The year 2017 is finally upon us, Queen City. Is it just me or did 2016 fly by?
Then again, I guess it feels like that every year. And just like every other year, preparing for New Year's Eve celebrations brought back some of my most hilarious memories made in the city. The first being a threesome.
Oh come on, get your mind out of the gutter. I'm not talking about a literal threesome, but a non-traditional date with my current boy toy.
This year, we decided to bring in the New Year at Barreled at the Lift, a speakeasy and hookah lounge nestled at the bottom of the stairs beneath Libretto's on Woodlawn. It's the first place we met and the place we were going to celebrate 2017 listening to good tunes and drinking great drinks at "Chicago: A New Year's Eve Affair."
There were only three VIP tickets left when we reached out to the owner. That's when I remembered my BFFE (best friend forever and ever) had texted me a couple weeks earlier asking if she could come to Charlotte for New Year's Eve.
Of course she could, I answered.
As we started getting ready, donning our 1920s-themed clothing, BFFE was singing, "Just the three of us, we can make it if we try. Just the three of us, her, you and I" to the tune of Grover Washington Jr's "Just the Two of Us."
I laughed, thinking back to the first time the three of us met and the ongoing "love triangle" joke we've shared.
The boyfriend stood me up the first time we were supposed to meet one another. The boat was broken [insert air quotes], I tell everyone when the usual question arises, "How'd you guys meet?" I've always thought that excuse was weak.
That's why when he asked to grab drinks at Barreled one Thursday evening I had no qualms bringing my BFFE along with me. After all, I wasn't going to get stood up twice, was I?.
My BFFE and I chatted alone most of the time, but eventually I let him get in a word or two. Despite having to go to work the next day, I convinced him to come with us to Jeff's Bucket Shop for karaoke, and the rest is history.
Who would've thought a third-wheel — the boyfriend being the "plus one" — date would be relived a year and a half later.
The more that I thought about it, however, the more sense it made for me to be creating yet another memory with my BFFE for NYE. She's been present for three out of the four celebrations I've been to in the city and helped create some of my most favorite memories.
From being grounded together when we were kids after getting in trouble at Kmart when we were 14, to throwing up in a sport star's bathtub in the Ritz Carlton Uptown, to almost ruining a neighboer's suede couch with candle wax, she's always been there.
Every vom, every embarrassment, every epic party and every heart break.
We hadn't seen each other in a couple months, but nothing had changed. She picked me up Friday night at my aunt's house and we headed to Charlotte together.
We talked so much, we didn't even realize we'd gone past Charlotte to downtown Gastonia! Next thing you know, we were taking shots with one of our other friends from back home at Ink N Ivy, then Slate Billiards.
(Side note: Have you ever had a Green tea shot? We discovered them together Friday night, an they are not too shabby.)
The next morning, when the three of us were hungover beyond belief, and our bestie had to go to work, I thought, "Yep, nothing has changed." We laid around all day, the boyfriend grabbed us breakfast and the three of us hopped in an Uber together to head to Montford before the countdown.
After watching the first half of the Ohio State football game at Brazwell's, we walked (well, walked and complained of our feet hurting) to Barreled.
The familiar dim light and comfy couches welcomed us and we were placed in our section. VIP status, what what? We ordered a watermelon mint hookah, "the usual," and settled in for the long haul.
By the time the countdown began, I had abandoned my hangover and another was already settling in.
We grabbed a flute of champagne and cheered to yet another year of love, friendship and adventure.
Here's to making more memories in the QC this year!
If you consume social media regularly you've probably come across your fair share of memes with a caption along the lines of, "When you check your bank account on Sunday after partying all weekend..." And if you're anything like me you chuckle and repost as you reflect on your most recent 'How-much-did-I-spend-last-night' anxiety attack.
I had one of those this past Friday when my boyfriend and I decided to hit up one of our usual spots. I thought we'd only ordered a hookah and three cocktails a piece. It wasn't until I grabbed the tab that I realized one of us had actually ordered the "group shots" we'd taken — a Royal Flush that I regretted immediately, by the way. A hundred dollars later, I wondered if the short-lived night was worth it. The next morning, I woke up to the drunken Google search: "free things to do on the weekends in Charlotte, NC."
Blame it on a drained bank account after shopping for Christmas or preparation for New Year's Eve resolutions, but it was obvious, even in my drunken state, that saving money was the name of the game. The dilemma? Finding unique things to do for "free 99" and limiting the amount of money spent on alcohol. (Side note: "free 99," a slang term for something that's free.)
So I began searching for free events, activities and the like around Charlotte. Fortunately, they weren't too hard to find.
Relive your childhood at Coco: A month ago one of my co-workers and I decided to stray away from the norm and head to Coco and the Director for Wine & Color Wednesdays. Once a month, you can relive the glory of your childhood by coloring until your heart's content. Adult coloring books are all the rave if you haven't noticed, but maybe you want to try it out for free? Stop by Coco, take in the relaxed ambiance, grab a couple pages from a coloring book and all the coloring utensils that your heart desires. (I know I said no alcohol, but select wines are only $5 a pop!)
Take twerking to another level: Not too long ago, a friend of mine dropped a bug in my ear that she and her hubby had taken swing dancing classes at 7th Street Public Market and I fell in love with the idea. It doesn't appear they're offering that event right now, but venues like BluNotes of Charlotte are. Every Thursday on Live Latin night, you can take a free salsa or bachata lesson. Not to mention, there's a Meetup group, "Charlotte Loves to Dance," where you can connect with others in the area who enjoy dancing and find lessons for free or cheap.
Support local voices at an open mic night: Do you love spoken word? Think you have what it takes to be a comedian? There are plenty of open mic nights to be discovered in the Queen City. Whether you're searching for spoken word or opportunities to belt out your fave karaoke song, a simple search will unveil a range of venues with little to no cover. Find Your Muse Open Mic Night on Mondays at The Evening Muse, Grannae's Boyz presents Say Word Tuesdays and beyond.
Find your zen: If you've spent some time in Charlotte, you've heard and pictured Greg Olsen doing yoga at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. Well, OMB isn't the only spot in Charlotte to host free yoga. A lot of local breweries and bars are hopping on the bandwagon offering yoga for the low low. Check out Hattie's Tap and Tavern, Free Range Brewing or Google for the latest yogi events in Charlotte.
Gain knowledge and culture: I've never been a museum or art fan until I happened upon an HB2 art installation at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation earlier this year. Since then, I've been giving museums more of a chance to impress me. On certain days of the week or month, you can check out Mint Museum of Art, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and other Uptown faves for free. If you're learning to appreciate museums like myself, you can do it for free if you're strategic. Hit up museum's websites for free days/nights and look for Uptown Crawls (like the free one in this week's Top 10 section).
I hate spending money on alcohol, especially if I end up flushing it down the drain just a few hours later. But I really hate spending money on a meal that's lackluster. My thought process? If I'm going to pick up a hefty tab, the food should be borderline orgasmic. There's nothing worse than going to say, Duckworth's — no offense — to get a burger, fries and two beers only find out the total plus tip is around $30. I blame it on being a former resident of the foodiest city in North Carolina — Durham.
I'll never forget my first trip to Bali Hai, a Mongolian restaurant just a couple blocks away from my residential high school — believe it or not, I wasn't sent away to boarding school for bad behavior. We weren't allowed cars, so we had to make the most of what was within walking distance. Bali Hai, with all of its self-stack bowls, fresh ingredients, crabmeat add-ons and house-made sauces was to die for. Unfortunately, Ghengis Grill is the closest thing to Bali Hai that we have in Charlotte, and let me tell you, it doesn't even compare.
After six years in Durham, surrounded by a multitude of cultures, my palate craves more. I'm no longer satisfied with the same ol' same ol' for lunch, and don't mention McDonald's unless its 3 a.m. and my eyes are swollen with hunger. What's even worse? The boyfriend is your basic carnivore who prefers meat and potatoes with minimal condiments. Every now and then, however, I convince him to step out of his comfort zone and try something new.
This past Friday, we were contemplating what we'd eat for dinner. Sighs. Picture Ryan Gosling screaming at Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, "It is that simple. What do YOU want?!" That's how our dinner conversations usually go. This time, however, I was tired from a long day and in the mood for something tasty. I gave him two options: Essex Bar and Bistro or Stoke Charlotte. Two of the newest restaurants in Uptown, I thought, "There's no way we could make a wrong choice." I let him peruse the menus and, after he saw a flat iron steak, we decided on Stoke.
Nestled in the Marriot lobby nextdoor to Coco and the Director, Stoke has caught my eye on many occasion. The minimalist and rustic appearance of the wood panels surrounding the entryway with STOKE placed in large, silver letters above intrigued me from the get-go. I called around 7:30 p.m. to secure a reservation for 9:00 p.m.
(Pro tip #1: When you enter the Marriot lobby, you'll find dual entrances to the eating area. The hostess stand is at the lower entrance.)
We arrived a bit early, and starving, so we were pleasantly surprised that we could sit in the lobby area, play board games and even place orders for drinks/appetizers. While we waited, I ordered one of their whiskey cocktails, deviled eggs, country ham and pickles. Not a lot of food for the starving 9-to-5er, but I'm learning how to be patient and curb my appetite without ruining dinner. After a game of chess, our table was ready and my tummy breathed a sigh of relief.
(Pro tip #2: I'm not even a whiskey drinker, but the cocktail was delicious. Chances are, you won't need more than two of these well-crafted and stiff drinks that run between $10-12. That'll save you money in the long run.)
We'd already salivated over the menu, so we knew what we wanted as soon as we sat down: flat iron steak, pork shank, roasted fingerlings and barbecued carrots. I couldn't believe what a score this dinner choice was. The average person would expect to leave a place like this still hungry, especially considering the steak was only $18, but we were bursting with satisfaction when we left. Not to mention, everything was absolutely delicious!
Our only regret? We had no room left for dessert. The couple next to us had ordered a one-pound doughnut — which wasn't listed on the menus I'd stalked online — that rivaled any other you've feasted your eyes on. Upon seeing our neighbors receive their check, I quickly offered to take the rest of their plate to which the response was a definitive no. Confirmed, the donut was that good.
(Pro tip #3: The menu I found on their website differed slightly from the one that we received when we sat down. Expect that with a smaller menu, some items may rotate on a semi-regular basis.)
If you haven't been yet, get Stoke-d! Your belly will thank you.