I have a confession to make: The recent Penguin drama did not have a big impact on my life.
I did not join the Facebook page calling for a boycott. I didn’t participate in very many conversations about the issue, either in person or online. And once I heard about the current, now previous, owners’ plans to open up around the corner at The Diamond, I even secretly thought it might be nice to have the crowd split between the two camps. At least then getting a table on a Friday night wouldn’t be such an ordeal.
In case you don’t already know the story, allow me sum up the situation.
Ten years ago, Brian Rowe and Jimmy King took over ownership of the Penguin, signing two five-year lease agreements. They redid the restaurant, which first opened in 1954. The pair built the Penguin into such a successful restaurant that it was featured on the Food Network’s “Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and it was not unusual to wait half an hour or more for a table at 10 o’clock on a Thursday night.
Original owners, the Ballentine family, decided against renewing King and Rowe’s lease, instead offering a deal the two found unacceptable. Since the Ballentines retained ownership of both the building and the name, King and Rowe were left with, in their words, no other option but to leave and begin anew somewhere else. Thus was reborn the Diamond.
As a fan of the old Penguin, I did have some concerns that the new version would be lacking. The Ballentines made clear their plans to redo the place a bit and make it fit for franchising (read: mass consumption). Still, surely they would not tinker too much with a beloved institution.
The first thing I noticed was how much brighter it was in the new Penguin. All the better to see my fellow dining companions, who were much different than I remembered. They had all turned into well-scrubbed families and high school kids with neat haircuts and nice smiles.
I was right about one thing though: It was much easier to get a table. Granted, it was around 8:30 on a Monday night, but that would have meant a full house at the old Penguin.
Each DJ had a 15-minute spin session, and judging was based on choice of songs, creativity, skills and of course, the audience’s response.
The vibe at this year's competition was very different from last year's, which was also held in the same venue. Being as Thursday nights are usually Phoenix's college night, the atmosphere was more about the party instead of the music. But that doesn't mean that the battling DJs didn't bring their best (even if a couple of them did look kind of nervous).
I will say, though, that I can definitely go without hearing Petey Pablo's North Carolina-praising song "Raise Up" for a while.
And I was a bit surprised that DJ Forge ended his set with Enrique's song "Hero." When he stood there, his arms crossed over his chest in triumph, as the seconds counted down to zero, I couldn't help but think, "Wow. He's really ending it like this?" It was original, to say the least. But what do I know? The crowd was loving it, and apparently, so did the judges.
The Deal: Dharma Lounge hosted Charlotte's Dirty Mega Party on Friday, July 8, with a high ollie contest and homemade bikini contest and I had to see what was up.
The Good: The skate contest was the first thing to catch my eye. Even though I didn't see many kids succeed at the hurdle, it was pretty entertaining to watch them crash and burn. Inside the room people were grouped together at bar tables like a high school cafeteria. I found myself in a sea of eclectic people from emo, punk, business and preppy. People were dressed grungy in torn clothes with messy uncombed hair, glammed up like a high fashion 80s model and the usual try-hards where they looked like they had stepped out of a GQ magazine. The cozy lounge area in the corner was perfect for my minute escape from the loud crowd and booming sounds coming from the DJ booth. Non-stop electric dance beats filled the room; however, I didn't see anyone actually step out and dance.
The Bad: The main reason I was so excited about going to the club was to see the homemade bikini contest. Unfortunately, it was going to be closer to the end of the night. I wasn't going to stay that long, and it seemed like the crowd agreed because I kept noticing people sneaking out.
The Verdict: Even though I had the major disappointment of not seeing the bikini contest, the bar's atmosphere itself made up for it. It's opposite from the typical Charlotte club scene with rap music — that is nice to get away from sometimes. You don't see the same ol' group of trendy fashionistas and gangsta swag guys grinding to the same top 40 hits we hear all the time.
And here are some photos.
I’m standing outside Central Coffee Co., smoking a cigarette I don’t want. I don’t even really smoke, save the very unusual social cigarette. This seemed worthy of such an exception. I've just bummed it off a cute barista to have an excuse to talk to her.
It doesn’t take long before she reveals herself as the Evangelical type, with a boyfriend to boot. Product of a religious upbringing such that I am, I instantly go half deaf, stomp out my unwanted cigarette and wait for a chance to change the subject.
And here Tom Waits had lead me to believe that you don't meet nice girls in coffee shops.
Finally, in between her telling me how interesting it is to watch people “struggle” (emphasis mine) with “homosexuality” (emphasis hers) due to, say, an absent father figure, or how infinite regression proves the undeniable existence of a one God universe, she finally hit on something that rang true: “Charlotte has a close, and growing, coffee community. Really, we all just like hanging out and talking.”
The “close” may be more on display on this particular night than the “growing.” Many may have thought the event on June 23 is canceled, as Central Coffee’s AC is malfunctioning. They’ve been closed all day and have only opened for the latte art competition, a recurring event that has been taking place in Charlotte every few months or so for more than three years now.
Still, the faithful – bad pun intended – have shown up in spite of the heat to watch baristas display their artistic ability using only steamed milk atop an espresso.
The competitors are judged on four categories: Use of space, balance and symmetry, color infusion and definition and overall impression.
The designs are impressive. Still, I have no idea why one guy’s heart is better than another’s. I may not know exactly what’s going on with this whole “color infusion” thing, but it’s still enjoyable to watch it unfold while sipping on a free beer – Central Coffee doesn’t have a liquor license, meaning they can’t sell beer but they can give it away on special occasions such as these.
And as my new Jesus-loving barista friend pointed out, there’s a lot of hanging out and talking. This is the second latte art competition I’ve gone to and both times I noticed how friendly everyone was, how eager they are to introduce themselves. They may be a close-knit group, but they are certainly welcoming to outsiders, even if said outsider doesn't know their balance from their symmetry and disengages at religious or relationship talk.
While these events don't always take place at Central Coffee, it provided the ideal venue for an event based on community and getting to know like-minded individuals. It’s a cozy, intimate space best suited to small groups.
The Charlotte Coffee Community holds semi-regular events all around the city. You can connect with them on Facebook to stay in the loop.
Generally speaking, when people go to the club, they usually arrive anywhere from 11 p.m. to midnight. No one wants to be the first people up in a spot, right? We want to walk through the doors and instantly be blasted with the energy of loud music and groups of good-looking people drinking, laughing and busting moves on the dance floor.
But arriving fashionably late last night to RE:Public for Pop Life, hosted by Big Boi, was a bad idea. A very, very bad idea. When I left at 12:30 a.m., the club was packed. It was so thick, it was like walking through a department store's fragrance section, as you were so close to people you could get a whiff of their perfume or cologne.
When I saw the number of people outside waiting to get in, the relief I felt from having arrived at 8:30 p.m. (for the RSVP-only segment of the night) distracted me (momentarily) from my aching feet. Thankfully, it'd stopped raining. The line to get in stretched from RE:Public's door, which is about at the halfway point on the block of College Street, all the way down to the corner of 7th Street. I avoided eye contact as best as I could with folks decked out for a night of flirting and fun, only to be kept standing outside.
Note to self: Whenever The Sol Kitchen hosts a free event, to be attended by a well-known celebrity, all the finer points of club etiquette involving arrival time go out the window. You should always try to get there as early as possible.
Last night's party gave people the opportunity to taste the new Crown Royal Black, of which Big Boi has designed a limited edition bag for. Of the four cocktails offered, my favorite was the Durty Royal (Crown Royal Black, Raspberry liqueur and pineapple juice.) After a couple of these (and on an empty stomach, mind you), I didn't notice the step down as I was walking from the upper level bar toward the tequila bar. Shout out to the dude who was standing nearby, whose shoulder I grabbed to keep from falling. (They really ought to put some kind of lighting or something there.)
The drink on the menu that seemed only like a recipe for a gastric disaster was the Jump Off, which consisted of Crown Royal Black, Smirnoff Vodka, Tanqueray Gin, Myers Platinum Rum, and splashes of some mixers. The men seemed to enjoy it though.
DJ Bro-Rabb was handling the music in the main room. The tunes were on point, as the dance floor was filled with movement by 10:30 p.m., at the latest. He's obviously a fan of Biggie, and I'm OK with that. But on more than one occasion, he hollered out, "Where my 25 and up at?" Seeing as I spotted more than one gentleman sporting pointed dress shoes and kangols, I think I can safely say very few people weren't 25 and up.
Considering the number of people who came out last night — on a Wednesday night, mind you — Pop Life has definitely taken it to another level for partying. When you're walking around the next day, feet hurt from heels and legs sore from dancing, you know it was a good night.
But I never did see Big Boi. His van outside, yes. Him? Not so much. But that's just a testament to how many people showed up. He was probably swallowed in the crowd.
And on a side note: I salute Librettos in the EpiCentre, for filling my tummy with pizza so I could make it to work today (relatively) on time.
The Deal: Last night, May 24, it was time for the catalysts of the nightlife industry to get some well-deserved recognition — or at least have a little fun. And as they often do over there, Whisky River answered by housing F’Ncrazynight.com’s 2nd annual Bartender Competition.
The Good: “Biggest F’N Bartender Competition,” translation: six to eight guys awkwardly hidden behind a mini bar mixing pretty pink cocktails. But what girl doesn’t love watching the cute bartender mix her a cocktail furnished with some delicious fruit? The only thing this inventive contest needed was a little background music, and it was delivered to the tune of Rick Astley’s “Together Forever.” That’s right; while the judges deliberated the winner of this bartending contest, Astley’s smooth-talking, pretty face was plastered on every TV in the place. In fact, it was that very combination of silky tone and those suave dance moves that had my friends and I entranced to the point we couldn’t tell you which bartender took home the title of the Best Bartender in Charlotte.
The Bad: Leave it to Whisky River to make you feel as if you just stepped into the club scene of a Real World episode. At the end of this bartending competition, the strobe light made an appearance alongside a fog machine creating the illusion we were actually in the Astley music video. When the smoke cleared, a new scene presented itself; one with 18-year-olds … as far as the eye could see. One minute you were standing in the crowd watching grown men dip their straws in fruity cocktails, and the next you were on the dance floor getting grinded on by the high school football captain and his band of brothers. It was only when the kid to my left, donning black X’s, posed “Who is this joker?” in regard to Astley himself, that I questioned the rest of the evening. So what if the song is as old as me? It’s a classic.
The Verdict: Holding a bartending competition is a brilliant idea, Whisky River. Only for the 3rd annual go-round … maybe re-consider your decision to throw it on College Night.
The Chop Shop is billing itself as the old NoDa reborn: a bar/concert venue/art space housed in an old warehouse on the “wrong side of the tracks.” It’s an intriguing bit of marketing. NoDa, after all, has become more and more gentrified and staid over the years.
As is so often the case in developing cities, the hip arts district has drawn young professionals who want to live in a hip arts district, except, you know, without all the weirdness, the noise, the artists. Anyone attempting to throw a wrench into this slow but steady march toward utter blandness should get bonus points on effort alone.
The Chop Shop opened its doors to the public on Friday and Saturday, May 13 and 14, for a weekend celebration designed to give the neighborhood an idea of what’s in store between its warehouse walls. I dropped by Saturday to see the space and festivities for myself.
The first thing I noticed was the place’s potential. It’s a large space – 17,000 square feet to be exact – with one of the bigger stages in town.
Two movie screens sit on either side of the stage, allowing for multimedia events. There are a couple of pool tables and dart boards as well, which is nothing new but due to the space’s open layout allows patrons to play while still maintaining a good view of the stage.
The theme is carried out in a more dedicated fashion than is seen in most themed venues. They didn’t simply slap a bunch of old Harley ads on the walls and call it a day. Instead, they repurposed exhaust pipes and tool boxes, turning them into countertops and lighting fixtures.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Su Casa, the recurring event formerly known as Mi Casa. This was in part due to a somewhat ambiguous event flier and because it was taking place at Dharma Lounge. Dharma is still set in my mind as that place where Le Bang happens – a hipstery Look At Me! Fest I tend to avoid.
Even with the vagaries of the flier, it appeared as if that this was going to be quite different from Le Bang. This hunch fortunately proved true.
For one, the crowd was decidedly more ethnically diverse and a bit older – think more late twenties/early thirties than late teens/early twenties. The place was also a lot more sparsely attended than the average Le Bang affair. Fair enough, it was a Sunday night, after all, and Mother’s Day at that, though one assumes most people have finished their familial duties by 9 o’clock when the event began. At least it made getting a drink at the bar an easier task. When the bartender wasn’t busy texting, that is.
My slight reservations aside, and the somewhat less than impressive attendance, I found myself pulled into what was going on around me pretty quickly.
Immediately upon entering I noticed a topless woman standing on a platform, body paint serving as her only covering above the waist. Local artist Mark Doepker was seated before her on the floor, busily sketching her half-clothed figure, while the artist responsible for her painted chest saw to a succession of attendees looking to have their faces painted in similarly swirling patterns. This was definitely not your average Charlotte club scene and for that I was thankful.
Across the room, photographer Jasiatic Anderson set up in one of Dharma’s signature semi-private lounge booths, capturing images of couples and friends in casual repose.
While the patio wasn’t necessary as the escape from madness that it usually provides, it was still nice to go outside and enjoy the seasonally warm weather from time to time.
The music – provided by DJs Diarra Mayfield and ThatGuy Smitty – shifted from funk, soul and afrobeat early on to house and downtempo as the night progressed, bringing more people out onto the dance floor. It was a nice mix, and was well timed as the more laid-back sounds made for good entry and chill music while the dance tunes kicked off a more energetic mood right as the drinks began to collectively take hold and loosen inhibitions.
With this lively vibe playing out for the rest of the evening, 2 a.m. came much more quickly than anticipated and as I closed out my bar tab I found myself glad to not have overlook this event. I even found myself making plans to attend again in the not too distant future.
Su Casa has been recently scheduled to take place on the second Sunday of every month at Dharma, so if you didn’t get a chance to come out make sure to get there next time. You will experience an event unlike most others in the Queen City.
— Jeff Taylor
The Deal: After experiencing the authentic Mexican food at Paco's, we headed to Plaza Midwood. Loco Lime hosted their 2nd annual block party in celebration of Cinco de Mayo with a parking lot party fully equipped with DJ and wall-to-wall Corona flags and flyers.
The Good: What better way to celebrate this (faux) Mexican holiday than a parking lot behind two cinderblock buildings, packed with people and a sea of sombreros? What if it was topped it off with one multi-colored strobe light? Welcome to Loco Lime’s Cinco de Mayo Block Party. And what’s a fiesta without a little entertainment? Not to worry: entertainment we had in the form of a three-piece ensemble: one fake mustache-donning senorita spilling her margarita all over her Jack Rogers Sandals, swaying to the DJ’s beats, and two token drunk guys in ponchos break-dancing to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s own “Jump on It.” But hey, the most interesting man in the world did made an appearance … in cardboard cutouts. Mexico should be proud.
The Bad: I was expecting a piñata, but for this particular Cinco de Mayo celebration my paper mache vision translated to cornhole. Apparently this bar game is a favorite in Mexico, too. Who knew? Also, for a fiesta the music sure sounded familiar. I was unaware that Michael Jackson was also a favorite below the border, nor did I realize that the Hispanics were such strong advocates of “Bringing Sexy Back.” You learn something new every day.
The Verdict: Loco Lime successfully put an American spin on this Mexican holiday, and although I didn’t see a single person of Mexican decent present, I’m sure they would have loved it.
— Jordan Bullington
The Deal: Paco’s Tacos & Tequila went all out to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a Mexican beer garden, $2 Coronas, and $5 margaritas. Also, all patrons rocking cowboy hats received $5 off their meal.
The Good: Let’s just say the cowboy hat proclamation was heard loud and clear — cowboy hats as far as the eye could see. The restaurant was packed, but the hour-long wait was fine by us because what is Cinco de Mayo without authentic Mexican food … and Paco’s Tacos delivered. So, it was a great place to kick off the holiday festivities. Not to mention, all those waiting were pushed into a tented court yard with Coronas by the barrel and margaritas already on ice.
The Bad: This mock “Alive After 5” waiting spot may have included alcoholic beverages in mass amounts, but the tender for these: little pink raffle tickets. People everywhere were walking around with raffle tickets spilling from their pockets. Have you ever tried to count raffle tickets while intoxicated? No easy feat. I’m sure the only people more annoyed by this were the bartenders who were getting tipped in raffle tickets. Inside, the packed house prohibited any sort of conversation between friends. Across the table my friend and I were actually screaming at each other over the noisy crowd. Raffle tickets AND an unruly throng of customers — are we having dinner at Paco’s Tacos & Tequila, or Chuckie Cheese?
The Verdict: Great food, cheap drinks, loud mass ... I’m not sure how much more authentic we could get on this (faux) celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. Well-played Paco’s Tacos & Tequila, well-played.
— Jordan Bullington