Asking your girlfriend what she wants for dinner usually sets you up for that scene-turned-meme from The Notebook in which Ryan Gosling pleads desperately with Rachel McAdams, “What do you want?!” In our house, the question is, “Let’s go somewhere new tonight. Got any ideas?” That’s when the deliberations begin.
The Conspiracy? Eh, no parking. Pisco Gastrolounge? Too novel to consider. Trio? Haven’t we been there? A club? Absolutely not! Down the rabbit hole I go, combing Reddit threads on the hunt for fresh dive bar meat and, unsurprisingly, Tommy’s Pub, 2023’s Best in the Nest’s crowd-favorite for nightlife, reigned supreme. Finally, a proposition he couldn’t resist, especially when it was for “Uncle Jerry’s Tiki Sunday.”
Formerly a beloved staple for locals in Plaza Midwood, Tommy’s Pub closed due to redevelopments in 2015, but in 2017 found a divinely auspicious home as one of the hidden dives of the east side. And the bar’s “roots” — read: cult-following, focus on local music, and historical narratives — laid since 1977, followed them.
As you snake your way through the massive parking lot at Eastway Crossing Shopping Center, passing by “strip mall staples” like Cricket or Sally Beauty and other displaced Plaza Midwood refugees like Book Buyers and Dairy Queen, newcomers may overlook Tommy’s, which is located at the end of the strip nearest US Foods Chef Store. Look for the bright yellow “PUB” sign hanging above the entrance and you’ve found the gold at the end — or beginning — of the rainbow.
In the cold of winter, a few patio chairs and tables strewn about may deceive a passerby into thinking it’s not busy, but the inside paints quite the juxtaposition. The OG posters, mindful mess, seemingly active retro register and classic furniture pieces in the back deliver a sensory hug at “Papaw’s fave pub” for a 30-something. Pause. Inhale. Smells like my new fave watering hole sans fried food.
On Sundays, the smiling face of Jeremy Radio sporting bright red eyeglass frames and long, silver fox-status locks behind the bar dismantling the unapproachability stigma of dive bars from the jump. So much so that when Jeremy, aka Uncle Jer, aka Best Mixologist of the Year in Queen City Nerve’s 2023 Best in the Nest issue, aka Sunday’s Uncle freakin’ Jerry, asked us, “What would you like to drink?” I didn’t know what to say as I stared cautiously at the tiki menu just out of reach on the bar. Whiskey-coke and a cider for the first round.
“Have you tried the Painkiller?” a voice said in my direction next to me. Though the warm energy gave “regular,” it was her first Tiki Sunday too, which gave me the confidence to drink my Austin Eastcider dry with the quickness. I about-faced to the bar for both featured tiki (put-you-on-your-ass) cocktails during a patron’s monologue on the failures of Saltburn and wins of Brightburn and thought, “Major green flag for my ‘Cheers’-searching soul.”
In a later follow-up DM to the man of the hour, Jeremy, who is also a well-known musician in Charlotte (Thousand Dollar Movie, Crenshaw Pentecostal), @jeremyradio explained the inspo behind Uncle Jerry’s Tiki Sundays.
“I’ve been a touring bass cat for almost 20 years and would always shake up tiki drinks after the show on the bus or at the hotel for the rest of the bands and it was just a fun hobby,” he said. “I’d find an old tiki recipe book and try stuff out whenever I could at home or on the road. We [at Tommy’s Pub] decided to try a tiki pop-up and it went so good I asked if I could do it every week!”
Thank the powers that be. Within a bleak nightlife landscape, Tommy’s Pub is and stands to be a welcome silver lining, offering a unique blend of something old and something new while remaining unchanged at its core.
From regulars and “vintage” pricing to non-alcoholic offerings and Tiki Sundays, Tommy’s reimagines the possibilities for dive bars that disrupt a stale nightlife scene while standing for diversity across the board and still paying homage to the unstuffy, hyper-local focus.
“What’s your hope for CLT nightlife’s future?” I asked Jeremy.
Not surprisingly, his response centered music.
“So many people are moving to CLT constantly, but we aren’t seeing local shows grow tremendously,” he replied. “I think we have an amazing music scene and would love to see these great local venues and bars doing better. And just for more people to give the rad small bars a shot, I love how many kinds of bars CLT has right now from fancy mixology to shitholes […] Try a new spot occasionally and make some friends and get out of your routine.”
As Charlotteans turn their eyes to the shiny new toys of nightlife that are quickly cannibalizing chunks of the heart of Charlotte’s scene, I turn my gaze to the east side, the pièce de résistance, where at places like Tommy’s Pub, the community is queen and everyone is welcome.
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