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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Party Girl Gives and Receives Late-night Wisdom

Stranger ranger

Posted By on Wed, Mar 29, 2017 at 7:00 AM

"I had you pegged for the snootie type."

That's what a random bargoer visiting Tin Roof in the Epicentre said to me after we started talking about everything from where he'd live outside of the United States to social relations in Charlotte to the best hip hop artists on the scene. We laughed, because he was wearing pajama pants and already had been snubbed by many other patrons.

I was honest with him: I, too, had judged him before we spoke, but not because he was wearing his PJ's — after all, I've seen much more interesting things at Tin Roof and elsewhere. I had been trying to figure him out, because that's what I do.

As a frequent rider of Charlotte's public transportation, I've run into quite a few characters who will try and get my number while I'm engaged in a phone conversation, sometimes even when I'm on the phone with my mother. "Aerin, tell them to go away!" she will tell me as I reassure her the person is harmless. She's always meant what she says when it comes to "stranger danger."

This particular day I was cranking out my column while enjoying drinks. While taking a phone call I noticed PJ (a nickname I've given him in place of his true identity) and thought, "How long before this guy attempts to interrupt my flow." But he didn't. He kept to himself, went back inside to grab a drink and when I entered to grab another he casually asked, "Whatcha writing about?" When I told him I was writing about nightlife, he became intrigued. I thought, "This will be the perfect opportunity to learn more about the urban nightlife scene."

Little did I know, he'd school me on so much more.

After heading home, I began to think about the many social interactions I've had since I started writing for Creative Loafing. I've mentioned it before, but my RBF (resting b*tch face) could rival Rihanna at an awards show where she's not getting an award. And I'm thankful for liquid courage and the fact that I have to "show myself friendly" because I'm writing and meeting people. In fact, I can't tell you how many "conversations" the boyfriend's had with me about showing up when I say I'm going to show up when he knows I've been running my mouth somewhere with someone.

In previous columns I've shared some of the most hilarious things I've overheard while out at local bars and restaurants. Now I've upgraded to joining those conversations. Just a couple weeks ago, I went to Ink n Ivy to grab a couple drinks with my P.I.C. and a few people from work. After deciding I was ready to "break the seal," I raced to the women's bathroom where I heard two ladies having a conversation over the bathroom wall.

"Yo, it smells like a fish market in here," one of them said and laughed. It took us all a minute to realize how awkward that reality was before we all burst into laugher. *Insert long-drawn-out conversation while washing our hands about hygiene and how well each were wearing a clothing item. Typical.*

Then there was the random passerby on the street, who was nice enough to lend me and my coworkers a copy of his mixtape "Undisputed" — free. A nice guy who seems to be facing some challenges, he never hesitates to drum up a conversation about music and the need to discipline children. It's people like him that have a lot to say, and simply want someone to listen.

And you can't forget the hundreds of Ubers — yes, I Uber quite a lot — that are forced to pick me up in between destinations. Those are some of the longest, most intimate conversations I've had with strangers since I've been in Charlotte. Granted, part of that is because I want to get to know who's literally got my life in their hands. But the other part is the indescribable urge to tell someone what's on your mind in the late-night hours and most likely never see them again. I came across one of the most hilarious memes on just the other day that said, "If you've told at least one Uber driver your entire life story, you'll fit in just fine here." (credit: @shopelsafine) So don't act like I'm the only one.

Nevertheless, there's something to be said about meeting people you think you'd never be friends with or who make a difference in your life without even realizing it. From the musician trying to make a living on the street, to the hot guy at the bar who actually had a personality, who are some of the most memorable strangers you've met in the Q.C. and where'd you meet them?

Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

(Psst, keep an eye out for Part 2. I've got some questions I'm going to ask every stranger I meet and share their responses with you!)

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ain't Neva Sprung

Kicking off spring with a bang

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

Sunday morning I was packing a bag to stay at the boyfriend's for the week. You gotta love the commuter/honeymoon phase. If only he understood what it meant to bring a "U-Haul to the second date." Nevertheless, packing for multiple days almost always means I have to check the weather, especially with the way things have been in the QC lately — we did just have snow you know? I pull out my phone, reluctant to see how cold it was going to be all week and to my surprise, my weather app indicated warm weather and sunshine. Thank goodness.

Just a couple weeks ago the boyfriend and I were heading to the mountains to go skiing. I wasn't going to let a silly stereotype regarding black people and extreme sports slow me down.

We'd had an extremely stressful week and we were excited about just having a little bit of fun. Looking back, I thought about a status I came across after that adventure that said, "You want to make God laugh? Show Him your plans." Well He/She was definitely laughing as our plans kept falling apart. We made it, but by the time we arrived after what felt like "A Series of Unfortunate Events," I was ready to "trump" any card with my "black card" and avoid all cold, snow and physical activity like the plague.

Needless to say, after we returned to the Queen City, my patience was wearing thin as I anticipated warmer weather.

"I'm sorry for what I said when it was winter." I actually laughed out loud when I saw that meme scroll across my timeline on Facebook Monday morning. Then, a sponsored banner ad complete with fluttering birds or butterflies popped up letting me know it was the first day of spring — along with every other human on my timeline posting pics of tulips and flowers we'd all thought would die during the "snow." That's when I realized that Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka Winter Depression, was a reality that we were all actively trying to escape.

If you've lived in Charlotte long enough to experience the full range of seasons, you are very well aware of how much the city and nightlife scene changes with the seasons. Patios, beers, festivals, break-ups, pools, sunshine, guns and buns. Everyone has smiles on lips and hands on hips. The ladies don't have to worry about tip-toeing around in heels in the freezing cold and can finally shed the layers to let loose. Not to mention that my birthday's in April, which solidifies spring as the best time of the year.

All this to say, spring has officially sprung in the Q.C. and I'm all for it. My CL cohorts may have released their official Spring Guide last week, but I decided I'd have a go.

Besides craft beer, sour ales and hip-hop, here's my personal top three list of what's on tap for spring in Charlotte:

3rd Annual Moo and Brew: If you've kept up with me since the early days, you'll remember I wrote an article on how to prepare for festival season by attending my first one in Charlotte with my editor at the time. If you love burgers and beer, this event is for you. Accompanied by live music and local goods, there's something for everyone to enjoy. Get your tickets before it's too late, Moo and Brew is scheduled for Saturday, April 22nd rain or shine.

Hippie Fest: Throw it back to one of my fave decades — I'll leave the why up to your imagination *wink wink* — for Hippie Fest 2017. Groovy vibes, food trucks, local vendors, tie dye and maybe even some illegal activities, Hippie Fest is sure to be a hilarious event. Perfect for the new age free spirit, stretch your festival legs on April 22nd. Keep in mind, this is the same day as Moo and Brew. You can totally do both!

The Queen's Cup Steeplechase: Hat contest! Dress in your Sunday's best and tailgate with your friends for the Queen's Cup. You've seen horse races on TV and watched gamblers lose a bunch of money, but have you experienced the excitement for yourself? Bet on a race or just party at the tailgate like most will end up doing. You won't want to miss schmoozing at one of the most anticipated social events of the season. Grab your tickets before the event on April 29th!

These events are just a snapshot of what's to come in the Q.C. this spring. Keep up with my whereabouts by following me on social media or by checking out my column. What are your plans for #QCspring2017? Share it with me and we can party together at backtalk@clclt.com!

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Of Duke Wins and Karaoke

The answer lies within the "secret room" at 8.2.0

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

After staying out too late on Thursday, the end of the Friday work day couldn't have come soon enough. By the time 3:30 p.m. rolled around I was itching to get the weekend started.

Why was I so anxious, you may ask? Well, for one, Duke was playing Carolina in the ACC tournament. If you haven't heard already, the Duke University/UNC Chapel Hill basketball rivalry is the biggest rivalry between two sports programs in North Carolina.

After multiple texts, threats and Facebook posts from UNC fans, this Duke alum was ready to paint the Queen City with royal blue.

The night started out with a couple RBVs at the Corner Pub off North Graham. Per usual, I should've eaten but I opted for a glass of water here and there instead. That's why when I showed up an hour late to meet the boyfriend and company at Brazwell's on Montford I was so wired and anxious for the game that I talked all the way up until the last couple minutes.

After the game was over and Duke walked away victorious, the boy toy and I convinced a couple of his friends to join us for celebratory hookahs at Barreled at the Lift. Sighs.

This night was starting to look just like every other Friday in the Q.C. That's when I realized one of my co-workers was celebrating her birthday at 8.2.0. Charlotte. If the boyfriend had been smart, he would've vetoed that decision. But he's also a Duke fan so it didn't take much convincing when I suggested checking out somewhere new.

For months, I've had multiple friends talk about how much they loved going to 8.2.0 for karaoke.

However, they never went into detail about why they loved it so much and, quite frankly, finding the energy to go to AvidXchange (will we ever get used to this name change?) takes more effort than I feel like putting forth most times. Fortunately, the boyfriend was the designated driver making the adventure much more feasible.

(Side note: Shout-out to Scott, one of the chefs — I believe — for chatting with me about the venue for what had to be the longest 17 minutes of your life. I listened to the voice note of our conversation and it was the longest 17 minutes of my life, so I feel your pain.)

By the time we finally arrived, it was pretty much time for my co-workers to throw in the towel. They'd been rallying since escaping the office as well and it's safe to say we should have all been home. Before they left, however, they took the time to take me on a private tour of the humongous venue.

The space is broken up into rooms, each serving a different purpose. From the moment you enter, you'll notice an arcade room featuring old school games and next door, in another enclosed room, the attraction everyone's talking about: karaoke.

I was shocked I literally couldn't hear patrons belting out songs while standing in the main bar area — soundproof glass. No more shame karaoke lovers, you can sing as loud as you want!

But that wasn't even the best part of 8.2.0. If you're like me and you love secrets, you'll be floored at the secret room featuring a library, record player, lounge chairs and jazz music over the speakers. Try not to narc, like I almost did; knowledge of this hideout is a privilege, not a right. I'd suggest sitting back and watching customers to see where the entrance is.

Brought to you by the same owners of VBGB, 8.2.0 adds something quite unique to the nightlife scene in Charlotte. Feeling karaoke? They got you. Feeling like playing a few games? They got you. As my new friend (hopefully) put it, "It's hard to get bored of."

And if you do get bored, you can eat your face off in their pizzeria. Thankfully, I'd at least had a slice before chatting my man Scott's head off.

What's featured on the menu? All the gourmet "za" your heart can handle, including a cauliflower-crust option for you calorie counters.

Meatballs, cauli-balls, pommes frites (cooked extra crispy for those that end up eating them at home anyways), dips and salads. Your midnight munchies will thank you.

Four bars, outdoor patio, massive event space, karaoke, arcade games, secret rooms and a late night menu. Does it get much better than that? Be sure to check out 8.2.0, if you haven't already, and share your experience with me at backtalk@clclt.com!

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Busing Through the Queen City -- But Not on CATS

La Di Da di, We Know How to Party

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 4:00 AM

"Meet us at Piedmont Social House," my co-worker said as I attempted to chug an off-brand version of Pedialyte. Sighs.

The last time I'd gone to PSH was for a random after-house party. Before that? I'd gone to meet with the marketing manager about the grand opening. Both times? I was either working on a hangover or hungover wearing the same clothes I'd worn the night before.

In other words, I wasn't sure going there was a good idea.

Last week, I mentioned in my column that I ended up having to forego CIAA events for two reasons. The first being I partied too hard on Friday in French Quarter after planning just a drink or two after work with coworkers. The second being those same coworkers had planned a bus party. Now, if you've followed this column for a while, you know this isn't the first time I've gone on a party bus with these same coworkers to PNC for Weenie Roast and a Dave Matthews Band concert. Both times, I wanted to run for my life and grab an Uber by 9 p.m.

Nevertheless, one of those coworkers found out he was having a baby and why wouldn't my amazing friends think we should throw a party in his honor? That's when the concept of a "Dadchelor Bus" came to be. Oh, you didn't know? According to Google, it's a thing. A Dadchelor Party, or Man Shower, is a celebration of baby-making for the fellas. Welcome to the feminist movement of 2017?

Don't get me wrong, every party bus we've been on has been epic, but I was definitely scared. Especially given the fact that I'd gone to grab a beverage that I despise because it "prevents dehydration and replaces nutrients and electrolytes lost through vomiting and diarrhea."

By the time I started feeling better, I'd been at the dealership getting my oil changed for an hour and I was running late for the bus pick-up in Southend. That's when my coworker called suggesting I just meet the crew at PSH. That meant they were already well on their way as far as pregaming goes and I would be showing up completely sober to the beginning of a hot mess.

When I arrived by way 30 minutes later, all my friends greeted me with the warmest, happy-drunk welcome ever. While taking group pics (without the party bus in the background because apparently that was a faux pas at that point) I knew I would have to make a break for the bar to catch up ASAP. That's when one of my coworkers pulled out a baby bottle filled with a mixture of vodka and Gatorade. Ingenious. A Dadchelor-themed party bus complete with baby bottle party favors for every guest?! Too bad, Gatorade isn't a thick enough chaser for my palate, I couldn't even stomach the idea of sucking on a baby bottle nipple that anyone else had already suckled on. One RBV later accompanied by nausea, and we were hopping back on the bus for what seemed like the longest ride back to Uptown ever.

Soon after boarding the bus I realized I was nowhere near ready to rally. I know, I know, what a buzzkill I was, right? That's when baby bottle nipples were being thrown in my face. "Aerin, you're not tipsy enough, you need to drink it." "Oh no I'm fine, just chilling," I responded queasily. That didn't work. All I could think was, "This. Is. Happening. Get over it." What we didn't factor in, however, was that this was the first time we would be party busing without a "pot (or parking lot) to piss in." So imagine a bus full of full bladders riding on a bus with no bathroom and no destination. Yeah, I couldn't even focus on drinking a beer or music because after each bathroom break my anxiety went through the roof wondering when we'd stop by a bathroom again.

It wasn't until we were dropped off in front of Tyber Creek for Tyberpalooza and those of us that made it until 9 p.m. were nonsensical that I realized I was tipsy but still not drunk enough for the shenanigans. The line at Tyber was absolutely ludicrous and I was seeking shelter for my inner circle. I looked for anywhere we could find refuge, and that's when my eyes landed on Big Ben British Restaurant & Pub. I'd never been or knew anyone who'd been, and yet, there we were asking if we could stash our cooler anywhere, baby bottles in hand.

Needless to say, this party bus trip was one we will never forget, and I drank Pedialyte and survived the following morning like a Queen of the City should. The next time you're trying to get weird and can't find anything to do, hit the road in style and safety, grab a crew and rent a party bus!

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Reflections on Tournament Weekend

"I never go out during CIAA"

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

After work on Friday, a few of my galpals were trying to decide if going to grab a drink was a smart idea. As I mentioned in last week's column, a large handful of my coworkers were anticipating a "Dadchelor" (aka father-to-be) celebration for the following day on a party bus. While we didn't want to go home at 5:45 p.m. on a Friday night, we also didn't want to be hungover.

Finally, we decided a drink or two wouldn't hurt and started discussing where exactly we would go. "Not to get super fancy, but doesn't the new place, The Imperial, have a roof top?" I was pumped. I'd visited this venue for the first time a few weeks ago and was thoroughly impressed. (I can't say I was in a state to visit the rooftop at the time though.) "Hmm. Was just thinking there may be a CIAA party there tonight." And just like that, my excitement dwindled. Let me explain why.

For four years I've listened to Charlotteans — from a variety of demographics, I might add — complain about the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) tournament, which consists of NCAA division II conference teams from primarily historically black institutions. Around the same time every year, my timeline becomes filled with flyers advertising parties that will be held all around the Queen City celebrating the tournament. While many friends and acquaintances are filled with the same amount of excitement as my coworkers had over anticipation of our party bus, others are simply annoyed by the inconvenience. Some are frustrated by the traffic, others by how packed every single bar is and let's be honest, others are simply uncomfortable with, or even scared of, the idea that so many black and brown faces gather in celebration of the event.

I picked up my phone and started Googling different venues Uptown, including The Imperial, where we could go. Nothing showed up on the Instagram or Facebook of the Imperial so I thought we were golden. I checked their business hours and confirmed they were open at 5 o'clock. I informed everyone I would call and see what was up.

After I didn't receive an answer, I decided I would just wait until work was over and walk there. When I stepped outside, the city was buzzing with excitement. My office had never been Uptown before, so I'd never experienced the CIAA vibes in the heart of the city. Hell, even Vapiano's, my favorite Italian spot, was bumping with music and packed from what I could tell.

As I walked down S. Tryon to The Imperial, I took note of every bar we could go to and whether or not a day party was in progress. When I turned on College Street to do the same thing, on the way back toward The EpiCentre, I noticed that Flight and Lucky's were both partying and charging covers. Sigh.

I walked up the stairs to The Imperial in a sweatshirt and jeans to ask the person standing outside if they were open. "We'll be open in like an hour, we're hosting an event and entry will be $20." Yeah, no one, including myself, was going to pay a cover for a drink or two. Even a coworker I passed that was just planning on grabbing Libretto's texted me to tell me everywhere in The Epicentre was packed. In a last ditch effort, we settled on Latta Arcade, commonly known as the French Quarter.

I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. Almost as nervous as I was in the days following the acquittal of the cop involved in the Keith Lamont Scott case. No, I wasn't worried about going to the French Quarter or drinking too much, but that someone, anyone, would have comments about the inconvenience of CIAA or about how unsafe/threatened they felt and "allude" to the reason being related to race.

A couple years ago during CIAA weekend, I was visiting a local bar that wasn't hosting a tournament party. A white guy, no lie, came all the way across the bar to tell someone right next to me, "There's so many black people in here tonight." Coincidence? Doubt it.

Even though I dodged those kinds of conversations Friday night, it wasn't long before my timeline was filled with commentary on any and every incident — I mean, incidents don't happen regularly in Charlotte, right? Before the weekend was over, multiple news sources had reported a shooting allegedly involving Young Dolph and around 100 shots fired. "We knew this was going to happen. SMH!" I read on someone's status. To which I wanted to reply, "Why exactly?"

Instead, I chopped it up as yet another "successful" CIAA weekend.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

CIAA 2017 Is Officially Upon the Queen City

Excitement builds for a familiar party

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

The entirety of last week was spent preparing for the weekend and Monday. Why, you may ask. Waking up every morning with, "Do I really need a job?" on my mind and still going to work every day would drive anyone mad. But every so often, the good little worker receives his or her just reward, and it comes in the form of national holidays. If you didn't have President's Day off, I'm so sorry. I did absolutely nothing but tend to myself and I don't regret a single second. I slept in, watched "Chef's Table" on Netflix, got inspired, wrote and slept my ass off.

Just when I was starting to get #fomo (fear of missing out) thinking about the long weekend coming to an end and not filling that time with fun activities, I realized we have another big weekend coming up in the Queen City. Yes, I mean "we" and not just "me." If you've been in Charlotte for any amount of time you know that one of the most anticipated weekends each year falls around the end of February and it goes by the name of CIAA.

Every year, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association holds an annual basketball tournament featuring the historically black institutions of NCAA's Division II. Although the attendance at the actual basketball games has declined significantly, the amount of revenue the tournament brings to the city is undeniable. Did I mention the parties are epic?

Picture being surrounded by your best friends, popping a bottle of champagne in the middle of a Vegas-style strip club only to look up and see Champagne Papi himself partying next to you. That's just a normal night during CIAA in Charlotte. Some of the world's most famous artists flock to our city, taking the experience to a whole new level.

When I first moved to Charlotte, I was captivated by the urban nightlife scene. After all, you don't get to experience much real nightlife in Trinity, NC or as an underage college student. One of my roommates at that time worked for one of the most popular promoters in the city and you know what that meant – free entry into some of the hottest parties all year long. That connection really came in handy when Lil Wayne – my favorite rapper of all time – made an appearance at Cameo a couple years ago. Sighs, if only I could've touched one of his dreads.

Five years later, despite social tensions and allegations of local companies instituting versions of a "black tax," it never ceases to amaze me how excited I get when CIAA comes to town. A short week with a weekend full of entertainment makes for a smiling face in the office. This year, my plan is to check out a day party at a venue I haven't visited before and hit up Su Casa at Petra's. I've done the whole "stay out until 4 a.m. thing" during CIAA and as my mom always said, "Nothing good happens after 2 a.m." I'd rather capitalize on the day and pass out early or find something laidback to get into late-night.

(Not to mention, I'll probably be steeped in Dave Matthews on a party bus on Saturday. You know my coworkers, always finding a way to celebrate anything in the biggest way. This time, we're celebrating a father-to-be.)

No matter what you're doing for CIAA, here's a few things to keep in mind if you're planning on joining in on the festivities this weekend:

1. Pick your entertainment. If you're interested in twerkin' to your favorite new artist like Migos, Young Thug or Meek Mill, find out exactly where they're going to be and if they're going to be performing or just doing a walk through.

2. Dress to impress. Everyone during CIAA is "fresh to death." There's some truth behind the rumor you've heard about putting that tax refund check to good use. Just kidding, sort of.

3. Research the venue. Parking available? Too far for you to Uber? Find out as much as you can about the venue ahead of time. Especially considering a lot of venues pop up just for the weekend.

4. Expect every spot to be busy. If you're one of those Charlotteans who's scared to attend a CIAA event, I would suggest you stay in all weekend or find a hole in the wall, because every venue that's open will probably be packed.

Where do you plan on spending your CIAA weekend? Fill me in at backtalk@clclt.com.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Weekend of Boo Lovin' and New Experiences With a Splash of Vom

Let the good times roll

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

I'm not going to lie to y'all, 2017 thus far has been pretty lit.

Even though the month of January flew by and we're a paycheck away from the end of February, I've been so busy finding adventures it feels like New Year's Eve was over six months ago. Stoke, check. Salud Beer Shop, check. Lucky's Bar and Arcade, Essex and Imperial Lounge, check, check and check.

Oh, and of course my escape to Asheville brought an entirely new nightlife experience to my weekend for less than half a tank of gas.

After taking in the mountain views and crisp air, a stressful week in Charlotte commenced. I presented in front of my entire company, stage fright and all, started training a new co-worker and landed a cover page in Creative Loafing. (That's right, I hope you picked up your copy for all the juice on what it's like for singles searching for love with a Being Mary Jane mindset.) After all that stress, I took a break two weekends ago and got some much-needed R&R. And when I say R&R, I mean that, outside of making food runs to McDonald's and Taco Bell, I didn't leave the house at all Saturday. That's why I was ready to rally this past weekend.

Friday after leaving the office, I followed my usual schedule, which landed me in the most uncomfortable bleachers at a basketball game – the boyfriend coaches. Even though high school games are short, you'd be surprised how slow the time passes when you're sitting through four of them. We were both tired when they were over and defeated after three out of the four didn't get a W, but that was more incentive for us to grab a "drank."

"Any of your friends doing anything tonight?" The usual question the boo asks, with a hint of irritation, when I'm trying to get a temperature gauge on whether or not he actually wants to go out. That's when I know he knows I'm in the mood even if he isn't – just for drinks and dancing folks, get your head out of the gutter. *wink wink*

Of course, my friends were either already planning for a show or planning a night in – whack! But I knew I had to make a decision fast, or he was going to put on his sweats – the equivalent of me taking off my glasses, my bra and makeup – and that would be "all we wrote." So I went for a spot I knew he couldn't resist – Blue Olive Lounge.

One of my fave unexpected gems in the boonies, aka Ballantyne, Blue Olive is a popular hangout for a mature crowd seeking an upscale experience with a hint of "ratchet." (Urban dictionary people.)

From Erykah Badu, Foxy Brown and Jay-Z to Juvenile, Drake and Crime Mob, the music hits all the crowd favorites without overwhelming one demographic or another. Attribute it to an epic DJ if you want, but every time I end up at Blue Olive, I dance all night long. (It was only after two hours of hugging the toilet that I regretted my decision.)

As you can imagine, the next morning was an uneventful one and I settled for catnapping, television and a home-cooked lunch. It wasn't until later on that evening the boy toy and I were itching for some excitement. We were hoping for a grilled cheese from Papi Queso at Sycamore, but now that they're all popular and ish after being featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," "they ain't got time for that!" Of course, that meant dinner took priority over going to a bar, so we started down the list of possibilities. We settled on a spot he hadn't been and I'd only been to once: Alexander Michael's.

Who can resist a meta tag like this when you pull this restaurant up on Google? "A locally owned and operated American tavern in Charlotte's historic 4th Ward serving fresh, unpretentious food that is well prepared with quality ingredients." I certainly couldn't. And they were right. The quaint, popular neighborhood restaurant, may attract some of Charlotte's elite, but the food is anything but pretentious. Hearty and full of flavor, the 4th Ward Stroganoff and Honey Chicken Pasta (with a bacon and tomato cream sauce) were so good we actually couldn't wait to be hungry again and eat what was left over! (Pro tip: the venue is small, so grab a drink at the bar while you wait, or eat at the bar like we did.)

After a meal like that and a wild Friday night, we didn't need another rally, so we decided to call it a night. I watched The Huntsman: Winter's War, ate more of my leftovers and climbed into bed. Now that's what I call a nightcap.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

True Confessions from the Millennial Dating World

When your love life is one big television drama

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Aerin Spruill is 'Being Mary Jane' - PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY DANA VINDIGNI
  • Photo illustration by Dana Vindigni
  • Aerin Spruill is 'Being Mary Jane'

Let's be honest, the dating scene and the meaning of love is different since our parents and grandparents were young whippersnappers.

Facebook and dating apps weren't around, computers may not have even existed (certainly not cellphones), marrying young and having children was normal, sex before marriage may have been taboo (depending on whether or not you were a hippie), and the list goes on. The game has changed and it's arguable whether that change has been for the better or worse.

On the one hand, women feel more comfortable exercising their agency. On the other, there's a general consensus that true commitment has been thrown out the window. In the lead-up to this Valentine's Day, I reached out to some friends to get a sense of the dating problems faced by my fellow Charlotte (mostly) millennials, who in some cases are ... well, rightfully pissed off.

"She told me today she wants to 'make sure I'm the one.' What the fucking fuck?! It's been four and half years. She doesn't know what it means to sacrifice everything and sacrifice daily for the person you love. She doesn't know how to show love without being in love. She doesn't know how to fall back in love. All she cares about is her fucking self. And you know what's really annoying? After all this time, I have nothing but memories, just memories. I will get no credit for helping, for shaping or for loving. Instead, some other bitch will reap all the hard work I've put in and get ALL the credit. Ain't that some bullshit?"

– Text received at 2 a.m.

"What's missing? Commitment *insert crying laughing cat emoji*."

– CN, 32

"I love hard. Period. I love deeply. Period. I know what I want, and I don't play games, which has made being a single, twenty-something, young professional in a new city very difficult. I haven't been in a real relationship in YEARS. But that's not the problem. The real problem is, I have not wanted to be in a relationship with any of the guys I have dated over the past few years, except for one. They all show me very early on that they just cannot keep up. As Bey would say, 'I'm just too much for them!'

"At this point, my dating life is limited to those guys I meet on dating apps that are cute enough to swipe right on and smart enough to hold a text conversation long enough for me to accept an actual date. I don't think I am being picky, but I am sure some would say otherwise. Bottom line, my love life has been non-existent, and until a non-fuckboy enters the picture I am okay with that."

– NL, 27

aerinspruill_copy.jpg

Recently, I re-watched three seasons of a show my mom and I had become obsessed with back in 2013. Being Mary Jane — created by Mara Brock Akil, whose name you may remember if you watched The Jamie Foxx Show, Moesha or Girlfriends ­— is a BET series based on the life and love of Mary Jane Paul (MJP), a thirty-something, successful news anchor living in Atlanta.

For those of you who haven't watched the show yet – SPOILER ALERT! From the outset, viewers understand that while MJP seems to have a grasp on her professional life, her personal life isn't where she wants it to be. Many have identified with her experiences as she struggles to find The One, while also balancing a cut-throat career and family drama.

Season One kicks off with a bang when MJP is lying next to a very attractive gentleman and asking God to give her a sign as to whether or not he's The One. He suddenly wakes up and proceeds to vomit all over her. As if that isn't already a nightmare red flag, soon after helping him to the bathroom, she discovers a wedding band while picking up his clothes! And that's just the beginning of the drama that ensues in her personal life.

Over the course of the next two seasons, we find out her best friend performed fellatio on the love of her life — whose sperm she stole and froze after a one-night stand — after which she gets in a car wreck, she finds out she can't get pregnant after undergoing fertility treatment on national television, her best friend commits suicide, she's forced to take care of family debts and health care bills, and she shares seemingly promising moments with a few men who don't end up satisfying her "standards" of love. In the end, MJP always seems to get the short end of the stick.

I have a few friends who can relate...

"He's like, 'Hey.'

"I'm like, 'Hey.'

"He's like, 'How are you?'

"I'm like, 'Look I've had a crush on you for a while. Let's go on a date.'

"And he's like, 'Great, how about tomorrow?' Babe, we go see Moonlight.

"LIKE, WHAT DUDE IS LIKE, 'LET'S SEE MOONLIGHT'!? And he had already seen it. Man after my own damn heart.

"Then we go to the wine bar by my house and hang out and talk and next thing I know, BAM, we are tonguing each other down. Like, cannot keep our hands off each other. We go back to my place and continue but don't have sex. He says he wants to see me again. SHIT IS PERFECT!

"It's the holidays, so he's out of town for like a while. So I don't see him but we are texting, cool. So he's back and I'm like, 'When can we get together?' And then he tries to come over and chill a few times but my homegirl was staying with me so he like couldn't really. But also our texting is very sexual. Which I think nothing of because as you know I'm a sexual person. And I say, "Hey, yeah I'm like tryna (insert action word for have sex) with you but I also like you, I don't just want sex. Anyway, my homegirl is finally gone and I'm like, 'Hey, let's kick it.' And he's out of town again, so I'm like, 'Cool, when you get back.'

"And he hits me with: He doesn't just want a sexual relationship and thinks we should just be friends..."

– HC, 26

I sympathized, no empathized, with Mary Jane, because I, too, was familiar with getting the short end of the stick. A few years ago, I was in an on-again off-again relationship. Even though the majority of our relationship overlapped with the turbulent years of undergraduate life, I thought I was doing everything right. True, I got drunk and purged way too often, damaged property and even fell into depression, but I was a great girlfriend.

Six or so years later, I found out via social media that person was in a new relationship. And after ignoring all the signs that we should part ways anyways, my version of happily-ever-after was shattered. In the words of the anonymous friend who texted me at 2 a.m., "Ain't that a b*tch?" Nevertheless, I learned from the experience, I've moved on and all that jazz.

Still, discontent with the dating scene followed me to the Queen City. I thought my inability to connect with someone was simply a "I'm a single woman, hear me roar, I'm going to eat all of you and keep it moving" attitude, until I started writing about nightlife and discovered that many singles in the city were singing the same tune: dating in Charlotte sucks. My friends, my coworkers and strangers have expressed frustration with dating in the city. They've tried all the dating apps, gone on all the dates and yet still feel unfulfilled.

"I have gone on many Tinder/Bumble dates. I have gone on some that were fantastic, but we decided that we are better friends than dates. With this in mind, I have found that this is a great way to make friends. I have also had boyfriends come out of Tinder or Bumble, including my last two exes. This means to me that there are gems and great guys out there, and my relationships with these guys have lasted more than six months. I consider this to be a long time in today's dating world.

"[But] just like I have had great dates and made great friends, there have been some serious disasters. The Netflix-and-Chill mentality is out there and there's also the mentality where guys have expectations just because they bought you dinner or bought you a drink during your date."

– SN, 26 (Shout-out to her most recent dating disaster, who compared paying for her dinner to the sex he was going to buy on his next trip, then threw her card at her when she tried to pay. Oh, and still asked for a kiss when she tried to leave.)

Aerin Spruill and just another Mary Jane
  • Aerin Spruill and just another Mary Jane

The more discussions I've had with people who feel like their dating lives are a series of Punk'd episodes, the more I realize that we're all Mary Jane. While Being Mary Jane has brought and continues to bring critical conversations surrounding race, the glass ceiling, the cyclical nature of family issues and black love to the forefront, at its core the show reveals the complexities of dating, relationships and finding true love.

Mary Jane could be any one of us — black, brown, white, gay, straight, transgender. The name Mary Jane Paul, in and of itself, is basic. At its mention, unless you've watched the show, you have no idea what MJP looks like or what she's been through.

Since college, I've been surrounded by perfect examples of Mary Jane Paul: great people who can't seem to find the love they've been searching for. In a world where therapy, break-ups, anxiety prescriptions, suicide and love deferred are commonplace, I challenged my friends, co-workers and family to tell me, in their own words, what life is like being a real Mary Jane.

"For me personally, 'cause Mary Jane is not me...she is [a] hoe. It's hard dating as you get older. Slim pickings, baggage, no job, records, bad credit...Not to mention you've become set in your ways, not wanting to give. In a relationship, it's about balance, give and take. Every argument isn't worth a response, which is hard for me because I have to have the last say. *insert smiley face emoji* But I'm working on it.

"A lot of people are coming with game, not being genuine. But you need to have good morals and values. If not, you will settle for any and everything. Love yourself."

A few seconds later, I receive a second text: "I guess in a way...I am similar to Mary Jane...without the slut part. Still looking or maybe hoping for marriage at 40 years old."

– SL, 46

From the outset of my newest relationship it's been my goal to maintain transparency and open lines of communication. I don't shy away from sharing my goals for "our" future or keeping it real when something ain't right.

I hate to say it, but social media and phone use are always going to be interesting topics of conversation for those dating. Are you on your phone more than you're engaged in conversation with your significant other? Are you opting for nonstop convo on Tinder instead of face-to-face interaction?

As technology continues to advance, how will the landscape of love change?

"I feel that everyone is missing from the dating scene. Men and WOMEN. We're all missing the point. I'm not going to bash one gender when, as a woman, I do the similar wrong things. Have you 'ghosted' someone? Never returned a text or call? High expectations when you don't have it ALL together? I'm guilty of it. We all want instant gratification. Technology, society and culture."

– PL, 27

This isn't just a conversation for the ladies, either; men are grappling with the challenges of dating and relationships as well, especially with regards to the role that technology plays:

"As a single 'real' man (who hasn't watched BMJ since I was in a relationship), I'd have to agree with PL that both genders are at fault. The main factor that I see (from my experience and others) is that people can't put down their smart phones long enough to build a real connection. We're too distracted with social media and dating apps to build real person to person chemistry.

The fact that you can 'meet' people so easily in the virtual realm makes it difficult when you actually see them in person; there's awkward silences or people aren't who they portray themselves to be online. And the fact that there are all kinds of dudes in your DMs and guys can go on Tender or POF (not me, btw, lol) and find options so easily, we take each other for granted and are quick to look elsewhere very quickly."

– WJ, 33

"I just want to meet a guy who is not racist or sexist and wants to cook together and hang out and do cool shit and smoke a few blunts. I'm not looking to trap anyone. I just want to go with the flow and have a good time. And if it turns into a long-term committed thing, cool. But that hasn't happened for me. I've never had a smooth normal relationship without its shit. And I'm like damn, do they even exist?"

– HC, 26

Being Mary Jane isn't the first and certainly, won't be the last television series or platform for discussing matters of love unfulfilled. There are more and more examples of the diversity of love, learning to love oneself and other series of unfortunate love events on television and in our lives.

What are your thoughts on being a Mary Jane in the Queen City?

Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

*Names in this article have been left anonymous to protect the identities of those mentioned.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Escape from Q.C.

Where am I? Oh, in Asheville

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

Saturday morning I woke up in a cozy little nook in a twin-sized bed sleeping head to feet with one of my old co-workers.

The sun had just started peeking through clouds over the mountains outside and early risers had already started blasting music over a sound system. Hungover, confused and staring at a ladybug crawling up a wall, I thought, "Where am I? Oh yeah, I remember now. Asheville."

My head was pounding, the nausea was creeping in and all I wanted to do was sleep for the rest of the day. Who would've thought a girl's night in would lead to a worse hangover than a night out?

Let's rewind.

As an only child and a self-proclaimed extroverted introvert, I'm constantly torn between wanting to curl up in a ball alone and watch Netflix or chat it up with strangers during a night on the town.

A challenging issue, you can imagine, for a writer seeking inspiration from nightlife experiences. Nevertheless, I knew I had to put my anxiety aside when two of my co-workers suggested a girl's trip to Asheville to celebrate their birthdays. And even though I knew I would rehearse every excuse in the book to avoid forced, large-group social interaction, it was clear that between the election and the never-ending routine of having a 9-to-5, I needed to get away from the city for a bit.

My half-day at work flew by and the next thing I knew, another co-worker and I were in her car, chatting each other's heads off and en route to the mountains.

As our distance away from the QC increased, my anxiety decreased and I found myself more excited to spend a weekend away from it all. Or maybe it was the RBV I mixed before we left? Whatever the case may have been, we were ecstatic to be the first to explore our four bedroom, four bath, 2,700 square foot log cabin (and claim our beds, of course).

Even though we decided to stay in Friday, we raged like we would've any other night. Céline Dion, Aminé's "Caroline" and Prince's "Purple Rain," echoed throughout the house and even outside as we utilized the cabin's stereo system.

Did you know that nine girls could finish off three handles of vodka, wine and cases of beer? Well, we did. Three of us made it to 2 a.m. and that's when we thought it would be a good idea to open and a bottle of champagne. But guess who was the only person truly hungover and violently holding it all down in an Uber ride to Burial Beer Co., our first stop of the day? That's right. Yours truly.

After forcing my first beer, however, I was ready to rally. It only took two stops and an epic pic to upload to Instagram for me to realize what all the fuss is about when it comes to Asheville.

The downtown area reminded me of NoDa with all of its murals, hole-in-the-wall bars, breweries and foodie spots. The difference? Asheville can eat NoDa. Beards, manbuns, dogs, babies, Carhartts, hiking boots and sunnies have never looked better.

Did I mention a handcrafted cocktail only cost $5? Tell me, where can you get a craft cocktail in Charlotte for the low low?

Our Saturday itinerary included: Burial Beer Co., French Broad Chocolates, Green Man Brewery, The Funkatorium (the East Coast's first sour taproom), Twin Leaf Brewery, Cúrate (for Spanish tapas), Sovereign Remedies, MG Road Bar & Lounge and Tiger Mountain.

There was one more at the end but come on, give me credit for remembering all that! And before you knew it, we were popping champagne bottles back at the cabin.

You must be wondering how I managed to make it all day Saturday? I only drank one beer at every brewery we went to before dinner and followed each up with a water. I didn't start drinking liquor until dinner and, even then, I kept myself to one drink at each bar.

Though I was still hungover the next morning as we prepared to clean up our mess and head home, I was beyond proud of my accomplishment.

After four chicken nuggets from McDs on the way back to Charlotte, I felt the need to reconnect with my Asheville experience. So a few friends and I decided to head over to NoDa for a few more hipster vibes before the weekend came to an end.

I've already started planning my next Queen City escape. Where do you go when you need to get our Charlotte for a little bit? Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Will the QC in 2K17 fight to keep up with a changing climate?

A new nightlife landscape

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 11:25 AM

This past weekend I only had one item on my to-do list: check out The Dock, a prohibition-style speakeasy accessed through the loading dock of Charlotte Marriott Center City. The new-ish secret spot was closed last weekend due to weather, so I talked it up all week in anticipation of Saturday — the only day the place is open for business.

After seeing a tantalizing post on Instagram Saturday morning, the boyfriend and I decided to splurge for lunch at CO, a pan-Asian restaurant in the Park Road Shopping Center. Pork and ginger gyoza, pork and crab spring rolls, a California roll, caramel pork bahn mi and drunken Thai noodles. Have you ever heard the expression, "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach?" A jalapeno guava margarita nor a lemongrass ginger martini could wash away the itis that overcame us (see Urban Dictionary for definition of "itis").

We gathered our to-go boxes and bee-lined it home for a nap. Three hours later, it was dark outside and we drowsily started getting ready. As we pulled up in our Uber outside of the Marriott loading dock and approached the door it was hard for me to contain the months of anticipation that had built up.

We were greeted by an attendant who informed us that The Dock had been shut down by the fire department. And just like that, our dreams were crushed. However, the drunk couple that piled in behind us were having a harder time coping with the loss. "That's not what we hearrr..." the guy joked. "The man outside says we're in the right plaaace..." With every drunken lilt at the end of each of his sentences I could tell he thought the attendant was waiting for a magic password. The attendant's RBF (resting b*tch face), on the other hand, didn't appear to hold a single joke.

Defeated, we walked to Istanbul Hookah Lounge in Brevard Court/French Quarter/Latta Arcade. All I could think was, "Another venue in the Queen City bites the dust."

July of this year will mark my fifth anniversary living in Charlotte. In that short time, the nightlife landscape has gone through quite a few changes. Familiar buildings have traversed the entire alphabet of business names. Prime example: The NC Music Factory is now "Avidxchange?" Our favorite music venues are closing: Amos' Southend, The Chop Shop, Tremont Music Hall and Tommy's Pub. BAR Charlotte and its counterparts that dominated the space between E. 6th and E. 7th streets on N. College have passed on and since been replaced by a slew of venues that are a part of the new NorthSide Station.

As the Queen City explodes, we can agree on at least one consistency with regards to nightlife: it's constantly changing. And now that we've been ranked in the top 20 best places to live, according to the U.S. News & World Report, that landscape is going to continue to change. Hence, my dismay when I discovered The Tiki Hideaway, a Polynesian tapas and craft cocktails bar, was permanently closed after only a few months. And of course, my most recent disappointment, the shutting down of The Dock. So what now?

For as long as I can remember, random people have asked me some version of, "What's missing from Charlotte nightlife?" The familiar question usually follows my coming out as a nightlife writer and precedes the awkward response, "You know, I'm not really sure." Despite the fact that I easily get bored with the nightlife scene, I'd never sat down and ironed out the details of what it should look like.

Will new business owners attempt to skirt and swerve the authorities as bars and restaurants stray from traditional guidelines? Will the allure of hidden, underground, Prohibition-style spaces take over Uptown? Or will the obsession with skyscrapers and apartments give way to a series of #bestrooftopbarincharlotte contests? Will we fill the gap between young professionals and older demographics?

Personally, I'm hoping for a landscape that resembles that of New York. One teetering at the intersection of revolutionary, underground, modern and high-energy.

We've witnessed the rise of the brewery, the delight of craft cocktails, the influx of speakeasies and the diverse flavors of tapas. Let's hold on to the classics that promote texture: Snug Harbor, Roxbury, The Rabbit Hole, Abari, Petra's, Twenty-Two, Bar At 316, Jeff's Bucket Shop, etc. Then let's sprinkle in more late-night tapas restaurants, old school hip-hop and R&B, lounges, drag ball culture, secret passwords at underground venues and EDM dance parties on a residential property. The possibilities are limitless.

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