

I’ll be honest, I was unaware that the new location had officially opened when I received the invitation just a few days prior. My initial reaction was to note how spacious the outdoor patio was. My second: “Thank GOD there’s plenty of heaters to keep this Black girl warm,” since the real estate surrounding one of the fire pits out front was slim.

I greeted the smiling faces I’d admired on social media from a distance for so long, truly longing to fully embrace all of them (especially a new baby edition who I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting just yet), but tried to be mindful of boundaries during a pandemic.

Meanwhile, each excitedly shared the details of the second or third drink they were sipping on. Time to catch up.

I walked inside and to my utter surprise, I was standing at the foot of a stairwell I’d climbed before. That’s right, the South End expansion of The Protagonist now rests where the Great Wagon Road Distillery/Broken Spoke once sat. I smiled as I hopped in line thinking about all the change we’ve had to accept during COVID, and while I was sad that I never got a chance to revisit Broken Spoke (the same feeling I had when I realized the first Protagonist location had replaced my go-to convenience store Noda Grocery), this was a change that I realized I’d come to accept after ordering my sixth drink.

I leaned on the advice of one of my friends and ordered the Maleficent — Tito’s, muddled blackberry, lemon, soda ($6). After one sip I knew immediately that Maleficent would be the protagonist in that night’s story.

If you’ve visited the flagship location in NoDa but haven’t been to the South End location, here’s the skinny: It’s massive, weighing in at 20,000 square feet with plenty of space inside (upstairs/downstairs) and out, has three bars fully stocked with namesake beer as well as liquor, and for the long haulers like myself there are 28-inch pizzas that you can watch being hand-tossed on site!

Sure, there are certain characteristics that pay homage to the 15-barrel brewery that opened just two short years ago. But quite a unique picture is painted of the South End Protagonist location. It’s only been open since November and yet, there’s a vibe that makes you feel like it’s been there all along.

As day turned to night, the last men standing were wiping pizza off of our faces, and the crowd had dwindled with some retreating indoors. I was shocked (almost appalled) by my extended stay in South End, those are few and far between.

The growing fear of becoming a “LoSo” person started to take hold in the back of my head. And then “Back That Azz Up” by Juvenile starting playing over the sound system.

And just like that, the thought was gone.

[Read more of Aerin Spruill’s Aerin It Out columns]

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