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Out For The Night

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Is It Time for Pumpkin Spice Lattes Yet?

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2016 at 7:00 AM

The other day I was browsing Facebook when I came across a meme — a humorous image featuring text — that had a picture of a girl decked out in fall fashion, Starbucks in hand and a grocery cart full of pumpkins. The caption read: “Me, when I see one leaf on the ground.” I laughed hysterically and reposted it on my timeline. Shortly after, I started getting notifications from my Facebook followers, liking, loving and commenting on the picture. I guess I wasn’t the only one craving cooler weather, Halloween and the ever so popular, pumpkin spice lattes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I’ll be the first one complaining when my alarm goes off and I’m walking to the CityLYNX Gold Line freezing my tail off in the dark. However, nothing excites me more than being able to wake up in the cold morning, effortlessly throw on fall layers and walk into work looking and smelling like a warm, comfy bed.

And you can’t forget that with the start of fall, “cuffing season” is also in full effect. This is the time when promiscuous singles seek the comfort of snuggles, electing to be “cuffed” or tied down by someone else. Gone are the days of, “suns out, guns and buns out.” All of a sudden, your exes — and their mamas — will find someone to play big spoon and little spoon with.

Even though the leaves haven’t quite started to change, and the North Carolina weather has been anything but cool, I intend to welcome the fall season with open arms on Sept. 22. Below are a few activities that I’m looking forward to as the season of Uggs, sweaters, boo-loving and pumpkin everything starts up.

Wine festivals: Picture hundreds of wine connoisseurs sprawled out with wine glass holders wrapped around their necks on the lawn at Symphony Park at Southpark Mall. That was me, just two years ago. My co-worker and I had stumbled upon tickets for the Great Grapes! Wine and Food Festival. After multiple wine samples in the sun, I was spent. The last thing I remember was hanging onto a trashcan in a Jack in the Box drive-thru. Needless to say, I’d like to have a more mature experience on Oct. 1.

NASCAR: My family’s been into NASCAR all my life. Despite having lived in Charlotte for three years, I have yet to make it to a race. This year, my friends and I are planning on making our debut for the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 8. If we end up taking a party bus and tailgating, I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll actually make it in to the speedway to see the race. After all, if you’re not first, you’re last.

SCarowinds: Halloween is probably my favorite holiday of all time. That’s why I’m obsessed with SCarowinds. At night, the entire park, employees included, is decked out in Halloween gear, from costumes to decorations. While I’ve never been much of a rollercoaster-lover, I’ve always been intrigued by the costume choices, décor, mazes and fun houses. Get the jeepers creepers scared out of you at your fave amusement park Sept.16 to Oct. 30.

Halloween Pub Crawl: Two years ago, I managed to squeeze in four different costumes in a single weekend — mind you, I hadn’t dressed up for years prior to that. The most memorable day was getting dressed up with my partner in crime and her family for Rich & Bennett’s Halloween Pub Crawl. I skipped the festivities last year, so I think it’s about time I make a resurrection on Oct. 29.

Road Trip: Around Labor Day this year, my friends and I took a road trip to Asheville. We hadn’t gotten together in a while and needed a break. So we rented a cabin, grabbed lots of beer and hopped in our respective cars for the reunion. This fall, I see quite a bit of hiking, hammocks, beers and bonfires with great company. I’m hoping I can snag a hotel or cabin with an infinity pool. That’ll score more than my fair share of likes on #instagram.

Waterfall hike: Every year, I make a point to say that I want to get in shape or find more activities that will get me outside. After seeing one too many articles on the beautiful waterfalls throughout North Carolina, I’ve decided that’s one thing I want to see before it gets too cold. A cool day plus changing leaves plus a breathtaking waterfall equals heaven!

What activities are you getting excited about as we get ready for fall in the Queen City?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Panthers fans are on the prowl

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Can I just say that this past week has been one of the craziest of my life? I interviewed for a promotion at my 9-to-5 job and guess what? I got it! The news was delivered to me on Friday morning, and on Monday I started my new role. After work on Friday, I was exhausted. I could’ve settled for going straight home to “Netflix and chill,” but I knew that wasn’t going to happen since the Panthers were playing the New England Patriots at Bank of America Stadium.

I’ve never been a huge sports fan. I know, I know, taboo for a third year Charlottean to admit, but it’s true. I cheered throughout middle and high school but let’s be honest, while cheerleading is a sport, I participated more for camaraderie and “fame.” The latter part of my high school career was spent at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. While we had a cheerleading team and a few sports, education was our top priority. And after going to Duke University for college, you’d think something would’ve clicked. Nope. However, I did learn the value of tailgating for sporting events.

Nevertheless, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that it’s almost impossible to have a conversation with another adult without sports coming up at some point. Especially while living in a city that’s home to a NFL sports team. And to top it off? My boyfriend is pretty much obsessed with anything to do with sports whether he’s participating or not. As we joked about my recent sports-immersion he asked, “Are you really watching though? Who did we play in the Super Bowl?” Granted, that day’s memory was tainted by my condo’s HOA-party police so I knew the answer immediately when I responded, “The Broncos!” Nevertheless, I’ve had to learn a lot very quickly in order to accommodate the growing adult obsession with sports.

Last Thursday night I pulled out my Christmas present, a Kelvin Benjamin jersey — we’ll pretend like I knew his number and full name ahead of time — in honor of his big return, and prepared to wear it for the next day. After work, I hopped on the light rail to meet up with my boyfriend and we prepared to head toward Uptown. One of his friends recently moved into a condo right down the street from Bank of America Stadium so they decided to break it in for a Panthers watch party. Even though we completely forgot how crazy traffic is during home games, we still sat down in time for kickoff.

“Are you excited about Sunday Funday?” one of his friends asked. Of course he was referring to festivities on Sundays once the regular season games begin. I rolled my eyes and responded, “So excited!” And the truth is, I am kind of excited. Mainly because those days will give me a chance to get off the couch, grab a few mimosas and watch sports somewhere outside of the house.
Below are a few of my favorite spots to catch a “big game” in the Queen City. There apply even if you’re not a Panthers’ fan:

1. Draught: Described as an upscale sports bar in Third Ward, Draught offers the perfect combination of food, fun, sports and most importantly, drinks. I watched the Super Bowl there two years ago and managed to snag an entire table under their outdoor tent — talk about a premier viewing experience. Since then, it’s become one of my favorite spots for grabbing brunch and listening to music. Parking is limited and traffic can be busy since it’s so close to the stadium, so I would suggest grabbing an Uber to get there. For those eating or interested in getting a table, they get really crowded so there’s most likely going to be a wait.

2. Slate Billiards: Located in South End, Slate is perfect for anyone looking for a variety of things to do and see on game days. Pool tables, arcade games, ping pong, Jenga and other games are placed throughout the large venue. If you’re bored watching a game, there’s plenty for you to do. Keep in mind, it does get packed on game days. You are guaranteed to be fighting for space at the bar, especially if you don’t have cash for the beer stand. Proceed with caution and go with the flow.

3. Duckworth’s Grill & Taphouse: If you haven’t visited this Uptown location yet, you’re missing out. I’ve never been a huge fan of the locations on Montford or in Ballantyne, but the Uptown spot is amazing — minus the fact that you’ll have to fend for yourself as far as parking goes. There’s plenty of seating, bar space and televisions throughout the venue that make it much more manageable when it’s packed for game day.

Where will you be watching the Panthers in the Q.C. this season? Share your fave spots with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Balance is Key When it Comes to Work and Play

Posted By on Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 11:26 AM

Most weekends when I go home, I feel like I have no time to enjoy something in the Queen City at all. Lately, however, I’ve made balance a top priority by: taking time for myself, committing to trying new things and sharing weekend time with family. Needless to say, juggling the 2016 Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade and my mom’s 50th birthday celebration was a unique challenge this past weekend.

If you were in Charlotte and ventured to Uptown, you probably had some difficulty navigating the city streets. That’s because a portion of Tryon Street was blocked off to make room for vendors during the Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade on Saturday and Sunday. Last week, I shared a couple memories from past Charlotte Pride celebrations as well as events I had already set my sights on for this year. While I didn’t make it to every planned event, I did have the opportunity to go to a couple.

Friday after getting off work I decided to kill some time before jumping into a drinking frenzy and walked to the McColl Center for Art + Innovation to meet a co-worker. I was beyond ecstatic to check out one of their newest installations called, Open Occupancy: Artists Respond to HB2.

The seven installations are strategically placed on every floor of the art center in public restrooms. Artists respond to attacks surrounding NC’s House Bill 2 by infiltrating the very spaces that are being threatened. Talk about powerful! Through video, audio and art, each piece seeks to question, reveal, expand and transcend traditional narratives of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

My favorite? A positive image installation created by artist, Andrea Vail. Surrounded by silver streamers and a neon disco ball, viewers are invited to celebrate the beauty of all of our differences in a mirror while listening to a play list that can be navigated by following instructions located in the bathroom. You know I had to capture the moment with a selfie. My co-worker and I had to cut our trip short because the McColl Center was closing at 5 p.m., but I would highly suggest you check out the installation before it ends on Sept. 10.

After leaving the McColl Center, another co-worker and I decided to take a peek inside The Bar at 316. An LGBT-friendly bar located in South End, I was stoked to visit it for the first time. I assumed that I would find it somewhere along South Boulevard, so I was pleasantly surprised when we pulled up to a cozy two-story house on Rensselaer Avenue. While there weren’t a lot of parking spaces, and we had to buy some time at another bar before they opened, we felt right at home as soon as we walked through the parlor door.

Inside, on the first floor, we were met with an intimate atmosphere. The music from the second floor flowed down the stairs, but it wasn’t too loud to watch a show on a large screen from the comfort of two large couches, play pool with friends or have a conversation over a couple beers at the venue’s small bar. After grabbing drinks, my co-worker and I decided to venture up to the second floor.

There was another bar, — this one larger —a stage, more intimate seating and my favorite, a roof top deck. A comfortable space, The Bar at 316 is definitely a place you can feel free to be yourself and chill. Trust me, I’ll be making another trip very soon. After all, I didn’t get to see the space through night vision.

Before I knew it, my boyfriend and I were meeting up and heading to Bradshaw Social House in Ballantyne to meet up with some old co-workers that I hadn’t seen in a while. Rumored to be a popular spot for cougars, I wasn’t too surprised when I was informed the next day that an older couple, who’d given their fair share of compliments, seemed to be fishing for a plus one at home — if you catch my drift. Fortunately, no one got recruited prior to making an early exit for wind down time at home.

The next morning, I wouldn’t say I was hungover, but I wouldn’t say I was feeling very chipper either as my boyfriend and I drove to Childress Vineyards and Badin Lake for my mom’s birthday. The entire day included wine, beer, football, jet skis and a boat ride before we called it a night at my parent’s house. Upon returning to Charlotte by 2 p.m. on Sunday, I felt like a perfectly balanced weekend had come to an end, with a few hours to spare.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Charlotte Pride kicks off this week

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 10:59 AM

As I sat on a redeye flight from Boston back to the Queen City at 5 a.m. on Monday morning I thought, ‘How am I going to get through this work day?’ I sighed and attempted to take a nap while we sat on the runway. After fussing over multiple positions and trying to find a sweet spot without my neck pillow, I gave up and decided to browse Facebook one last time before taking off.

At the top of my feed was a post titled, “1 year ago today.” There was a picture of me in a tie-dye tube top with the hashtags: #cltpride #lovewins. Even though I ended up going to the Charlotte Pride Parade alone and went home with swollen lips after having a bad reaction to jalapenos, I smiled reflecting on that weekend. Suddenly, I was super excited to get through the work day because I knew that meant that I was one day closer to the kickoff of the 2016 Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade.

And while I tend to celebrate by turning up, Pride isn’t just about the parties. The week leading up until the parade incorporates education, forums, panels, outreach programs, volunteer opportunities and political conversations. All of which, provide a great chance for LGBT community members, allies and interested parties to support, nurture and grow together.

For those of you who don’t know, Pride is renowned not just throughout the United States, but also across much of the world. Also known as LGBT Pride, for me, it represents a celebration of difference. A positive response to the discrimination, violence and silence that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals face every single day.

What’s even better? I get to experience it twice a year. There are two pride festivals in Charlotte — Charlotte Pride (held in August) and Charlotte Black Gay Pride (held in July). Why, you may ask? While there is a shared, collective LGBT experience that should be recognized and appreciated, the minority experience can be uniquely different and isn’t always felt, shared or recognized by the larger LGBT community. In other words, it’s easy for minority causes and identities to get lost in the sauce.

Every year since I’ve been in Charlotte, a few friends, both members of the LGBT community and allies, have made an effort to attend at least one event during each Pride Festival. This past year, the highlight of Black Gay Pride was going to The Scorpio. Conveniently located near a Cook Out on Freedom Drive — did you catch the shameless late night food plug? — The Scorpio has been a safe haven for members of the LGBT community since 1968. I would argue it’s the closet you can get in the Q.C. to an underground, elusive and exclusive allure that you’ll find in New York LGBT spaces.

Every Saturday, you can catch a show that features dance groups, vocalists and fabulous drag queens. During Black Gay Pride, they usually try to incorporate someone who’s become a figurehead in the community. Last year, a star from RuPaul’s Drag Race was in attendance. However, no matter when you drop by, you can always expect to be fully entertained and to experience a high-energy atmosphere, with a splash of drama, all the way up until 4 a.m.

Sadly, each year, it seems like the amount of activities — for both festivals — decrease significantly. This year, I missed out on the Black Gay Pride festivities, but I plan on catching a few of the following events this week as the 2016 Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade continues:

• Aug. 19 (and continuing through Sept. 10): McColl Center for Art + Innovation will feature art installations in several of its public restrooms entitled, Open Occupancy: Artists Respond to HB2.

• The Official Charlotte Pride Kickoff Cookout Party at The Bar at 316 is also Friday night starting at 5:30 p.m. I’ve never experienced Bar 316, as many refer to it as, so this will be a welcomed change to my nightlife routine.

• And last but not least, I’m hoping to drop in for Takeover Friday at Le Méridien Hotel. (This may, or may not, include a quick trip upstairs to my new fave rooftop spot, City Lights Rooftop).

Unfortunately, I won’t be in town on Saturday. However, I’m optimistic about celebrating Pride this year in a new way. And if I’m lucky, I’ll make it back in time for the Charlotte Pride Parade on Sun., Aug. 21. What events do you plan on attending during this year’s Charlotte Pride Festival? What would you like to see different next year?

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Fun and games in Charlotte

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 10:56 AM

Would you believe that this past weekend I didn’t get wasted? My boyfriend and I decided to take a break from Charlotte and head to Oak Island, NC. Blame it on the fact that we were hanging out with his family if you want, but for the first time in a while, I had a fairly sober weekend. Of course there were a few beers here and there but mostly, my drug of choice was Vitamin D. And I must say, my detox weekend getaway was much needed after an eventful night at VBGB Beer Hall and Garden last Thursday night.

Two weeks ago while out drinking with a couple co-workers, a few of us decided that we needed to spend more time together and that we were going to hang out the following week. (Side note: Planning while drinking is always a bad idea. You end up committing to something without being fully aware of what exactly you’re signing up for.) On that following Monday, I thought, ‘Someone’s definitely going to forget.’ Nope. Before the day was over, I had an email waiting in my inbox about the plans. I let out a sigh as I responded, preparing my mind for a hangover on Friday.

After work on Thursday, our sleepy, grumpy crew, too stubborn to postpone, hopped in a car and headed over to VBGB at AvidXchange Music Factory. As we prepared to round the corner past Label and Wet Willie’s, we were welcomed by a sign that read “Parking Garage Now Open.”
‘It’s about time,’ I thought to myself. We pulled in, found a spot on the first floor and walked in.

For those that aren’t aware, VBGB is one of the most popular spots for fun and games in the Queen City. On the outdoor patio, you’ll find ping pong, Connect Four, Jenga and corn hole. Not to mention, on Thursdays you can watch a series of volleyball games or participate in team trivia. That’s right, beer, liquor, games and fun all in one place.

For some reason, unbeknownst to me, a few co-workers, past and present, participate in volleyball leagues. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why people can be coerced into playing games by alcohol. However, I personally, have no desire to play games while I’m drinking. And I certainly don’t understand why anyone would want to subject themselves to the torturous summer heat to do so.

Nevertheless, it’s always hilarious to watch my tipsy co-workers stumble onto one of the six sand volleyball courts and play a competitive game. (If you’re interested joining a volleyball league or pickup volleyball play, check out The Sandbox at VBGB on The Sports Link website.) Per usual, what started out as a quick couple of beers turned into, “Maybe I should grab an RBV?”

Before you knew it, it was 8:15 p.m. and my co-workers were deciding on a Rave Production team trivia name and I was on my second Red Bull Vodka. What I’ve gathered is that the team name is one of the most critical pieces to playing trivia, and the more obnoxious the better. My co-workers settled on something along the lines of “Dr. Big D, M.D.” because doctor wasn’t enough. While other teams, went in the more conservative direction of “Make America Great Again” or “Trumpalupagus.”
The first round ensued, and I assumed my usual position of pretending to be invested while secretly looking up all the answers for my own satisfaction until I got bored. It started raining soon after the first round and I was hoping that meant the trivia game would conclude and we could return to the regularly scheduled program. Instead, the game was conveniently moved underneath the covered patio area.

By 9 p.m., I realized how drunk everyone was getting and decided it was almost time to call it a night. I waited patiently for the rain to let up so I could walk to my co-workers car and grab my backpack. Everyone seemed disappointed as I prepared to call my Uber and make my graceful exit, but I knew it was for the best.

The next morning, while brushing my teeth I started to feel nauseous and I thought, ‘Thank God I left when I did.’ And after finding out some of my co-workers ended up staying out until 4 a.m., I was resolved knowing I was going to have a much better day as I prepared for a relaxing weekend at the beach. You’ll be happy to know my co-workers were rewarded for being average with a free pitcher of beer. Although, their hangovers would probably argue it wasn’t worth it.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Bringing August in with a bang

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 2:01 PM

As my coworkers and I piled in to a room for a meeting, one of them proclaimed, “Champagne cures all.” I nodded my head in agreement, which was weird considering champagne had dominated my previous weekend in Durham. It was there that I discovered another drink to add to the list, things you can still drink even after it comes back up. Per usual, we spent the first portion of the meeting recapping the weekend’s excitement and for the first time in a while, we had a company event to discuss.

Our company finally hit a goal we’ve been focusing on for months. Our reward? An all-expense-paid trip to 204 North Kitchen & Cocktails. Talk about #winning. We wrapped up the work day a couple hours early, 3 p.m. to be exact, and walked up the street to one of my newest fave Q.C. spots. Decked out in exposed brick, piping and natural wood, it’s yet another great place for grabbing appetizers and cocktails in the heart of Uptown. (Sidenote: It’s quite hilarious that it’s situated between RiRa and Prohibition because 204 North gives off the “I’m adulting today vibe” while the latter tend to be where I end up when I’m re-making poor college decisions.)

If you happened to pick up a copy of Creative Loafing last week, then you know I was planning on hitting up 204 North for Queen’s Feast: Charlotte Restaurant Week. Last Tuesday, a few coworkers and I snagged a reservation for dinner. I had planned on getting the classic burger, fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and a dessert. But after we arrived, my eyes landed on something I couldn’t resist: wine and lobster mac and cheese. I weighed my options, and decided that since I’m not a huge dessert fan and since more wine and the mac and cheese dish would equate to the $30 restaurant week three-course deals, I’d go with the new choice. Not to mention, they gifted us a charcuterie board for a delay in seating, so I wasn’t as hungry as I thought I would be.

Needless to say, after an excellent meal with great company on Tuesday, I was more than happy to accommodate my peers and head back for round two on the company’s dime. This time, however, we completely took over the upstairs bar area. As soon as we crossed the street, the hostess was already opening the door to greet us. I thought to myself, “If they can immediately distinguish a few underdressed young professionals crossing the street and assume we’re heading that way, they must be able to tell what they’re getting into.”

I avoided the large crowd that gathered and went straight to find a space at the bar. The smart cookies that coordinated the event knew that free liquor was a bad idea, so that limited our options to wine and beer. There was a loophole, however, Prosecco was on tap. Score! I grabbed a flute and headed to a table full of familiar faces — I know, I know, I should have been mingling, but honestly large crowds can be a bit overwhelming for my taste.

Two and a half hours later, the president of our company couldn’t wait to close the tab and disappear before stragglers began begging for more. We packed up our things and headed around the corner to Connolly’s on Fifth. It wasn’t until I realized I had cried with not just one, but two, of my coworkers that I was a bit more tipsy than I was supposed to be. My boyfriend and I had a triple date planned in honor of restaurant week and he’d only asked for one thing, “Aerin, don’t get wasted before dinner.” Oops.

I knew it was time for me to make my Irish exit as we walked to the last stop on the pregame tour: Fitzgerald’s. The unamused boyfriend came to pick me up and we stopped by my house so I could get changed for dinner at Upstream.

By the time our reservation rolled around, I wasn’t even hungry but I knew I’d better eat something. Remembering this spot was a popular seafood destination in Charlotte, I kept it simple and ordered the crab cake appetizer which ended up being the best decision of the day. And after munching on my boyfriend’s meal — spicy shrimp lettuce wraps and Wagyu flank steak — I felt full and satisfied.
Now that’s what I call a recipe for restaurant week success and a pretty great way to wrap up July.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Eating like a queen

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2016 at 7:00 AM

I took a break from my usual routine of boat action and drinks at my favorite bars in the Q.C. this past weekend. For those of you who are wondering, no, that doesn’t mean I didn’t drink. I went to the Bull City — i.e. Durham, NC — to participate as a bridesmaid in a wedding that I’ll remember for a lifetime. It was the first marriage among my closest college friends, so you can imagine the entire experience was an emotional rollercoaster.

After three nights staying up until 4 a.m. and driving back to Charlotte on Sunday, I started to come down from my wedding/reunion high and I genuinely felt depressed. The entire weekend was riddled with thoughts of loss. The loss of loved ones. The loss of college youth. The loss of wasted time in terrible relationships. The loss of alcohol as we relived our younger years over the toilet. You get the point...weddings bring out the happiest and saddest memories at the same damn time.

Nevertheless, I started to feel even more depressed when I thought about the loss of my favorite restaurants in my old hometown. And then, the greatest reminder showed up in my work inbox. The email was from a co-worker and the subject line read: 204 North. I opened the email and it said: Would you guys want to do restaurant week tomorrow at 204 North at 6:30? As the old Southern Baptists would say, “Won’t God do it?!”

In the midst of wedding plans and whining over everything, I had completely forgotten that Charlotte Restaurant Week aka Queen’s Feast had officially kicked off on Friday, July 22. Restaurant week is one of the most amazing ideas ever. Participating restaurants offer foodies and restaurant goers the opportunity to experience three-course meals for a fraction of the price.

I was reminded of the reservations I made during Triangle Restaurant Week (Durham’s version) in college and laughed thinking about how that was the only way we were able to afford a meal outside of our campus meal plan. I guess the fond memories of the weekend were going to follow me to the Charlotte after all.

This year at Queen’s Feast, there are 134 restaurants in the Charlotte and surrounding area participating. For those of us on a loose budget — as in I should be budgeting because I’m broke — this is as close to heaven on Earth as you can get. Picture carrot-ginger soup, sizzling juicy filet and garlic mashed potatoes, followed by chocolate cheesecake. If that doesn’t make your mouth water, I don’t know what will. And that’s just one combination you can get at the famous Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

Needless to say, that email was just what I needed to bring me back up after the weekend festivities and the resulting comedown. 204 North Kitchen and Cocktails is one of the newest additions to the Uptown restaurant scene. I’ve been meaning to coordinate a happy hour trip after work to check it out, so this sounded like a dream come true.

We snagged a reservation for six and I decided to take a look at what was going to be on the menu. I can tell you right now what I’m going to order: fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese and country ham, the 204 cheeseburger and a sorghum sticky bun. Also, in that order.

Here are a few tips for you to keep in mind before Charlotte Restaurant Week concludes on July 31:

Pro tip #1: It’s highly recommended that you make reservations during Queen’s Feast. When the prices go down, demand goes up. As such, restaurants get super busy during this time of year making it impossible to get seated in a timely manner, if at all. So make reservations and make them early.

Pro tip #2: Check out the menu beforehand. The entire menu isn’t available at Queen’s Feast prices. Make sure you’re actually interested in what the restaurant is going to be serving on the Charlotte Restaurant Week menu.

Pro tip #3: Some restaurants offer “upgrades.” For example, at Ruth’s Chris you can order a King’s Fest Entrée with your meal when you pay $45 instead of $35. This menu features larger steaks, shrimp, crab cakes, even add-ons like lobster. Take your meal to the next level and get the most bang for your buck.

Where do you plan on going for Queen’s Feast? I’d love to hear about your restaurant week experiences! Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Walk before you crawl

Posted By on Fri, Jul 15, 2016 at 1:13 PM


 As a 21-year-old Ohio University student, I’ve experienced my fair share of bar crawls on the streets around Ohio University. I’ve seen sorority girls dressed up as Tom Cruise in Risky Business with oversized oxfords and tube socks weaving in and out of the many bars that Athens, Ohio hosts. I’ve seen bar-hopping frat boys, dressed head to toe in patriotic gear like it’s the Fourth of July, chanting “USA! USA! USA!” in the dead of winter.

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I thought my summer stint in Charlotte would expose me to a population of young adults, like me, who are pursuing professional roles or have already assumed them. I heard about the high popularity of micro-breweries and NoDa bustling with wayfarer-wearing, young business-casual Charlotteans discussing their favorite wine and cheese parings or the advantages of dry-hopping versus wet-hopping and thought I had a good grasp on the city’s culture.

Then I saw a list of the bar crawls to be held all over the QC this summer. These events — for which participants register and pay around $30 for tickets that cover entry and often include a drink special at each bar — happen almost weekly in this city, and it looks like the organizers are starting to run out of ideas.

The unoriginality for some of these crawls makes me glower. “The Great American Bar Crawl,” for example, takes place July 30 and costs $30 per ticket. I’ll give you three guesses as to what the theme is. Yep, the EventBrite listing states, “We've set up the venues for the largest, most patriotic bar crawl the world has ever seen! All you have to do is put on your most patriotic outfit and head to the registration location. We'll have the ridiculous drink specials in place, and the party ready for you!”

The GABC will also be held in cities like Nashville, Tennessee; Wilmington, North Carolina; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Jacksonville, Florida. Their website also encourages participants to “gear up” before the big day (which doesn’t even fall on July Fourth, but I guess an excuse to drink doesn’t need to be logical), by buying patriotic garments such as hats, bandanas, tank tops and pants on Amazon; all the better to lose the friends that convinced you to come in a sea of red, white and blue.

For those with more specific regional tastes in shitshows, the Country Bar Crawl will be in Charlotte next week. It’s a little more appropriate, considering we are in the South and, for some inexplicable reason, people embrace southern culture a little closer during the heat of the summer. Expect a bunch of daisy dukes and cowboy boots for this party July 23, because we all know that country music and Southern culture is truly at the heart of the Queen City.

If I’m being honest with myself, I see the merits of signing up for a sponsored bar crawl: “free” stuff to commemorate the event, drink specials, no cover charge at specific bars and there’ll be a ton of new people to meet and bond with over your mutual love of getting trashed Uptown.

But at the same time … why? It’s seems like a thinly-veiled money-making scheme that ultimately asks Charlotteans to pay about $30 just to go to bars that are packed beyond the point of a normal night. It’s hard for a top-party-school-grown professional drinker like myself to see the advantages of paying that much money for a measly six hours of no cover access and hardly-special drink specials.

Fortunately, there is an alcohol-fueled journey available for upturned-nose, beer-snob hipsters like me who don’t see the upside in themed bar crawls that pack similarly dressed people into overly crowded bars, which honestly doesn’t sound all that different from a normal weekend night in Uptown.

Trolley Pub makes for an interesting alternative that allows you to make your own bar crawl. Participants chose their own route, drink their own beer and provide their own transportation for just $30 a pop. Yes, it’s the same price as the generic bar crawls but a quick look at its website shows the experience is more intimate, as you’re sharing the trolley with a small group of people. Perhaps most appealing is that fact that it’s BYOB, so the beer really is on special and there are no lines.
Everyone on the Trolley Pub brings their own sixer, sets it in the coolers and up to 14 drinkers start pedaling to the locations on the tour they chose. There are two different sets of tours — a Charlotte Uptown tour that includes locations Flight Beer Garden and Tilt on Trade, and a NoDa tour that includes Birdsong Brewing Co., Heist Brewery, Davidson Street Public House, Jack Beagles and other NoDa must-visits.

If you’re simply not interested in paying $30 to hit the bars in any fashion, there’s one last bar crawl option available: DIY. It’s pretty simple, just grab a few of your best drinking pals and hit up the finest breweries around town, making sure to try beers or cocktails you’ve never had or heard of.
There’s also the mythical game of beer golf, in which you and some friends find a dense bar district and attempt to drink a single beer at 18 different spots that serve. Drinking 18 beers in one night is not necessarily something that Creative Loafing condones, although it’s recently been said that we are an alcoholic city now, so I’m sure some of you can handle it.

But seriously, don’t be an idiot, drink responsibly. 

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

July 4th in the Queen City

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 2:31 PM

As I stood in line on Friday afternoon waiting on Vic the Chili Man — my fave hot dog stand Uptown, and arguably all of Charlotte — I laughed as he prepared a patron for the side effects of his homemade hot mustard (a rough exit after digestion). I immediately thought ahead to my weekend of booze and July 4th celebrations and decided I should tell him to hold the spice.
This time last year, I was just getting settled in a new relationship with my current boyfriend and preparing for fireworks (wink, wink) on Lake Wylie as we made plans to a party on his friend’s pontoon boat. There was fun in the sun all day long.

It was my first time being on a boat since I almost drowned in Lake Norman at a Memorial Day outing in 2015, so I was bit nervous. Who wants to ask the person they’re dating for a life jacket when no one else is wearing one? Not to mention, I could tell from the looks on everyone’s faces as my cousin and I stepped on the boat —scantily clad — that we were going to stand out.

And to top it off? This black girl fulfills the stereotype of not liking to get her hair wet or get in water. That meant no bonding with new friends over a tube ride. Now, talk about awkward.
But the day and night went on without a hitch. As I prepared for not seeing fireworks, which my family makes an effort to see every year, we made our way across Lake Wylie to the perfect open viewing spot for catching the show put on by the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Date tip: fireworks under the stars makes for an unforgettable first date.

(Disclaimer: I’m writing this before the weekend has even started. Hence, the future thoughts in past tense.)

This year’s July 4th celebrations, on the other hand, were going to be interesting, to say the least. The weekend was going to be filled with juggling multiple friends and family — good friends, old roommates, old best friends, frenemies from college and my parents. Why you may ask? An old roommate was getting married and decided that all of these people needed to be in the same place at the same time. Lucky me.

I wasn’t looking forward to the fake smiles and awkward conversations combined with an open bar. I couldn’t even imagine what arguments were in store for me, especially if I decided to go on the limo party bus to Uptown on that Friday night for pre-wedding festivities.

I was, however, looking forward to taking my parents to pre-game for the wedding at Foxcroft Wine Co. in Dilworth. I had been craving a meat and cheese board after stalking the many Charlotte foodie Instagrams and my partner in crime had just tried it out on the previous weekend. She raved about her experience so much that I knew it would be the perfect place to unwind before the wedding.

I was also excited about the fact that my parents were finally going to go on my boyfriend’s boat. We’d already planned out the entire day, when my mom said, “Uh uh, I’m not getting in that water.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Outside of the fact that she was still traumatized by my almost-drowning on Lake Norman, she was also mortified by the recent death of the teenager who contracted a brain-eating amoeba after a visit. And I must say, that terrified me too. But after a lot of pursuit, we had convinced her that she still had to experience the boat ride, with or without actually getting in the water — in a bathing suit.

I was most looking forward to repeating last year’s feature: watching yet another fireworks show in the middle of Lake Wylie under the night sky. I thought about the fact that on that night last year, I was forced to get in the water to pee and how scared I was that a fish or alligator was going to devour my bottom half. This time, I was going to pace my drinking so I could avoid any pee breaks in the water, especially at night. I’m a self-diagnosed hypochondriac, though I had not (and still haven’t) read up on what exactly the deal was with amoeba.

Nevertheless, I knew one thing for sure — I didn’t have to go into work on Monday. That meant one less day sitting in the office, and one less day sitting in the office hungover!

How did you end up spending your Fourth of July weekend in the Queen City? Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Drinks on the boss are the best

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 12:26 PM

The best thing about working for a company that is primarily composed of twentysomethings is that grabbing drinks after work is not only acceptable, but a regular occurrence.
 
It’s definitely something we look forward to as the work day comes to a close. Not to mention, team happy hours on the company card are always a celebrated after work activity that adds to employee morale.

(Disclaimer: “Happy hour” is traditionally referred to as a period of time in which a public venue offers discounts on alcohol and food items. In North Carolina, however, a public venue can’t offer discounts on alcohol from say, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Any specials that NC bars and restaurants offer have to go all day long. So when I say “happy hour” below, I’m simply referring to “after work drinks.”)
Last week, my boss asked if I would find somewhere for our team to go for happy hour.

While I love exploring the latest venues in the Queen City, I’m still learning how to apply my nightlife skills to diverse crowds, so I get a tad nervous when anyone asks for my advice on where they should go. And I was extra nervous when I found out I was coordinating happy hour for almost 30 people.

My first thought was, “Where’s the most convenient venue we can go that will be large enough to accommodate a large crowd and also offer decent drink specials?” Now that our office is located Uptown, the possibilities were seemingly endless, but as I went down the list of familiar spots, my options started wearing thin.

After all, who wants to have a semi-professional happy hour in the same place they were making out in, or arguing with bartender just a few short days ago?

I decided to play it safe and suggested we go to McCormick & Schmick’s, which was only a two-floor elevator ride away. They offer a wide variety of cocktails, wine and beer specials all day long, as well as a few discounted food options from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. starting at $3. (Note: food specials are only available at the bar and on the patio).

On Wednesdays, it can get really crowded at McCormick’s because they also offer $1 shrimp and oysters. I decided to call and make a reservation. The very next day, the sales manager called me back to confirm my reservation. Talk about fancy! She was very professional and patient despite my inexperience coordinating something quite like this. She explained our options and sent over a contract.

When the clock struck 5 o’clock on hump day, we had our very own private room (secured without a rental fee from 5 p.m.-8 p.m. and a commitment to a $350 tab minimum — not too shabby). Tucked in the back right corner of the upscale restaurant, I crossed my fingers that everything would go down without a hitch, especially since I didn’t check out the room before hand.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I entered the room and was welcomed by an intimate atmosphere sprinkled with cocktail tables, the perfect environment for sharing laughs over a few drinks with co-workers. A few minutes later, our team members were rolling in and waiting as patiently as possible for our first drinks of the night.

I glanced at the featured cocktails on the happy hour menu and decided on one with tequila — in spite of our rough history — and orange juice.
Surprisingly, it was refreshing and not heavily tainted with the robust flavor that I was familiar with when I’d had tequila shots in the past.

Before you knew it, most of us were two drinks in, shaking off the work day and letting go of the awkward discomfort that comes with chatting with new faces. Even though we didn’t fold an appetizer buffet into our contract, the staff was more than happy to accommodate the hungry tummies that convinced our boss to add a few food trays to the mix. Calamari, bacon-wrapped shrimp and quesadillas — talk about mouth-wateringly delicious!

Needless to say, happy hour for our teams was a humpday success. And my team, the real “original gangsters,” shut the shindig down as we were the last to walk out the door.

What are some of your favorite happy hour spots in the Q.C. and what do you like best about those spots? backtalk@clclt.com.

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