Yes, Virginia, there is life after dark in Charlotte. New Charlotteans, university students included, must be hanging out with each other instead of getting the skinny about late-night eats from long-term residents. My most frequent e-mail requests are pleas for information about late-night hot spots. For decades, Charlotte has been home to places -- some being the proverbial greasy spoon -- that serve into the early morning hours.
Athens is a spot that has been in Charlotte since the Catawba people. Well, maybe not that long. But folks who went on their first dates here, sipping Cokes and eating burgers, now sit at the same vinyl chairs and Formica tables with their grandkids. All types show up after hours at Athens, since it's conveniently located near the hospitals and downtown. The sign alone is worthy of a designated space in the Levine Museum of the New South. Menu items include burgers, spaghetti, Greek dishes, pancakes (this is Charlotte after all), and pies (in a revolving display case).
Athens, 101 E. Independence Blvd., 704-375-3597.
The Skyland Family Restaurant has been around only a decade, but it has a loyal following that's made it a South Boulevard destination in the wee hours. Owner Tina Dodge says folks come after midnight for fried chicken fingers, Philly Cheese steak sandwiches, and breakfast anytime. Fried okra is also popular. Open 24-7.
Skyland Family Restaurant, 4544 South Blvd., 704-522-6522.
In East Charlotte there's the legendary San Remo, open 24 hours a day, every day. Here, you can get daily specials -- including meatloaf, gut-wrenching coffee, tuna melts and sundaes. The portions are generous and the crowd-watching is good. This side of town is where many different cultural groups mix and mingle, and they all have a need for late-night snacks.
San Remo Restaurant, 4439 Central Ave., 704-568-3550.
The Landmark Diner never gets the same press as Athens, but the food is better. Also, for a long time, it has been the late-night hang-out for arty types. Here, too, is a collection of Charlotteans you may never find anywhere else in the same room. Closing time is 1am Monday through Thursday, 4am Friday and Saturday, and midnight on Sunday.
The Landmark, 4429 Central Ave., 704-532-1153.
You have to place your order by 11:45pm at the Penguin to be eating after midnight. If you are on a liquid diet, though, the bar doesn't close until 2am. Load up on fried pickles and sweet potato fries before then.
The Penguin, 1921 Commonwealth Ave., 704-375-6959.