Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Little Pre-Thanksgiving Family Turn-up Time

Me, mom and Fantasia

Posted By on Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 7:00 AM

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Did you know Fantasia Barrino, the winner American Idol season 3, lives in the Queen City?

Well, anyone who kept up with her or who's a Charlottean probably does, and that includes my mom. A few weeks ago, she sent me a link to an event and asked me if I wanted to go. I took a gander at the luncheon put on by Café Mocha Radio called the 'Salute Her': Beauty of Diversity Awards. Why was my mom interested in going to that? "Because 'Tasia's' gonna be there," she said. I relented, she never asks for much.

Friday I introduced her to the beauty of Stoke Charlotte — the décor, the ambiance, the pork shank and the pretzel brioche. To my surprise, her sometimes finicky palate was impressed by the subtle flavors and textures I introduced her to. By the time we finished eating and watching Thor: Ragnarok at Studio Move Grill, we were both pooped.

Saturday morning, I didn't think I'd be able convince my body that it was time to get up until my mom gently tapped me and reminded me it was almost time for the luncheon to start. I threw on a simple black dress and called an Uber.

Once there, we eventually reached a point where both of us were asking, "Will we starve before the luncheon starts?" But just as our impatience was taking over, Fantasia walked by. I thought my mom was going to pass out. We watched as she greeted everyone while photographers snapped away.

I tried to help my mom gather herself as we sat down at our assigned table and prepared to eat while our host, Loni Love from The Real, entertained us. Speech after speech, I felt more privileged and appreciative of sharing a moment I would've never even considered if it hadn't been for my mom — or maybe it was the glass of red wine and three-course meal? Nevertheless, as the luncheon was wrapping up, Fantasia walks by and my mom grabs her arm, tells her we're from her hometown and gives her a kiss on her cheek. Fantasia smiled, thanked her and told her she loved her hair. Again, I thought she would pass out. But that's the beauty of Charlotte, you never know who's going to be around every corner.

As if she hadn't had enough excitement for the day, let alone the entire weekend, I'd convinced her to go to the Sofar Charlotte show later on that night. I shared in my last column that Sofar has introduced the city to an entirely unique live music experience. One that is intimate and mysterious. We showed up at the venue, this time it was at Yoga Warrior Studio located off Morehead Street. We couldn't quite tell where we needed to go in when a guy walks up and instructs us to ring the doorbell. I thought, "Okay, Sofar a doorbell? You're taking it too far." "What is it you're here for anyway," he asked with genuine curiosity. I told him that we were there to see a show to which he responded, "Oh you must be here for the video."

It could've totally been possible for the creators of Sofar to allow one of their performers to make a video. But thankfully, that motherly instinct kicked in as we rounded the corner of the office building and saw a room filled fluorescent purple lighting. "What kind of video?" All of a sudden we all realized that we were in the wrong place.

I don't know what I'd done if these guys had convinced my mom to be a video hoe.

We laughed and walked around the other side of the building and found the entrance to one of the most beautiful yoga studios that I've seen in Charlotte. Before even laying our eyes on the intimacy of the smaller event space/stage, we were captivated by a yogi performing some form of aerial acrobatics. I knew then that mom's first Sofar experience was going to be epic. The show unfolded nicely before us while we listened to the unique sounds of Hedera, Dust & Ashes and Sidney Murray. If you haven't checked any of them out yet, you better!

I finished up the third PBR tall boy I'd BYOBed after the show concluded and waited for my mom to agree to drive us to The Corner Pub for late night family time. Again, she'd had a full day but she tried to play it cool as all my regular favorites introduced themselves. By the end of the night, when she hopped in the car to head back to my house, I knew she'd had enough. But the fullness of our Queen City adventures was one of the best pre-Thanksgiving turn ups we could've asked for.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Secret Show Turns Into a Nice Night Up North

Sofar, so good

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 7:00 AM

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Have you ever paid for a ticket to show without knowing who the performer(s) were going to be? I'm not referring to the last-minute tickets you purchased because your friends were going to see someone whose music you had never listened to — such as my recent situation with Bon Iver, if you recall from last week's column. No, I'm talking about buying tickets to a show and you literally don't even have a name to research, nor do you even know where the show is going to take place.

Yeah, probably not.

Well it's exactly that "allure of the unknown" that's the drawing card for Sofar Sounds.

A couple months ago, one of my friends asked me if I'd heard about Sofar Charlotte. I remember looking at him with a confused look on my face — the same face that people give me now when I ask them if they've heard of the concept. He laughed and proceeded to tell me about a brand new music listening experience in the Queen City.

He told me to Google "Sofar Sounds," visit the website, search for Charlotte and sign up. Then what, you may ask? Then, I had to wait for an email confirmation that stated I've applied and then another email confirming I was on the guest list before I could actually buy tickets to this exclusive gig. Sighs. Generally, that would be more steps than I'm willing to take, but after going to my first Sofar experience on Halloween, I'm so glad I wasn't a spoiled brat and "trusted the process."

Sofar Sounds has been described as a global movement in music that redefines, and arguably restores, the intimacy of a live show experience. Sofar is actually an acronym for Songs From a Room. This music event company brings live gigs to intimate spaces all over the world. The catch is, you don't know who's going to be performing or what kind of "room" you're going to be in. You could be listening to a local artist in a warehouse, or you could be listening to Bastille in someone's living room. Crazy, right?! But it's the "gamble" that attracted me and seems to be the draw for the random people I've told about it.

After receiving my email confirmation that I was on the guest list and eligible to purchase tickets, I followed the link and bought my ticket for $15. I was given the option to buy tickets for up to four additional guests — perfect for people with friends like me who have huge commitment issues but always end up wanting to go when it comes down to it. The day before the show, I received an email that revealed the event location: Camp North End. After stopping through one of the newest additions to the Charlotte nightlife scene a couple months ago and leaving after a short period of time, I didn't quite know what to expect. Would we be inside or outside? Could I bring my heated blanket? How will they create an intimate space in a refurbished factory?

I picked up one of my girls (and McDonald's just in case there weren't any snacks) and headed toward Statesville Avenue. We were the first to arrive so we weren't quite sure where to park. I just pulled in the first paved area on the right after the factory came into view. We waited for our other friends and other Sofar-goers to arrive, then gathered our blankets and pillows. We climbed the stairs to what I would call the courtyard area and a stage was set up outside where the show would take place. Thankfully, the temperature was bearable on Halloween night, as we bundled up on the ground, on picnic tables and in chairs illuminated by string lights.

At first, I was thrown off by the "rules" we were given at the start of the show: no phones (unless taking a pic or vid), no talking during the performances (oh my God, how was I going to stay quiet?!) and you must stay the entire show (out of respect for the artists). I was worried my ADD would take over and I'd be that kid who everyone wants to punish for running in and out of the house. But to my surprise, I was fully engaged for all three performances.

None of us were familiar with the artists who performed — Johnny Graves, Pierce Edens and Mo Lowda & The Humble — but after just a few songs from each and ample time for stretching our legs during intermissions, I think it was safe to say we didn't need to know who they were, where they came from or what they were going to be doing. We simply enjoyed the overall experience. Therefore, #Sofarwinning in my book because that's what it's all about.

Catch the next shows on November 18th and December 1st.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Last-Minute Bon Iver Show Surpasses Nonexistent Expectations

On a wing with a prayer

Posted By on Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 4:00 PM

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A few months ago, one of my coworkers was talking about a show he really wanted to go to. I wasn't familiar with the name, so I hadn't put much thought into it until I happened upon an extra ticket and posted a status asking if anyone I knew would be going. He messaged me immediately asking if I'd gotten tickets and that's when I realized Bon Iver was the show he'd been hoping to win tickets to.

I'd watched a YouTube video a friend sent me, but I was just as lost on whether or not I knew anything about the band as I was when my coworkers assured me I'd heard something by Dave Matthews Band before boarding a party bus to PNC Music Pavilion two years ago — for the record, they were wrong. I hadn't.

After watching the Bon Iver video, I knew I liked the sound, but other than that, I was walking into yet another concert completely blind, and coming off the end of Daylight Saving Time.

Normally, I wouldn't complain about having another hour at the bar on a Saturday night, but after watching the sunrise and being exhausted all day on Sunday, I started to wonder who the hell thought it would be a good idea to change the time at all? And despite the fact that I ended up staying in and sleeping through the Panthers game, I was still feeling tired on Monday and had no idea how I'd make it through a show at Fillmore Charlotte.

Not much has changed about the Music Factory other than a couple new hotspots and a name change — it's now named after AvidXchange — and yet, I found myself heading to the familiar venue with a heavy sigh as I anticipated the usual congestion.

To top it off, I'd messaged a few friends asking if they were going to go and even though most weren't, they were all adamant about how packed the venue was going to be. Sure enough, it was filled to the brim. As many times as I'd been there for a show, I'd never seen that many people crammed into that space.

"This better be worth it," I thought to myself as my hopes for any sitting space dwindled.

I was pleasantly surprised when, unlike the artists I was used to seeing, Bon Iver started on time. Not even ten seconds had passed once the first song began before I fell in love with a "brand new" band. There was something so beautiful and painful about the video I'd seen on YouTube, but never would I have guessed that I'd be able to close my eyes and just listen to a band I'd sworn I never heard before. (I won't even mention the fact that outside of the impressive light show, there wasn't much I could see with my terrible vision from the back of the venue anyways.)

Even though Bon Iver is categorized as an American indie folk band, the consensus seems to be that their sound has changed a bit and is more fluid now, creating a space for what I would argue is a fairly diverse listening audience.

For me, there was something about the sounds of the instruments that appealed to my taste for jazz. Not to mention, it's hard to win me over when it comes to live performances, but there I was enjoying every second of it. It may have appeared I wasn't interested, but that's just the short attention span in me.

The words may have escaped me, but there was nothing about the sound that they were making or the vibrations of the sound system that I didn't like.

The amateurs in the room, myself included, thought for sure the set was over when the lead singer said, "Goodnight," but we were wrong. A fan, dressed in the gaudy orange button-up I'd been pointing out and picking on as something that "wasn't in my color wheel," turned around and said, "You know he always does an encore!"

He was right. Bon Iver performed two more songs before making his "actual" exit. This time, however, I actually knew the song. That's right, "Skinny Love" was my jam and I would've never known about it if it hadn't been for my beautiful, hero-hair-wearing vampires in the series "The Vampire Diaries." I immediately thought about my favorite scene and hummed along while the band played.

It's funny how fate plays out in our day-to-day. If I'd left a few seconds earlier, I would've missed it. But just like I was in the right place at the right time to get on an elevator with Randy Houser, the timing of the only song I knew couldn't have been more perfect.

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Not Dressed Up With Everywhere To Go

Pre-Halloween weekend in the Queen City

Posted By on Wed, Nov 1, 2017 at 7:00 AM

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. You know what I'm talking about: Rich & Bennett's 17th Annual Halloween Pub Crawl. I know, last week I said I wasn't going to revisit the shitshow that is the Halloween pub crawl, but I soon thereafter found myself coming in contact with a multitude of the Queen City's monsters, dinosaurs, "cereal killers," Hooters girls and those "who could not be named."

I started my weekend on Friday at Soul Gastrolounge in Plaza Midwood. Would you believe there are a fair share of Queen City imports who have yet to try one of the most popular spots for delectable small plates and irresistible craft cocktails?! Yeah I know, I am floored every single time I meet one of these anomalies. How could one not be tempted by the allure of the menu that's proven itself time and time again by being backed by a three-hour wait? While I couldn't indulge in a Moscow mule, — it was still Sober October after all — I was able to give a few new dishes a try: barrel aged Greek feta, saganaki and sashimi tuna tacos. I don't regret a single bite.

After a meal like that, there's not much anyone can do to top that. Late-night festivities, however, consisted of a game of Picolo around a table in a cozy row house off of 10th street with a group of people that always tend to drag me into a scenario that's built for a drinking game. It's funny, an intimate setting around a dinner table at 2 a.m. with a pizza and drunk folk can still be just as fulfilling and entertaining as watching the belligerent pub crawlers searching for a safe place to vomit in their googly-eyed costumes.

On Saturday, I woke just in time to catch a late afternoon football game. One of my friends wanted to meet at Flight Beer Garden & Music Hall. I looked up the pub crawl and searched for the list of participating venues uptown — of course, Flight was on the list. We decided, however, that most crawlers wouldn't show up in droves at a beer garden ... and we were wrong. It wasn't long before we were trying to escape to our favorite watering hole — I won't even mention where that is this time.

As I walked the streets later that night, I was berated by everyone from the girl in a costume that was too small and runs in her panty hose to the random guy selling water and drugs (now that's what I call strategic marketing) for not wearing a costume. The only time of year where ­you will be brutally judged for not dressing like a freak show. "I'm a Duke student," I'd say after letting out a long sigh with a tinge of annoyance. Still, I was amused by the spectacles that were around every single corner. I mean, who wouldn't laugh at the sight of a couple furiously arguing on a patio in inflatable giraffe costumes?!

After dropping a band of misfits, aka drunken bar crawlers, aka my cousin and her band of misfits off at home, I thought I'd put the Halloween shenanigans behind me. Nope, the following day I was convinced that I should go to a country concert at Rooftop 210 in the EpiCentre. What do you get when you combine freezing cold temps, Uptown wind and country music? A black chick's Halloween nightmare come true. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate country music, it's just not my preference and in the freezing cold, I can't say that I'd even want to see Lil' Wayne in the cold wind-whipped setting that was Rooftop 210 on Sunday.

Nevertheless, I went. Our group huddled on the rooftop while Randy Houser played some tunes. I'm not going to lie, all I could think about was when I was going to leave and how much warmer the drunk people dancing must feel. Before his encore, I let everyone know I'd be heading to my car in the parking garage. I waited on my friend to get into her Uber and then proceeded to call for the Aloft elevator.

When I stepped on, I pulled out my phone in the hopes that no one on the elevator would speak to me. What can I say? I have social anxiety, believe it or not. "You are GORGEOUS," someone said as the elevator started to lower. Sighs, "Thank you," I responded thinking that my phone tactic didn't work. "What's your name? My name's Randy." I finally lifted my head to look at the stranger who'd extended his hand. Would you believe it?! It was Randy Houser. *insert crying laughing cat emoji* Out of all the people to meet this man, it was the hip-hop loving black chick who can't stand being cold! I'm telling y'all, I can't make this shit up.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Be Careful with your Main Squeeze

Necking

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 7:00 AM

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In a frank exchange early in our courtship, I told my girlfriend that I have no kinks. As a faithful reader of Savage Love, I'm obviously not opposed to kinks — but I've never had any inclinations in that direction and am probably a typical hetero vanilla. As a result, I'm damn near clueless in that area. Last night, my girlfriend placed my hands around her neck and asked me to choke her. My instant reaction was to say no, not out of any objection in principle but because I thought it might be dangerous in my inexperienced hands. Later I did comply, but I was definitely holding back. I dearly love my main squeeze — clever pun there, huh? — and I want to be GGG, but... well, you see my misgivings. I know about safe words, but can we count on them when the recipient's larynx is being compromised and she may be close to passing out? For the record, I had no difficulty in acceding to her request to be bitten, as I know where and how hard I can do that without causing damage, but choking is an area of darkness for me. And let me note that my girlfriend has no grounding in medicine, physiology, or anything that would lead me to be comfortable trusting her judgment about choking.

-Choke Holds Obligate Kink Education

I have friends who are professional Dominants — women who will stick needles through the head of their client's cock and post the bloody pics to Twitter — who refuse to do breath play and/or choking scenes.

"It's impossible to control for all the variables," said Mistress Matisse, a professional dominatrix with more than 20 years of experience. "People think choking isn't kinky, but it is. People think it's a low-risk activity, but it's not. Choking isn't just about the lungs. It can affect the brain and the heart — it can affect the whole body — and if the bottom has underlying health issues, things can go disastrously wrong. I feel strongly about this."

Wrapping something around someone's neck — your hands, a belt, a rope — is the most dangerous form of breath control/play, Matisse emphasized, and simply cannot be done safely. Fragile bones (like the hyoid bone), nerves, arteries, veins — the neck is a crowded place, it's vulnerable, and putting sustained pressure on someone's neck is extremely risky.

Matisse also noted: "The person doing the choking needs to be aware that they're on the hook legally — for at least manslaughter charges — if the person who asked to be choked should die. People have gone to jail for this kind of 'play.'"Jay Wiseman, author of SM 101, not only takes a similarly dim view of choking, he's served as an expert witness at the trials of people who choked someone to death during sex.

"It's always inherently life-threatening, and it's always inherently unpredictable," said Wiseman. "It's more dangerous than suffocation, as you can get into deeper trouble more quickly. People have died from a few seconds of being choked. There simply are no landmarks — meaning, you can't say to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that if you 'only' choke someone for 30 seconds, they'll be okay. People have died after being choked for less than 30 seconds."

I'm tempted to leave it there, CHOKE, because I worry that anything else I might say — anything remotely equivocal — could result in one idiot choking another to death. But the fact of the matter is that choking, despite the risks, is a relatively common kink, and almost all deaths related to breath play occur during solo scenes, not partnered scenes. So I'm going to give you a little advice about meeting your girlfriend's particular needs safely, i.e., without wrapping your hands around her neck. So your partner wants to be choked?

"What most people who are into choking want is to feel controlled," said Matisse. "So put your hand over her mouth. Grab her hair, wrap an arm around her shoulder — not her neck — and put your other hand over her mouth. That should satisfy the urge." Another option, CHOKE, is a gas mask. If it's not too disturbing a look — if it's not a boner-killer — you can put a gas mask on someone, cover the breathing hole with the flat of your hand, and cut off your partner's air. All they have to do when they need a breath is shake their head, which will break the seal created by your palm and allow them to breathe.

And finally, CHOKE, you could — if you really like this woman — take a stage combat class or book a session with a fight choreographer. There are safe choke holds used on stage, where the person being choked is in control and no actual pressure is placed on the neck

My boyfriend of four months is great, we're in love, and the sex is amazing. Now for the but: A strange man takes my boyfriend out once or twice a year for a fancy lunch and gives him a lot of expensive new underwear. At these lunch "dates," my boyfriend returns the underwear the man gave him last time, now used and worn. It seems obvious to me that Underpants Pervert, as I've dubbed him, is masturbating with these old pairs of underwear. This has been going on for SEVEN YEARS, and it makes me so uncomfortable that I asked my boyfriend to stop. He agreed, but he went back on the agreement the next time Underpants Pervert snapped his fingers. My boyfriend says he likes this guy, doesn't feel objectified in a bad way, enjoys their lunches and thinks of him as an old friend. When I see my boyfriend in his underwear, all I can think is, "That pervert is going to be masturbating into those soon," when I should be thinking, "My boyfriend is so sexy." You'll probably take Underpants Pervert's side — since you're pro-kink and an older gay man yourself — and tell me to get over it. But what if I can't?

-Having Issues Stopping Boyfriend's Underpants Man

P.S. My boyfriend is 28 and straight. I'm a 25-year-old cis bi woman.

Get over it.

P.S. And if you can't get over it? Well, I guess you could issue an ultimatum, HISBUM: "It's me or Underpants Pervert." You would essentially be asking your boyfriend to end a successful long-term relationship (seven years) — a relationship of a different sort, yes, but a relationship nonetheless — in favor of a short-term relationship (four months). You've already asked your boyfriend to stop seeing this man, and he chose the perverted fag over the controlling girlfriend. If you can't get over it and you decide to issue that ultimatum, HISBUM, don't be surprised if he chooses the pervert over you a second time.

Just wondering why I can't find any coverage in your many years of letters concerning the effects of public lice on sexual health and relationships.

-Asking For A Friend

No one has ever asked me about pubic lice, AFAF. Some people believe pubic lice have been driven to extinction — at least in the West — by the shaving-your-pubes trend, which is now in its second or third decade and shows no sign of abating. But that theory, which I once believed myself (and could explain why no one asks me about it), has been thoroughly debunked. So I can't tell you why public lice haven't come up in the column. It's a mystery.

The one thing I would have added to your advice for MISSCLEO, the mom who caught her son stealing panties: If she can afford it, after the talk about where the bra came from, she should give him an Amazon gift card. Maybe $50 to $100? No matter how close they are, he's not going to ask his mom to buy panties for him, but she can give him the means and then assiduously ignore boxes that show up with his name on them.

-People Are Nice To You

Thanks for sharing, PANTY.

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Dating Horror Stories from the Queen City

Nightmare on Trade Street

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 7:00 AM

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Usually this week's column is dedicated to discussing all the Halloween festivities going on in the Q.C. I've talked up Rich & Bennett's Halloween Pub Crawl. I've reminisced on dressing up in a multitude of costumes in a single weekend with the P.I.C. and described costume malfunctions that make Janet Jackson look like Tami Fitzgerald.

This year, however, the excitement for one of my favorite "holidays" has faded. I can't bring myself to spend any money on a costume I'll only wear once or a costume that fails to be cliché enough to recognize. Blame it on the fact that I'm not drinking this month or simply chop it up as "old age," but the reality is there are enough clowns running around this city that I don't have the desire to join them.

Instead, this week I'd rather laugh at the living nightmare that is dating in Charlotte. Let's be honest, enough of us have had our fair share of dating mishaps to put Freddy Krueger, Jason and Pennywise to shame. Don't get me wrong, I've been out of the dating scene for quite some time, however, all you have to do is sit at a table at any number of Charlotte nightlife spots long enough to hear about all the shenanigans that this city has to offer.

From bowel movements in the bedroom in the middle of a one-night stand (you read it right, a shituation) to ending up at the same bar as your boyfriend while he makes out with another girl, each watering hole in the city offers up its own Lifetime-level horror story. All you have to do is look for the guy or girl weeping over a craft beer and I guarantee you'll hear some version of your favorite romance thriller — think Michael Ealy in The Perfect Guy.

After hearing a series of hilarious dating mishaps from friends throughout the summer, I decided to take a poll on Facebook and Instagram asking friends to share their worst dating nightmares since arriving in Charlotte. Needless to say, those stories were just as intriguing as they were insane!

I'll start with a guy so you all don't think I'm just a man-hater. Now, let me preface this by saying the guys I know tend to voice their fears of dating from a financial perspective. "All girls just want free meals and drinks, then don't want to put out or actually date me." And honestly, no matter a person's sex, there are definitely those types running rampant in the dating scene.

My friend took this girl out to a nice restaurant, and before he knew it she was outdrinking him 5 cocktails to 1. Later, after she was so wasted he decided to put her on the nearest public transportation, she admitted that she wasn't interested in a "guy with small feet," if you catch my drift, and laughed while admitting she only wanted to snag a few free drinks and that she was actually married! Um, where your man at?!

Another Charlottean met a really hot guy who she felt she could "actually engage in an intellectual conversation with." They talked for a couple hours and when he shifted the conversation to the importance of honesty in relationships, his desire for commitment and his recent heartbreak, she thought, "I've found the one." A couple hours later, he's taking his hand into hers and says, "I guess we're doing this. I'm your boyfriend." Um what?! Just like that, the nightmare began. She tried to brush off the "moment" by smiling and politely returning to her group of friends. The next day, however, the stalking ensued. From a flurry of text messages and phone calls to showing up at her regular spot and even spying on her movements at home. Time to file a restraining order, boo boo!

Another fella stumbled upon a chick that he thought was pretty chill. He wasn't necessarily interested in more than a "good time," so when he realized he could say pretty much anything — whether rude or intelligent — and she wasn't going to react, he'd chalked her up as an "easy yes." It wasn't until the next morning that he woke up to an empty wallet that he'd realized he'd gotten played. To top it off, the next time he saw her and called her name, she didn't respond, because guess what, it wasn't even her real name!

For someone like me, who considered dabbling in dating apps right when they were becoming commonplace, the idea of dating in Charlotte is a modern-day version of Nightmare on Elm Street — or, in this case, Trade Street. I'll pass! Tell me, is dating in the Q.C. a nightmare come true? Share your stories with me at backtalk@clclt.com. Happy Halloween!

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bar Hopping for the ADHD Generation

Nightlife snapshots

Posted By on Wed, Oct 18, 2017 at 12:30 PM

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Think of the first thing you ask or say when you meet someone new and want to get to know them.

You're sitting at your favorite counter waiting for a libation and you see someone walk in the room. You make eyes at one of your friends and they laugh knowing exactly what you're thinking. You spend the next hour or so trying to figure out what you should say and then cross the room to make your move.

Now, imagine you don't have all night, or the next encounter to figure out the best way to market yourself. Condense your timeframe to ten minutes at a speed dating event. What's your go-to pick up line? Or, even better, think about how you market yourself on social media — let's say Tinder. How quickly can you grab someone's attention?

Without getting into the ins and outs of the dating scene and social marketing, I began to wonder if it would be possible to apply the same logic of "first impressions" to nightlife.

On any given night when I walk into a bar, club or lounge, can I gather all the details I need in a short period of time? Will QC venues be able to successfully market themselves to the short attention spans of this generation?

One IG bio of an entrepreneur that sells clothing/lingerie that always resonates with me simply says: I sell my panties for money. I don't know about you, but I was sold.

I started thinking about the fact that anytime I'm going to a new restaurant I look at the menu, website and social media for insight into the atmosphere, what to wear and, of course, exactly what I want to eat. That's when I realized I do the exact same things when I go to a new nightlife spot. So last week, I decided to try this idea on for size: speed dating nightlife venues.

Given the fact that I'm not drinking this month it has become challenging to sit aimlessly in the same seat for hours on end engaging in surface-level conversation at the same venue. After about an hour, I'm ready to do something, anything else. Now, more than ever, it's important for me to be able to make an assessment on the time I'm going to have as soon as I walk in the door.

The first stop: Recess Charlotte. You may have heard the buzz about an adult playground located off of Seigle Avenue. Well, I finally decided to check it out. At first, I noticed that the space was smaller than what I expected. But after going inside I realized that, while still a more intimate setup, it wasn't as small as I thought it was.

There was ample seating space — bar stools, funky chairs and couches for lounging. There were two bar areas, one focused on liquor and one on craft beer. Seven — yes, seven — TVs shared on strategic walls in the space and games like shuffleboard, Connect 4, UNO Dare and Mancala scattered throughout.

And all of this was surrounded by colorful wall murals and décor that made it even easier to want to be a kid again. Combine that with a swing set, picnic tables, tether ball and corn hole outside, and you have yourself the makings of a place where adults can quickly get into trouble like they're kids again.

The second stop was Salud Cerveceria. I'd visited Salud Beer Shop a couple times right before construction began on Salud Cerveceria upstairs.

I'd tasted the infamous "chicken and waffle-wich" at Fud @ Salud next door (the chicken and waffles to be exact: chicken salad, candied walnuts, bacon and maple syrup squeezed between two Belgian waffles), washed it down with a multitude of sour beers in a glass I purchased that read: sour beer old school hip hop wafflewiches Nintendo salud. I mean, how much more could I ask for once I made the trip upstairs?!

Welp, there was all of six people upstairs when I climbed the newspaper lined steps to one of the most beautiful beer gardens/coworking centers/event spots/lounge spaces I've seen in the Queen City.

The laidback atmosphere combined with a "lit" playlist of old school hip hop created an environment that I could stay in for hours (especially if I had work to do). And if you haven't seen the insane artwork and old-school memorabilia that fills every corner of each of Salud's three separate-but-equally cool establishments, you haven't seen nothing yet!

What spaces have drawn you in right from the start? What do visitors say about your spot after their first impression? Share your ideas with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Experiment Continues

Dealing with coworkers alcohol free

Posted By on Wed, Oct 11, 2017 at 7:00 AM

aerinspruill.jpg

Have you ever been to an after-work function when you weren't able to drink? Talk about a doozy.

Last week, if you recall, I wrote about how I'd decided to take a break from drinking. I guess I should've taken a look at my calendar of upcoming events so I wouldn't have to experience FOMO as often as it looks I'll have to throughout what I'm calling my Sober October. Oh well.

The first challenge I experienced was on day five. I'd gotten comfortable with my routine of taking the trolley home right after work, avoiding the bar and completing a chore around the house before #Netflixandchill. On Thursday, however, we were having a mandatory meeting for my company's five year celebration ... at Suite. The last time I was there was for my company's Christmas party, I ended up walking out of the Epicentre from the third floor barefoot. #classy

My coworkers piled in line by the bar hoping to grab a drink before the presentation began and I made small talk with those that I don't see as often during the week. Everyone smiled weakly at me when they caught themselves getting ready to ask, "You're not getting anything to drink?" And honestly, after smelling a vodka soda in passing, I was thankful I wasn't drinking. The only problem? Now that I don't have alcohol as a distraction, I've become very catty when I'm hungry and there was no food — only an open bar. Sighs.

Thankfully, by the time the speech ended there was only 45 more minutes left to take advantage of the open bar. So, I decided to begin my trek home to homemade chili and an ice cold Pepsi. After appeasing my "hanger," I was surprised at how focused I'd been on eating instead of drinking. Great job, Aerin, great job.

The next day, I went to work and laughed with a coworker about how hungover everyone was. And while I envied my coworkers with drink in hand at the party, that all ended when I started seeing the glazed "deer-in-headlight looks" and mouthwatering nausea of some of the folks walking through the door the next day. "On to the next challenge," I thought to myself as I remembered I'd have to speed pack at home before heading to New River Campground & Canoe in Independence, Virginia for weekend camping.

Before you ask, yes black women camp, too. And believe it or not, I actually like it. The trouble is that camping with a bunch of young folk usually involves beer and drinking games.

How do you encourage everyone else that you're actually having an amazing time sitting around a bonfire eating s'mores when you're not drinking with them? At one point, I thought, "Maybe I can just have a sip of beer?" But just as quickly as the thought entered my mind I remembered how popping a can of PBR is my version of Pringles — "once you pop, you can't stop."

I stuck to my guns and didn't drink. You can only imagine how challenging that was if you're like me and don't enjoy/aren't talented enough to play beer pong, flip cup and the like. But somehow, I managed to hit a few cups and keep my energy high all day long. When it was over, and I returned back in Charlotte I was proud that I'd held my ground — without technology as a distraction I might add — and excited that I had a legitimate excuse as to why I hadn't showered in two days.

You'd think that was enough temptation for one weekend but it was noon on a Sunday. You know what that meant? Sunday funday and lots of football. Everyone in the Q.C. piles out of bed as if the work week isn't right around the corner on game day and this chick didn't have to work on Monday. I headed to my favorite watering hole, The Corner Pub, and prepared for the fight of my life. Surprisingly, the only time I had a desire to grab a cold brew was when I started getting a headache (withdrawal?).

After watching the Panthers pull out a W by the hair on their tails, I even upped the ante when my girls and I decided to brave the crowds at Slate/All American Pub/Oak Room/Hot Taco. Crazy, right?! It wasn't as packed as it usually was but I still felt the anxiety of being in a large crowd, aware of my own personal space and sober. But the most rewarding part of the night? I could engage in conversation, or not, and actually listen to what people were saying. And that's what the intimacy of nightlife is really all about. (And, not being concerned about getting pulled over for drinking and driving of course!)

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Do I Have to Drink to Have a Good Time?

A social experiment

Posted By on Wed, Oct 4, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Nearly three years ago, my first editor at Creative Loafing, Kim Lawson, forwarded me an email from an avid follower. He wanted to wish her farewell as she was leaving the publication, but he also wanted to chat with her about me.

He pretty much asked her if she thought that I, a promising writer in his eyes, would have the courage to write a column on socializing in Charlotte without drinking. Would I consider doing an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) Crawl and talk about my experiences in an article?

My editor never forwarded anything that she didn't feel was at least interesting enough for me to mull over, but this one I couldn't even fathom.

Outside of the fact that I was having a hard time trying to figure out how I could enter the world of AA without compromising the very anonymity the group was built on, two other thoughts came to mind.

One, "I'm not an alcoholic!" *Insert scoff* Two, how in the world could I go out, have a good time and not drink?

Little did I know that that reader, while he didn't know very much about me, was introducing a conversation I'd be having with myself a couple years later.

The past few months haven't been the easiest in my personal life and instead of living in the moment of reality, I've often been wandering aimlessly through the night, especially on the weekends.

Call it coping, call it developing poor drinking habits, I've been trying to do what a lot of millennials are trying to do — find myself.

Nevertheless, that journey has involved quite a bit of alcohol. And a couple weeks ago, that reader came to my mind, like an annoying parent reminding me, "I told you so."

Snapping back into reality the day after a night of drinking can be excruciating. No, I'm not just talking about the physical consequences of a hangover, but the emotional rollercoaster — the deep regret, the negative self-reflection and the feeling of hopelessness.

Lately, that rollercoaster has felt like an Uber I take every weekend. So I decided that I was finally going to take heed to the advice of that reader and start my own challenge, "Sober October." (Would it be a real thing if it didn't rhyme?)

Don't get me wrong peeps, who would I be if I didn't still turn up for the Q.C.?! But this month I'm going to turn up without having to turn up anything.

The idea came to me last week when I decided to buy a last minute ticket to see RENT at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Even though I was exhausted after a long night, I refused to let the money go to waste.

I managed to make it through the work day and walked to the venue.

I watched as everyone else made their way down the staircase to the bar for a glass of wine or a lackluster cocktail. I thought for sure I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation but before I had time to convince myself that my stomach or my wallet needed one, they were opening the theater doors.

I took my seat and waited for the show to start.

After being reprimanded for taking a picture of the "trademarked" set — it was a great pic by the way, so sue me — I thought back to the first time I'd seen the movie. I wasn't a fan of musicals and thought there was no way I'd be able to endure over two hours of singing.

The next thing I knew, I was screaming "525,600 minutes" with the rest of the Broadway lovers. Over a decade later and I was planning for the show a full year in advance.

The show started and I realized that despite being tired, I was sitting on the edge of my seat as if I'd never seen the show before. I was captivated with how bright the lights were, how colorful the outfits were, how I felt like I could feel the energy of the characters — even when they were hitting the wrong notes — and it all felt so real. Was I actually enjoying a nightlife experience without drinking?

My content bladder certainly thought so when a large majority of the auditorium spilled out of their seats at intermission for refills and a trip to the bathroom.

A girl could get used to this.

So, whether in recovery or just apt to take breaks, let me know your favorite hangouts and events to frequent in the Q.C. on a sober evening.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Flush Trashy, Get Classy at Sophia's

Fall brings sophistication back to the Q.C.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 27, 2017 at 12:43 PM

When the leaves begin to fall in Charlotte, the nightlife vibe changes. The summer attire of suns-out, guns-out, buns-out fades and the cooler weather either keeps nightlifers from going out as much or forces them to seek the comfort of a warm, inviting atmosphere.

Fortunately, there's plenty of places in the Queen City to go that will help you find just what you're looking for when you're trying to get classy not trashy.

Sophia's Lounge, for example, brings a slice of the elevated speakeasy; it's a kick-back-and-relax atmosphere that you'll find everywhere from NYC to the QC.

But when my friend suggested we make the early move to Sophia's with one of the owners, I was apprehensive.

Why? It's located in The Ivey's Hotel across from Dandelion Market. Anytime I hear boutique and hotel in the same sentence as a nightlife venue, I get a little nervous.

Are we going to be too lit for a classy venue? Are the drinks going to break the already broken bank? Is the crowd going to be pretentious?

Nevertheless, I need a regular change of scenery to stay awake most nights, even on weekends, so I was excited to at least vet a nightlife venue that's only been on the scene for a couple of months.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a dapper young gentleman who was giving off Andre 3000 vibes. So far, so good, if you ask me.

Upon entry, I could tell that while the crowd was different from the regulars we'd find at The Corner Pub, I didn't feel as if I'd stepped into a stuffy environment.

In fact, the layout couldn't have been more perfect. From bar seating to the dining tables to the deep and comfortable tufted couches, the space was perfect for keeping congestion to a minimum while encouraging intimate conversations.

Think Amelie's on steroids — but with matching décor.

Did I mention the playlist was on fire? Maybe it was because it was a Friday, but I thought we'd only be listening to the sounds of a piano or jazz.

Don't get me wrong: I can appreciate a good jazz band, but when the temptations of Dandelion Market and SIP are only walking distance away, I need what some of my friends call "turnips" (aka turn-up music), and there were plenty of turnips to spare.

What was even better? When I started to bug a bartender for a charger, one of the managers offered without hesitation. Now, that's what I call service!

I plugged up my phone and placed it on a velvet-tufted bench in the corner — I know, so basic. The same manager handed me a drink menu and proceeded to help figure out the best choice for me at that particular point in the night.

I'd been drinking vodka, so I decided on Where Is the Honey — New Amsterdam vodka, rosemary honey and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.

While the extravagant lifestyle I've been trying to live cannot support too many of the cocktails, which ranged from $13 to $18, Sophia's definitely knows how to craft a delicious drink.

My biggest regret the next morning as I was fighting off nausea was that I didn't try one of the small plates on the menu. I'd glanced at the menu, but of course I wasn't hungry after having a few beers.

Dishes I noted: Maine lobster sliders, jumbo lump crab cakes, filet mignon toast, deviled eggs and the charcuterie board.

You just have to wait until that next paycheck drops.

My girls and I relaxed on the sofa — we liked to think that we had our very own VIP sitting area, psych — sipping our tasty cocktails as we considered our next move. We'd said our goodbyes and walked outside, but next thing you know we were walking back in to sit at the bar.

Sophia's was so much fun that we were convinced we needed to grab at least one more drink.

This time I tried Melon'dramatic. We subbed out the lavender-infused gin for vodka but left the other ingredients — Drambuie, melon syrup, citrus juices and lime zest — alone. Another great choice.

Overall impression? Sophia's Lounge offers an upscale experience combined with a comfortable environment, delicious drinks and from what I could tell, exceptional small plates. The perfect spot for girls' night or date night, its space and versatility make for a solid nightlife venue.

OK, promotion done.

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