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Thursday, January 5, 2017

New Year's Eve celebrations brought back some of my fave memories

A familiar threesome

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 4:00 AM

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!

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

How will you ring in the new year?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Every year around this time, we all see and hear the same sort of things: “Here’s your Facebook year in review…”, #NewYearNewMe or “Check out my New Year’s resolutions…” Hell, even I’ve been tempted to post a status about eating right and getting my summer body back — too bad I haven’t had a “summer bod” in a few years.

This year, the conversation I’m tired of having is, “Are you going to be in Charlotte for NYE? What are you going to do?” Prior to a few days ago, my answer was the same as it was last year, “I have no idea.” I’m sure you’ve been there before, too. After every failed NYE, I’ve promised myself that “Next year’s going to be different. I’m going to save up enough money for a magical experience, maybe even travel and it’s going to be epic!”

For my first NYE in the Q.C., my friends and I bought tickets to Label’s Great Gasby-themed shindig. I donned a fur coat and costume jewelry and prepared myself for an amazing night. Our Uber showed up late, took the long route through Uptown and we ended up running in as they started the countdown.

The second? I’d just started seeing someone and even though I was “living single,” I was excited about the possibility of having someone to share a smooch with. Just a few hours before the event, I received the disappointing text, “My ex invited herself, I’m sorry.” Are you kidding me?

While last year wasn’t a complete waste — I was with my boyfriend and great friends — I was still dissatisfied when I ended up spending my entire night on Montford Drive, a familiar hotspot in the Queen all year long. Let’s be honest, we all love Southside Charlotte on a drunken escapade, but a magical NYE? I beg to differ.

Fast forward to 2016, I started asking my boyfriend about what we were going to do for New Year’s Eve months in advance. And once again, nothing was set in stone until the week before. I was dead set on a destination. Either Orlando — where he was going to be for a few days prior — or a casino where we could bring in the new year right — making money. Both ideas were shut down when he realized his favorite football team was playing in yet another “big game.” Who would want to risk missing that? *Rolls eyes*

So what’s the next thing I did? I hit up Google and started weighing our options. The problem was, there were so many factors to take into account. But this time, I had experience and a variety of resources at my fingertips. Don’t risk starting 2017 off on the wrong note, if you’re not sure where you’re spending NYE, do as I did and take the following into account:

1. Ticket price: If you have the extra cash to spend, just make sure you actually like the destination. Some of my favorite venues, such as Ink N Ivy, still have tickets available, but you’re going to spend a pretty penny, especially if you missed out on early bird specials. And keep in mind, there are plenty of cheap and free options too.

2. Transportation: After hearing horror stories of friends racking up Uber charges over $300 and getting stuck at Label for a couple hours due to surge pricing, I knew firsthand how troublesome NYE transportation could be. Designate a sober driver, locate a venue in an area that’s less popular or prepare for the surge.

3. Service: There are plenty of venues Uptown that I love for aesthetic reasons, but that doesn’t mean the service is great. If you’ve had a hard time getting a drink at a certain bar on a regular night, it’ll probably be a nightmare on NYE.

4. Alcohol: Are you going to drink a little or a lot? Only interested in a champagne toast at midnight? Will you leave the party early? After all, you shouldn’t pay a high ticket price for an open bar if you’re not going to take full advantage of it. Don’t forget to read the fine print, your options may be limited.
5. Comfort: Is general admission significantly cheaper but you’ll be standing the whole time?

Comfort is key when you’re in for the long haul, especially for those of you wearing heels. If you don’t like the idea of standing all night, find out whether or not there will be opportunities for seating.

It’s not too late to find somewhere to spend your NYE in Charlotte. Where will you countdown to 2017? Check out our New Year’s Eve Guide.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Having fun in the Q.C. without diving deep into your pockets

What's better than Free. 99?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2016 at 7:00 AM

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).

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Don't settle for less when you're spending more

Make Q.C. dinners great again

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 7:00 AM

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.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Don’t be a Scrooge in the Q.C.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 6:26 PM

It’s been a crazy couple of days for yours truly in the Q.C. My phone decided to stop working, every hard disk I have access to is either broken or full, my finger is jammed and the list goes on. “Bah! Humbug!” Now that that’s out of the way, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” And you know what that means, it’s time to spread some holiday cheer.

Last week, I shared a few tips for avoiding the naughty list at your holiday office party. Mine was last Friday at Suite in the Epicenter and believe it or not, I managed to stay on my best behavior. Well, minus a minor mishap after chugging a beer on the rooftop — I got lucky, only two witnesses were present. Otherwise, all was well. #winning

On Monday, however, after all the chatter — read: gossip — was over, I was left feeling empty. What was I going to focus on now that the one thing I was looking forward to this month was but a distant, drunken memory?

I decided to pull out my phone and search for activities to keep me in the Christmas spirit and ring in the New Year vibes of, “New year, new me.”

Every year, I’ve compiled a list of fun things to do during the holidays in the Queen City, why stop now?
Below are a few things on my bucket list this year, but this time around, I’m actually going to check them all off! Pull out the eggnog or spiked hot cocoa and take some notes.

1. Uptown ice skating — If you’ve kept up with my articles, you know I’ve mentioned this one before. Just like an ex that keeps popping up, so does my Christmas wish to ice skate, or try to do so, outside of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Holiday on Ice Uptown – sounds like the perfect date night, or coworker activity if you ask me.

2. VTGCLT Pop-Up Shop — Did you miss out on Vintage Charlotte’s Winter Market? Me too! Luckily for us, the local favorite is giving us another chance to check off items on our Christmas list. Between Dec. 9-21, you can shop for your family — or self — in Latta Arcade, aka French Quarter. See if any of your fave local vendors are going to be present by heading over to their Facebook page to check out the shop feature each day. If pop-ups are your thing, there are plenty for you to explore in the Q.C. this month, Google’s your best friend.

3. “Magic of Christmas” – Until I’d came across a video on Facebook with the caption, “When you went to Juilliard, but you’re still hood,” I’d completely forgotten how obsessed I am with the sound of violins. That’s why I’m trying to find the time to check out the “Magic of Christmas” brought to us by the Charlotte Symphony at the Belk Theater Dec. 9-10. Listen to some of your favorite Christmas songs and even snag a selfie with Santa. Anyone have a promo code?

4. Nutcracker – It isn’t Christmas until you’ve seen some version of a holiday classic, right? It’s been years since I’ve seen the Nutcracker. Catch it at the Belk Theater Dec. 3-23 for as low as $25. Based on the pictures, this version of the Nutcracker looks completely different than anything I’ve ever seen before. I think we’re in for a real treat.

5. Speedway Christmas – Not a fan of intermissions at a play? Your Southern Christmas isn’t complete until you’ve watched a movie at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Or maybe until you’ve feasted your eyes on over 3 million Christmas lights! Catch movies like Frozen or A Christmas Story, explore a Christmas village and watch the light show from now until 12/31. Cost? $25/car so pile in and split the cost with friends or family.

6. The Dock – Nothing says warm and cozy like a cocktail in an intimate atmosphere. The Dock is the Queen City’s newest secret hangout and I CANNOT WAIT to check it out. Apparently, the entrance is hidden in a loading dock at the Charlotte Marriott City Center. If that doesn’t heighten your curiosity, right now, it’s only open on Saturdays from 9 p.m. – 1 a.m. Très exclusive! I don’t know about you but I plan on making my way over before it disappears like other unique venues in the area.

What do you have on your bucket list this December in the Queen? Share your favorite spots or activities during the holidays with me at backtalk@clclt.com!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Don’t Land on the Naughty List

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 4:23 PM

Are you up to your ears in Thanksgiving leftovers? I know I am. But, believe it or not, I’m actually not a huge fan of turkey, stuffing and the likes. Nevertheless, after an extended weekend at home with the family that featured a mannequin challenge, moonshine and a Salisbury trip on the Polar Express — in no particular order — I’m happy that it’s officially time to put up Christmas decorations.

No lie, I had a panic attack as a result of overexertion and overexcitement following Christmas shopping at Hobby Lobby on Saturday. Who am I? This year, instead of hunting for the best clothing deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I spent close to $200 on Christmas plates and decorations. I never thought I’d be a Suzy Homemaker. But can you blame me? Anthropologie’s visual marketing gets me every time.

On Sunday, while my boy toy snoozed away his hangover, I decided to get in the Christmas spirit. I put on Krampus and started pulling out all of the Christmas decorations I already had. Two trees, hand towels and table settings later, I was coming down off my Christmas high.

Just when I was seriously considering going to grab another tree, I realized my holiday office party at Suite was just a few days away. Nothing like a good old-fashioned party to get me back in the spirit. But then, just as quick as my excitement returned, the ghosts of Christmas parties past paid me a visit.

One year, I got caught double-fisting by the president of our company. That was before I became a guilty party in a glass-shattering incident. And before getting a ride to All American Pub from a police officer, where I’m pretty sure I was canoodling all night in front of another higher-up.

The following year, I’d hoped to show major improvements. Nope. I ended up getting drunk once again and this time, I was overheard making questionably lewd comments in front of my current boss who ever so gently reminded me of our anniversary last week, “Are you going to be on your best behavior for the Christmas party this year?”

Even after our awkward interaction a year ago, I could tell he still wasn’t judging me, however, I was definitely judging myself. Scout’s honor, this year is going to be different. Not sure whether or not you know how to behave at your company’s party? Below are a few things that are guaranteed to land you on the naughty list with your boss and other higher-ups:

1. Getting sloppy drunk. Take a few notes from me. No one wants to be the weepy, vommy, mouthy co-worker that’s purging at the office party. Most likely there will be some sort of open bar, so prepare yourself. Eat the hors d’oeuvres, stick with what you know and if they’re only paying for beer, wine and champagne, save hard liquor for the after party.

2. Insulting the higher-ups. Make sure you’re aware of the head honchos that are going to be in attendance at your office party. Greet them early and once you’ve had your fair share, avoid them at all costs. Then you won’t have to try and remember what you may have said walking into the office Monday morning, like I did.

3. Dwelling on work. Don’t like your job? Hate one of your co-workers? Frustrated from a call earlier that day? Leave those topics at the door. The moment alcohol touches your lips, you’ll want to vent and you may end up sticking your foot in your mouth. The motto to remember: “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”

4. Wearing skimpy clothes. As if you haven’t already made a name for yourself in the office for your risqué clothing choice, the office party does not give you a good excuse to stretch your legs — pun intended. Don’t let the venue choice of a local bar or club fool you. That mini skirt wasn’t appropriate then, and it isn’t appropriate now. I repeat, save it for the after party.

Before you turn your annual office holiday party into The Nightmare Before Christmas, think twice. After all, Santa (aka your boss) knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!

What’s your favorite or most embarrassing memory from an office party past? Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Friendsgiving: The Ultimate Excuse to Give Thanks and Turn Up

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 1:55 PM

Thanksgiving and the few weeks that precede it, represent the beginning of “the holiday season.” Minus a few grinches here and there, everyone is generally in a good mood and that makes for some great memories in the Queen City. Last week on Wine Night at The Corner Pub, my girlfriends and I ended up having a cry session. What started out as a conversation about our partners and The 5 Love Languages turned into a conversation about why we loved one another and what each friendship meant to us. It was therapy with a tinge of wine and that’s what the spirit of thanks can do to you.

Friendsgiving. Heard of it? Thanksgiving celebrated with your friends, usually held before the holiday or in place of time spent with family. It’s the perfect time of year for you to gather all of your closest friends for a potluck, dinner or drinks. After all, even if you leave with all the leftovers in the world, family time can get a bit overwhelming. Enjoy Thanksgiving without the pressures of conversations about grandkids, professional growth or getting your shit together by coordinating Friendsgiving in the Q.C. Below are a few suggestions on how to celebrate locally:

Potluck — It’s cheap, it’s fun, it’s personal. Everyone can bring a dish, or alcoholic beverage, to a designated home, gather around the dinner table with a few games and watch the fun unfold. If you’re really feeling adventurous, your Friendsgiving potluck can be the designated pregame for the night. Pro tips: The host should prepare the main dish and have everyone else bring sides and drinks. It makes for a stress-free night.

King’s Kitchen — It’s Southern-inspired cuisine aka soul food. Isn’t that what everyone is searching for during Thanksgiving? This beautiful Uptown restaurant where the rustic meets the industrial, is perfect for getting all of your friends in one space. Pro tips: Try the meatloaf it was to die for. Call and ask about reserving the private space at the front.

Chima — It’s named after a traditional Brazilian drink that represents hospitality and friendship. Um, in the spirit of Friendsgiving, how perfect is that? Combine amazing service with all-you-can-eat meat and sumptuous sides and you have a Thanksgiving meal made in Heaven. Pro tips: As with any all-you-can-eat scenario, prepare to reach deep in your pockets. Don’t eat all day and get your money’s worth.

The Workman’s Friend — This Irish pub and restaurant has quickly gained popularity in Plaza Midwood. Whether you’re searching for good food or great drinks — or hot Irishmen — you’ll find it all at The Workman’s Friend. An intimate atmosphere highlighted by a spacious outdoor beer garden makes for a great space for you and your friends to enjoy. Pro tips: They don’t have a lot of space for large groups, so call ahead. The house ground brisket sliders with the tiniest quail egg and “Not Your Mama’s” pork and beans are my favorites.

The Roasting Company — My boyfriend is obsessed with this place. The first time we went, I assumed it was another soul food restaurant. I was wrong. This restaurant features Costa Rican rotisserie chicken. The menu does, however, have quite a few sides that are Southern staples, so I wasn’t entirely wrong. Nevertheless, once I actually gave it a try, I wasn’t disappointed. Pro tips: The parking lot gets packed pretty quick so Uber or find a spot along the street. You can make reservations, so do it. Full bar, need I say more? Consider belting out a few karaoke tunes at Jeff’s Bucket Shop next door after dinner.

It’s never too late for celebrating friends. If you’ve already secured Friendsgiving in the Q.C. use this list to organize for Christmas because it’ll be here before you know it. Dirty Santa anyone?

Itching for Something New in the Queen City

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 11:26 AM

It’s completely normal to fall into a routine every weekend. (*Cues Kendrick Lamar* “Pour up, drank, head shot, drank, sit down, drank.”) The same goes for venue choice. You find a place that’s comfortable and the next thing you know you’re going to the same handful of places you’ve been going to for years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have your favorites, but this weekend I was bored of my usual routine and was dead set on breaking it.

On Thursday, I failed. I drank a little too much and woke up on Friday playing a dangerous Walking Dead version of “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” on whether or not I needed to have a 9-to-5 day. That’s when I realized that I was working from home for the day. Friday night was moving slow and by the time I got my boyfriend out of the house and was two drinks deep at Flight Beer Garden & Music Hall, he was suggesting that we call it a night. Responsible, I know, but unsurprisingly, also very taxing.

Saturday we started switching it up. His mom was having a fish fry and I hadn’t been to one in quite some time. If you’re wondering if it resembled a Tyler Perry’s Madea movie, you pictured it right. Good ol’ fashioned cookouts are lit — old school music, line dancing, mac and cheese, golden brown fish and family (including relatives sneaking a few sips of adult beverages in, of course).
After the fish fry, I hopped in the car to head to Concord. Even though I was already stuffed, the parental units were coming into town for a family friend’s 50th birthday dinner at Carrabba’s. We talked politics, sabotage and television shows; a welcomed change from my usual Saturday night early evening drinking turned Sunday morning hangover.

After dinner, the night went from low-key drinks and hookah to the French Quarter, also referred to as Latta Arcade. I hadn’t visited the area in a while so I was excited to see what craziness awaited me. While hobnobbing with some Jersey boys at Belfast Mill Irish Pub, someone decided to bring in a gyro from Nefelie’s across the alley. Needless to say, that meant my boyfriend and I were going to grub. I ordered a gyro and grabbed a drink while I waited.

A late-night gyro at Nefelie’s was the best I’ve had in Charlotte. And to top it off? The side of fries were good down to the very last crumb. When the clock struck 2 a.m., you’d think we’d had enough. Nope, our crew, many of whom were jealous of our gyro, decided to grab a pizza each at Zablong Peculiar Pizza. Pro tip: my fave pizza spot stays open until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. All pies are oblong-shaped and no matter how many toppings you get you pay $10!

If you’ve been in Charlotte for the fall/winter, you know Sundays are reserved for Panthers football. But this past Sunday, we switched up the venue and hopped in an Uber to Ink N Ivy. Brought to you by the owners of other local favorites such as Whiskey Warehouse, Slate and All American, Ink N Ivy represents the perfect marriage of sports entertainment and aesthetic in Uptown Charlotte and I’m all for it.

While my boyfriend was surveying the landscape, stressed about finding a good spot for a perfect view of the game, I was obsessing over the eclectic décor — chandeliers, raw edge furniture, skulls and of course, “tattoo ink” stencils on the walls. Oh, and I can’t forget the beautifully-tattooed waitress and bar-back with a manbun.

Even though the venue was packed, I put our name down and grabbed a drink. Somehow, just 20 minutes later, we managed to snag the perfect high-top table, right by the door, away from the congestion and directly below a TV labeled “Panthers vs. Chiefs.”

We ended up taking over the spot with my partner-in-crime, her sister and their friend for hours. And while we’ve heard many friends haven’t been captivated by the menu, we tried the classic nachos with pulled pork with barbecue sauce and were impressed. (The cilantro cream sauce easily moved them to the top of my Q.C. nacho list.) Did I mention they have an epic patio complete with its own bar? You’re welcome.

If you’re craving some new “ink” in Charlotte, you’ll be itching with withdrawals after visiting this spot.

From Eritrean cuisine in Elizabeth to slot machines in South Carolina

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 11:23 AM

I have a new secret spot and it’s only three minutes away from my condo. When I first moved to Elizabeth, my mom was dead set on finding a place to get my curtains washed. She ended up going to a laundromat down the street with a sign that read: “Laundry Lavanderia.” Specific enough? I think so. Next door, was another straight-to-the-point sign over a storefront that read: East African Cuisine. I immediately became curious. Would I love East African food as much as I loved West African cuisine? In her usual conservative, play-it-safe fashion, my mom warned against trying new food and my anxiety took over.

A few months later, one of my Q.C. besties started working at a bar in the area called Oya Lounge — name subject to change in the coming months. “You know where the Bojangles’ is by your house?” she asked. I did, but I still couldn’t figure out where this lounge may be. One night, I was bored and decided to meet her there and grab a couple drinks. To my surprise, the lounge was connected to East African Cuisine, the restaurant I’d been eyeballing.

I walked through the restaurant door and followed my bestie into the lounge area. A full bar, private booths, a raised DJ booth, hookah, multiple TVs and a spacious back patio. The best part? You can order food from the restaurant pretty much all night long! With my friend behind the bar and temporarily filling the role of DJ, the night couldn’t have gone better. And on top of that, I’ve managed to make friends with some pretty hilarious characters during my visits.

Did I mention I tried the food? Since my first visit just a couple weeks ago, I’ve eaten vegetarian dumplings (samosas), honey-Sriracha chicken wings and a traditional Eritrean dish featuring beef and injera — a soft, stretchy, spongy sourdough-risen flatbread. And let me tell you, everything I’ve tried has been amazing.

After spending Thursday and Friday night at Oya Lounge, a couple of my old co-workers decided it was time to get out of Charlotte for a minute. Spontaneous trips are my jam! The last time I stepped outside of the Q.C. for a quick drive to anywhere other than my hometown, I ended up stopping in Little River, South Carolina for a night before checking in at an Airbnb on Oak Island the following day.

During my stay, I ventured to a couple waterfront bars, The Pilot House and Key West Crazy Waterfront Restaurant & Bar. While there, I’d noticed signs for The Big “M” Casino, a ship featuring Las Vegas-style gaming. So I knew exactly what some old co-workers were talking about once they suggested boarding a cruise called The Big “M” outside of Myrtle Beach and I was down for the cause!

We left the Queen City around 12 p.m. on Saturday and, even though I was running on two hours of sleep, the excitement of spontaneity carried me through the first two and half hours of the ride. Coincidentally, one of my old co-workers reserved the same hotel I’d stayed in the last time I was in Little River. We pre-gamed at the Key West Crazy (KWC), which was right next to the dock where ships I and II (smoking and non-smoking) were docked — talk about convenience.

We’d already purchased our boarding passes ($25 each, but you can snag a voucher when you book your stay at a local hotel) so after a couple RBVs, we walked right out of KWC and onto the boat. We pestered one of the employees on how the process worked as far as getting a player’s card, starting to play and what to play, then we were good to go.

My eyes lit up with dollar signs the moment we started exploring two full floors of slot machines, blackjack, poker and craps tables. We had to cruise for about 45 minutes before we could legally gamble, so we decided to hit the third deck bar. Drinks were super cheap and just as strong, a dangerous combo for a gambler — especially a gambler who tends to get motion sickness.

The run down? We had a blast! No one threw up. I managed to lose only $100 on slot machines and one of my old co-workers won $250. If you’re searching for a good time and trying to get “lucky” somewhere other than Dandelion Market, The Big “M” Casino is only a three-hour drive and a night’s stay away.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Halloween in the Q.C. was a bust

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2016 at 7:00 AM

I met Jennifer Roberts, the mayor of Charlotte. I shook hands with the mayor of Charlotte. I conversed with the mayor of Charlotte. Juvenile, I know, but given the current political and social environment that is in Charlotte and the United States, it was definitely the highlight of my Halloween. And I’d only had one glass of wine, believe it or not. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s rewind.

My Halloween weekend in the Queen City was a bust. Not a bust in the sense that I secluded myself in the corner of my bed for the entire weekend, but in the sense that I didn’t decorate, dress up or really even celebrate one of my favorite holidays of the year.

If you’ve followed my column since the beginning, you may remember I’ve had some pretty epic Halloween adventures in Charlotte. Two years ago, a pretty large crew and I hit up Rich and Bennett’s 14th Annual Halloween Pub Crawl. Decked out in everything from Rosie the Riveter to The Addams Family, the day and night were filled with too much adventure — and drinks — to recount.
The year after that my parents joined in the on the festivities and they actually dressed up — makeup and all. They finally got to experience what it was like to party with their only daughter, and after Ubering home early, I think they would co-sign that they had a great time.

This year, however, nada. Don’t get me wrong, I still partied. I drank my fair share after a long day of work on Friday. Saturday, I went out with friends to celebrate one of my boyfriend’s friends’ birthdays. And on Sunday, I was uplifted at the Living No Lye Tour in Concord — an interactive series of workshops on all things healthy hair — on behalf of Revolution Ego.

Nevertheless, on Monday, after working eight hours behind a desk and a “spooky potluck” with co-workers, I felt unfulfilled. All weekend I’d talked to friends about rumors of “The Great Elizabeth Pumpkin Wall.”

Apparently, it’s a popular tradition for volunteers in the area to build a wooden wall and decorate it with pumpkins carved by members of the community. Over the years, it’s captivating beauty and political messages have drawn Charlotteans time and time again. (And even sparked controversy from what I hear. Enough so that the wall was allegedly set afire according to a volunteer I overheard chatting with visitors.) Politics and pumpkins? I had to see it.

Even though I was bummed that a few of my friends had already witnessed the beauty of the wall — as well as every person following one of the many highly popular Charlotte Instagram pages — I forced myself to make the trek on my own. And boy was it a trek.

After taking a wrong turn, walking almost a mile in the wrong direction and straining a calf muscle, I decided to take an Uber. Four minutes later, I was standing in front of a beautifully-lit wall of pumpkins featuring the word, “Evolve.” It was so breathtaking, and I was so tired, that I decided to sit and take it all in.

A few minutes later, I heard the same volunteer — who seemed to have a large hand in the creation of the wall — announce, “The Mayor, everybody!” I’d already missed out on an opportunity to chat with the knowledgeable spokesman as he scurried off to open the street back up, so I wasn’t going to miss out on this.

After contemplating what I would say to her, I decided to just walk up, shake her hand and introduce myself. I bet you’re wondering if I asked her about the upcoming election? Her thoughts on social issues and tensions in Charlotte? The most important issues for us to tackle in the Queen City? Nope. I know, I know, an amateur writer’s faux pas right?

I thought to myself, “If I were her, at a beautiful pumpkin wall, with my husband on Halloween, would I want to talk politics?” Hell no. So I kept it simple, I told her I write for Creative Loafing. Then, we chatted about her receiving the Best of Charlotte award for “Best Member of Government” and I told her about my blunder on my way to check out the wall.

The big question I asked? “In the spirit of Halloween, if you were a candy, what candy would you be?” She laughed and responded, “Well, it would have to be healthy...some kind of fruit...or maybe, dark chocolate covered coffee beans.” Not my first or second choice, Jenn (can I call you Jenn?), but, I loved that you were willing to play along and chat with me in such a casual way. We’ll talk about politics and social issues next time.

So there’s that. Now I’m home, eating leftover purple potluck spaghetti, streaming Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride on Netflix, while Hocus Pocus is in the DVD player. Talk about a great end to a Halloween weekend!

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