Wednesday, August 2, 2017

CL's Intrepid Nightlife Reporter Discovers a Snug Harbor

Cheap thrills

Posted By on Wed, Aug 2, 2017 at 7:00 AM

One night a few weeks ago, I had my Uber drop me off in front of Snug Harbor in Plaza Midwood. Next door to the ever-changing art gallery Twenty-Two and familiar Soul Gastrolounge, Snug is a nightlife venue that folks in the music scene frequent regularly. I hopped out of the car with my work backpack on — I've become the picture-perfect Dora bopping around after work these days — and walked up to the entrance to learn the cover was $2.

Wow, that's super cheap!

Funny enough, I still had to wait outside because I didn't have a single dollar bill to my name.

While I waited for my friends to rescue me, I stared into the small doorway past the fenced-in patio with picnic tables. I laughed, thinking back to one of my first experiences at Snug Harbor. It was during an annual Pig Pickin' in Plaza Midwood, I believe. Snug had some sort of Southern cooking thing going down on the patio, and my P.I.C. (partner in crime) and I decided we were going to grab a plate. After getting our food, we ambled through the walkway with full intentions of making our way to the back patio to grub.

Inside, it was very dim. I remember looking at all the trinkets that lined the walls and swore I saw some creepy little gothic creatures hanging from the rafters. I have no idea if the little creatures are still there, but I remember thinking, "They probably play heavy metal here all the time." (I was completely wrong; even though the words "Rock & Roll Bar" do appear underneath the logo, Snug is more indie-rock and hip-hop than Mötley Crüe.)

The back patio area is another world altogether; a small oasis filled with every different type of human. I was intrigued.

Not too long after this experience, I spoke with a co-worker at the time about her experience writing for Creative Loafing and the like. I wanted to pick her brain about everything from music and politics to nightlife venues and race. Little did I know that she would introduce me to "Knocturnal," described online as "a weekly party born from the brains of Justin Aswell and friends featuring the best in electronic, hip and forward music for the truly awesome human being."

And that, it was.

I'd heard that Snug hosted breakdancing and freestyle battle nights on Mondays, but it wasn't until this particular night a few weeks ago that I figured out this was the event known as "Knocturnal," or how awesome this local favorite music nook really is.

After the crew arrived with my $2 entry and we walked in, I grabbed my second fave drink of choice, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and started taking in the scenery. Once again, I was taken aback by the diversity of the crowd, and recognized a few familiar faces and "InstaFamous" locals I knew. I felt right at home and part of what I'd imagine is an "inner circle."

We ventured to the back patio where the freestyle rap battles and dances were happening. I watched in awe as everyone sat around the small stages and vibed to the music. From the couple having an intimate moment singing along to an old-school joint, to the group of friends rallying behind the best break dancer in the group, Knocturnal is the epitome of what I'd call cool-ass art in motion.

After a few throwback singalongs — think '90s R&B — I noticed a major twerk session happening inside. Now, if you know me, or you've kept up with my articles, you know Aerin doesn't miss an opportunity to "look back at it," even if that means I'm in the middle of the dance floor at Tilt on Trade all by myself. I walked in and started getting it to whatever trap song was on, swerving anyone who attempted to get in on the action. Surprised? What am I going to do with a dance partner when "Loose as a Goose" by Boosie comes on? Not a damn thing, keep it moving.

We returned to the patio to finish up our beers before deciding whether or not to rejoin the "kickback" that was happening inside. No, I still had to go to work the next day. And even though our motivation for leaving was a slice of Benny's pizza and it was closed by the time we got there, I was proud of our decision not to be the ones sitting on the patio when the lights came on inside. I may be a "knocturnal" creature, but the last thing I need to see on a weeknight is the sun rise.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Who Run the World? Girls

A Q.C. 'Girls Trip'

Posted By on Wed, Jul 26, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Picture it: Jada Pinkett Smith holding tacky denim vests with rhinestones all over them trying to convince her besties that they should wear them in their mid-forties on a trip to New Orleans. The response? "You should be bedazzling some d*ck."

If I didn't laugh at anything else, that line alone would have been worth the price of admission for the new movie Girls Trip (reviewed on page 23).

You know the deal, now time to rewind.

Monday nights are supposed to be a night when you leave work, go home and go to bed. The weekend is over and Friday is the next day you're looking forward to.

That's why me and my girls decided we were going to be "adults" and go to a movie instead of hanging out and drinking all night. However, as any regular reader of this column could have guessed, we went out and went to the movies. #gofigure

I gathered my things after work and decided I was in for a "movie night," but little did I know it would turn into a "thing."

Oh, who am I kidding? Any night with my real life version of the "flossy posse" is always a thing. After all, these are the girls I do "wine night" with until all hours of the night at The Corner Pub on a regular basis.

When I showed up at Tin Roof in the Epicentre, I got a taste for what kind of night it was going to be when I noticed one of the specials was Deep Eddy's vodka for $5. Who can resist a $5 Red Bull vodka?

It wasn't until I'd brought the AMC voucher I'd gotten for a Christmas present two years prior that I realized I wouldn't be able to use it at Studio Movie Grill for a free movie. So I reluctantly purchased the $5 Groupon and proceeded to secure seats for everyone in the group.

At 7 p.m. sharp, we were in our seats, buckled in and ready for the comedic ride one of my friends (who'd already seen the movie) had promised.

No one would've suspected that three blondes, a brunette and a black girl would be seeing this movie together, but there we were piling into the same row to see this movie with an all-black cast. We knew we needed to save money so we decided to get two buckets of Coors Light.

Throughout the movie, as you're probably already imagining, there were so many awkward moments.

The casual usage of derogatory terms, the little nuances in language that I didn't know if my counterparts understood, and yet, everyone seemed to feel quite at home — #winningforasmalltownblackgirl. I shed my judgments and misconceptions and let the "black girl magic" happen.

Not even a beer later, my friend was chatting with me about the similarities between all of us and the characters in the movie. I looked at the rest of our row who were enthralled in the movie and that's when I realized ... We. Were. Sold.

Next thing you know, we're "loud whispering" with an attendant about whether or not we'd gotten two buckets or three (Anyone who's been to SMG knows the service is hit or miss which can be quite irritating).

As for the movie, it was phenomenal and has earned every comparison to white counterparts like Bridesmaids and male counterparts like The Hangover. But again I pose a question: Who can resist a movie where Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah reunite?(If you haven't seen Set it Off yet, go find a copy.)

The movie ended and I imagine we were riding the same wave that a group of guys would experience after seeing The Hangover for the first time — an extreme desire to get really drunk and tear down the city. We laughed about the idea of getting personalized necklaces made for our group and joked about the possibilities for a group name other than "flossy posse." You can only imagine how far down the rabbit hole that took us. We grabbed a couple more drinks while everyone else watched us wondering what kind of drug we were on, but the truth was, while we were a tad tipsy, we were just excited about having a night out in the Q.C. with just the girls.

What's better? We have a trip planned to NOLA for January and we're now more than ready after witnessing some of the most epic nightlife spots and experiences in the area. Zip-lining from bar to bar? Wig night? Oh yeah, that's happening when we visit the "Big Easy" in a few short months.

When you're itching for a night out with the girls, what do you do in the Queen City? Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com!

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Third Ward's Newest Nightlife Addition Doesn't Disappoint

A Lofty new Uptown spot

Posted By on Wed, Jul 19, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Being a responsible adult on a Thursday night is always a challenge. Friday's right around the corner, the weekend is only an eight-hour jail sentence away and everyone in the office wants to go out. This past Thursday, however, I was dead set on not staying out late or being hungover and yet, I wanted to do something. Surprise, surprise.

A couple friends mentioned that a new three-story venue, Loft & Cellar, was officially opening later in the evening and suggested I check it out. I decided to check Instagram — so I know it's real – and sure enough, the account verified that the new spot was open for business. It seemed low key enough for a slight Thursday night turn up, so I convinced two of my co-workers to go with me.

It wasn't until I looked up the new spot on Google that I realized this was the place that had been in the works for months right next door to one of my favorite hot dogs spots in the Q.C. – Green's Lunch. I'd walked past it a few times during the construction process but never thought much about what would end up there.

After all the buzz, however, there was no way I was going to miss out on opening night.

We walked a few blocks from work and settled in front of the entryway to the new venue. And even though we weren't going to be able to enjoy a summer evening on a patio, we were excited to see what the new spot had to offer. We walked in and to the right, were leather couches perfect for kicking back and enjoying a cocktail. And to the left? A full bar and dining tables. The intimate vibes and modern-meets-industrial décor drew us in immediately.

We decided to head straight for the bright orange staircase leading to the second floor, which overlooks Romare Bearden Park. That's where we found another bar stretching along the center of the room on the back wall. To the left and right, more lounge seating and dining tables. We settled on stools at the bar and waited for a bartender to place a thick, journal-style menu in front of us. It seemed that the drink menu held well over 100 different types of drinks, including wine, cocktails and beer. What more can you ask for?

My coworker and I thumbed through the pages for a bit before settling on "Barbie Doll" - Tito's vodka, honey syrup, ginger, lemon and club soda. Simple enough for a regular RBV drinker. At first, we joked about the drink being "weak," and wished we'd opted for something else. Little did we know, Barbie meant business and would pack a mean punch as soon as we walked out the door.

As we perused the selections on the food menu, the waitress explained that the executive chef and owner Nicolas Daniels had created the menu around the idea of telling a four-course story — the exposition, rising action, crescendo and resolution.

I can't promise I'll ever make it through all four, but I had to force myself to avoid drooling over the Wagyu beef and opted for planning the meal I'd be getting at the end of the month. My coworkers, however, decided to try the mussels. At first bite, they fell in love. However, following last year's bad experience with mussels (rhymes with pood foisoning), I can't say I was tempted to try them. Regardless, the way they coveted each shell like they were oysters stuffed with pearls finally sold me on the fact that everything on the menu had to be phenomenal.

We stayed for about an hour and one thing was clear: Daniels has developed a concept that brings something quite unique to the restaurant and bar scene in Uptown Charlotte. Your go-to happy hour spot after work. The perfect date-night destination. A haven for foodies and cocktail connoisseurs. This venue balances an upscale dining experience and a casual, laid-back atmosphere perfectly. Not to mention, the basement level is home to the wine and beer cellar as well as a 20-person dining room that will be perfect for hosting a private event.

Once we were finished with our cocktails, we picked up our checks and headed to EpiCentre. That's when we realized "Barbie Doll" had snuck up on us.

"I'm a little tipsy," I laughed as my girlfriend and I hopped out of the car. I watched her tiptoe into the parking deck and she responded with, "I'm glad you said that because I'm feeling a little bit tipsy, too."

If you don't have plans this weekend, make a date with Barbie and head over to Loft & Cellar. Your wallet may not thank you, but you won't regret it!

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

When Nap Time is Not Optional

Having a spell

Posted on Wed, Jul 12, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Have you ever fainted in a crowd of people? Without hardcore drugs and limited alcohol in your system? No? Well, I've got a story for you.

Picture it: Uptown, Charlotte, NC, July 4th weekend 2017. After grabbing a few drinks at The Blind Pig in NoDa on Friday night — it's popping there on a Friday, in case you didn't know — I was very excited to sleep in and hit up the pool with some friends on Saturday. You know: "Hair of the dog" or "sweat it out" are both popular phrases when someone's trying to figure out how to get rid of their hangover.

I forced down a couple beers, foam included, and was completely sold on the idea of sweating it out. I stretched out on a poolside lawn chair and prepared for the alcohol to leave my system magically. Somewhere between ordering a floating drinking game off of Amazon's Prime Now app at 2 p.m. and leaving to escape the thunderstorm that had swept in around 5 or 6 p.m., I lost track of how long we had been at the pool.

We ended up tucking away to a new friend's apartment for a postgame party.

Now, this was no festival situation where I'd had way too much to drink and "popped a Molly or Percocet" like Future, but you would've thought I was at Bonnaroo when I tell you what happened next.

In a fog of humidity and cigarette smoke I started to realize I was swaying. My friend asked, "Aerin, do you need to sit down?" I looked up and responded, "I'm swaying, I know, but I'm good."

But then as I started thinking about it, I realized just how damn hot it was outside. Just as I'd made up my mind that, yes, I needed to go sit down inside, another innocent bystander asked me a question. I thought about ignoring him so I could escape faster, but I answered.

Everything went black. When I came to, I was looking at the floor, and everyone around me was staring in silent shock. That's when I busted out laughing.

It must have been hilarious watching how my tumble caused all those people's buzz to be killed. Party foul!

Next thing you know, I've fallen again but this time I'm sitting on the cold floor of the apartment with frozen peas and blueberries on my shoulders.

As if it wasn't humbling enough that this time I fainted on a stranger's porch, now produce was being used to cure my fainting spell. #winning

It's safe to say that once I rounded the corner to The Corner Pub I wasn't too keen on the idea of pouring up. I opted for bacon cheese fries and ate as if my life depended on it. Later on, my friend asked if I'd like to venture with her to the University area. She'd left her car there the night before but knew I wouldn't mind hanging out with her and her squeeze at a spot you've probably heard of before: Boardwalk Billy's.

I walked in still wearing the bathing suit I'd fainted in and an oversized grandpa's shirt-dress. #keepitclassy. While Boardwalk Billy's may best be compared to a cheesy, Myrtle Beach bar, I was still underdressed. And yet, we shut the bar down. You can't take me and my friends anywhere.

The next day, my friends invited me to the pool once more. I couldn't decide if they really wanted to see me of if they wanted to witness another fainting spell, and this time be ready to capture it on video.

I kid, I kid, however, that would've been epic. Just like the kid that learns not to put his or her hand on a hot stove, I learned my lesson about hydrating.

Yes, I went back to the pool, but not without double fisting a huge water and Gatorade. Not to mention, I retreated to the shade every single time I stepped out of the pool.

After surviving a couple hours of summer sun, I thought I could handle rallying at The Corner Pub yet again. I didn't realize I'd surpassed my threshold and lost track of time chatting it up with all the regulars until I looked up and saw the staff shutting the place down for the night. This is when I should've realized that it was time for me to go home.

Instead, someone convinced me I should pay a visit to Crave Dessert Bar. My first time visiting and I was wearing a faux leather bathing suit and a sheer cover-up with Rainbow flip-flops. Dress code violation, anyone?

Well, that's a story for another time.

backtalk@clclt.com

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Turnin' up ... on a Tuesday

A perfect summer night in the Q.C.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 5, 2017 at 7:00 AM

On Tuesday, one of my best friends, whom I've known for over a decade, asked me to support her at an event. Naturally, I said yes. Since the event didn't start until 9 p.m., I decided I should find something to do to pass the time after work.

I know what you're thinking, "Aerin, you know you didn't need an excuse to enjoy happy hour!" Or perhaps you're thinking, "Oh no, Aerin, you're never going to make it to that event, are you?" Sighs.

Instead of hitting up my usual spot, The Corner Pub, the girls and I opted for something different — Seoul Food Meat Company.

Located in South End, Seoul Food is a southern BBQ restaurant with a Korean twist. Last year, I visited with a couple friends there and we munched happily on ramen mac and cheese, wings and pulled pork.

I parked along the street and walked up to some different scenery that I remember. A must for the summer, Seoul has outdoor seating, a large back patio, games, a dog area and bar. The perfect setup for a grand ol' time.

I sat down at the bar and perused the drink menu. I wasn't much in the mood for craft beer but I settled for one with a watermelon twist. *Cues Beyonce's "Drunk in Love," "I been drankin' watermelon."

We chatted for a couple hours and drank a couple beers as the night slipped away. It was almost time for me to meet my friend, but before I left I watched the dogs bouncing around in the dog park and got deja vu for last week's column. Yeah, it won't be too long before I'm back on that patio.

As I hopped in my car and entered Fire House Bar & Lounge in my GPS, I realized it was literally right around the corner. I didn't want to deal with finding a parking spot, so I put my car back in park and walked toward West Carson Boulevard.

I'd passed the venue a few times but never had taken the time to stop in. My bestie finally arrived and we walked in together.

There were a few people lounging in leather couches, smoking hookah while other folks performed spoken word and music. In the back, after passing the bar and bathroom, another room with leather couches and an opening to the outside and gravel parking lot popped up.

We went to the bar where there were stools and swings hanging from the ceiling. I instantly knew then I'd be swinging in one of those before the night was over. I grabbed my first RBV and we walked back outside to sit and chat.

Once the event was over and everyone cleared out, we convinced the DJ to play some "twerk music." Now if you want to see a show, catch me and my bestie cutting up on the dance floor! Next thing you know, we were literally sweating from dancing so much. Just when I was thinking of hitting the road, someone pointed out one of the owners.

A previous owner of Red@28th, Rodney Redmond is no amateur when it comes to the hookah game. We chatted outside on the patio for a little bit about the spot.

Rodney let me tease him about the $9 RBV I'd purchased, and he explained how he and his partner wanted to create a more upscale experience. And that it was. The vibe was intimate until me and the bestie started twerking all over the place. Note to self: don't act your age.

I knew I'd have to suck it up to pay for another RBV in the near future, but then I looked at the food truck menu. Um, fried lobster tail for $15?! Sign. Me. Up. Other menu items included a shrimp basket, wings, fries and catfish. Tell me where you can get food like that late night while getting your dance on?

My friend laughed when I pointed out the lobster tail on the menu, she knows I have a weak spot for food, but lobster takes the cake.

Even though I was super tired and working on a hangover, I'm pretty sure we ended up shutting the place down. Sorry if I talked your head off Rodney, you took it like a champ!

After getting back to my house you'd think we would've gone straight to sleep. Nope. The fried lobster tail had gotten me worked up. The next thing you know I was heating up pulled pork and making sandwiches.

And that's how you end a Tuesday turn up!

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

I Met a Dog in Charlotte and It Wasn't a Guy

Visiting a K-9 haven

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 3:27 PM

"Fill the box," someone yelled as half the Trolley Pub Charlotte riders piled into the "waiting" area at Dog Bar in Noda. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. I mean, it's the textbook moment for, "That's what she said!" I turned to my friend and co-worker and said, "That should've been our team name."

If you're not familiar with Dog Bar, you're probably wondering what in the hell I'm talking about.

One of my NoDa-residing friends had been telling me that I needed to experience a work-night turn up at the Dog Bar. While I'm convinced he doesn't think I'm a "dog person," per se (and he'd be correct) he's always known that I love the idea of dogs and possibly owning a well-behaved, "man's best friend" of my own one day.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to abandon my usual routine of turning happy hour into an Uptown charade, and finally went to Dog Bar.

The bar is referred to as a "dog-friendly watering hole with a patio." I literally couldn't have said it better myself.

I'd parked in their parking lot many times and walked past as what felt like hundreds of dogs were gawking and barking at me as I made my way to The Blind Pig next door. And quite frankly, I'd never been even tempted to brave the wild pack and see what Dog Bar had to offer. But my friend's dog, Luna, is a beautiful, platinum blonde Husky mix with piercing ice blue eyes. How could I resist the invite?

Per usual, as I approached the gate in front of Dog Bar, I was greeted by the sounds of barks. I stepped into what I call the "waiting area" between two small fences — a safety measure to keep the dogs from sliding past a newcomer and running into the street.

I took a deep breath and prepared to be devoured. To my surprise, all the dogs greeted me with a "smile" as I made my way to the covered benches and my friend. I don't know if he knew how nervous I was — I'd never been around so many dogs off-leash, running around freely in one space at one time.

We made our way through the entryway to the bar inside. A couple of the chillest pups you'll ever see rested on doggy beds on the bar. Say what?! They didn't even stress a newcomer walking in, they just laid there and minded their business like they owned the place. But in reality, the dogs run Dog Bar, so technically, they do own the place.

My friend ordered a craft beer, I decided a domestic would feel better in the morning. We returned to the patio and I watched Luna, who'd been pouncing all over the place kicking all the water out of the "community water bucket" before returning to jetting from one side of the bar to the other.

That's when I discovered we'd be playing trivia — rather, my friend would be, as I reassured him that I would be of no assistance.

He asked what our team name should be and I racked my brain for a clever response.

We finally decided on "Beers Full of Tears," but we weren't satisfied. After the first round, the Trolley Pub pulled up and spilled out a full group of tipsy cyclers. And as you can imagine, the Dog Bar is a magnet for dog lovers and thirsty singles alike.

So naturally, the entire group, minus dogs of their own, attempted to make their way into the bar.

Concerned that one of the tipsy travelers would accidentally let a dog out, someone stepped up to the inner gate and instructed them that they would need to "fill the box" and close the outer gate before he would let them enter. And that's when I wished we'd waited for inspiration before coming up with a team name.

As soon as they poured into the bar, all you could hear was the sound of "baby talk." "Oh you're such a good girl. Oh my goodness aren't you the most beautifulest dog in the whole wide world?!"

I chuckled at the awkward encounters non-dog lovers would make fun of for days and thought, "This is why dogs and dog owners love this bar so much."

I'm embarrassed to say, I've silently judged dogs — and sometimes babies — and their owners at dog- and kid-friendly venues, but Dog Bar showed me how much fun it can be to kick it with your furry child.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Rain Can't Stop the Vogue

The first Pride Pool Party of the summer

Posted By on Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 10:25 AM

Tear-away swim trunks, nonstop voguing and a little bit of rain.

Those were the highlights of my Sunday a couple weeks ago. Why, you may ask? I went to this year's first Takeover Friday's LGBTQ and Ally Pool Party hosted by Craft City Social Club.

For those of you in the Q.C. who don't know, let me school y'all real quick. June is reserved for Pride Month in honor of the Stonewall Riots that took place in Manhattan in 1969.

As a major social demonstration against police mistreatment of members of the gay community, Stonewall has become recognized as the catalyst of the LGBT movement for civil rights.

In Biggie's words, "If you don't know, now you know."

Shortly after the month of June kicked off, the event popped up on my Facebook feed. I immediately marked myself as "interested."

The only thing that would keep me from going was the fact that it was on a Sunday. Would I really want to risk being hungover on a Monday?

But y'all knew that was not going to stop your girl, right?

I took the trolley from Elizabeth to Uptown in the hopes of sweating out some of the alcohol from the night before. Once there, I went straight to Latta Arcade to get a pizza from Zablong. Little did I know they were closed on Sundays.

I settled (yes, settled) for Mellow Mushroom before heading over to Craft City Social Club to meet one of my friends for the event.

Located inside the Sheraton at the corner of S. McDowell and E. Stonewall streets in Second Ward, Craft City Social Club is an indoor/outdoor poolside bar and lounge. Opened in 2016 along with City Lights Rooftop next door, Craft City Social Club is the only social club with a pool that Charlotteans don't have to worry about "crashing."

Not to mention, they have plenty of games to keep an adult child occupied, including billiards, darts, fuse ball, life-sized Jenga and shuffleboard.

I grabbed a parking ticket and stuffed my face with one more slice of pizza. As I walked past the pool area I could feel the energy from the party spill over the greenery-covered enclosure.

Once inside, I searched for my friend who'd been waiting for me for over an hour (I know, I know, I was upholding the stereotype).

Fortunately, he'd made a few friends and was sitting comfortably with his feet in the pool. Despite my tardiness, he hopped up with a smile on his face and agreed to walk to with me to grab a glass of champagne at the bar.

I surveyed the landscape and confirmed what I've always known, LGBT parties are some of the most care-free, happy-go-lucky celebrations of self a human can ever be blessed to experience. Yes, there can be drama and it can be difficult to fit in to smaller cliques — as with any group — but nothing beats Speedos and voguing for hours on end.

As a matter of fact, one partygoer came by himself and vogued non-stop to every song. Even when he was drenched in sweat, or rain, nothing stopped him from dancing.

Drinks were expensive so my comrade and I didn't concern ourselves much with running back and forth to the bar. Instead, we decided to take a dip in the pool where everyone else had made themselves comfortable on a pool float.

It goes without saying, but once I found a float shaped like a piece of pizza to take the perfect #Instaphoto on (find me at omgaerin), my day was complete.

It's a good thing, too, because shortly after, it started to rain. What a bummer, I thought. My friend and I grabbed our things and went inside for some shelter and tried our hand at ring toss.

We were contemplating making our exit, thinking the party was over when all of a sudden "It's Raining Men" came on. You guessed it! Everyone was belting out the tune while dancing in the rain. Now that's what I call a finale fit for a queen — for us anyway.

If you missed the first pool party put on by Takeover Friday, the South's longest running LGBTQ and ally mobile happy hour, you're in luck! Three more are scheduled for July 10, August 13 and September 10. Mark your calendars and get ready to show your support and PRIDE!

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Leandrea Hill Depicts the Beautiful Secrets of Big, Black Women

The love below

Posted By on Wed, Jun 14, 2017 at 7:00 AM

After Leandrea Hill told me about her most recent art project, I couldn't get that Drake lyric out of my head — you know, the one that goes, "I like my girls BBW."

Hill's latest project focuses specifically on just that: BBWs, or big black women. Hill's preference has always been to paint plus-sized black women, but for her most recent series, the Juicy Collection, she took it a step further.

"This is my first time focusing specifically on the vagina," she told me.

Hill explained that the project was born "because I had someone contact me about having a painting of their vagina done – commissioned – for their bedroom."

The collection ended up consisting of 13 up-close-and-very-personal paintings.

"They're all plus-sized black women who I had submit. I want to celebrate our vaginas," Hill said. "I wanted to focus specifically on black plus-sized women – our most intimate area."

On June 3, she celebrated the new collection's release as well as her that of her chapbook, "Beautiful After Dark." Hill is a poet primarily, and the book showcases her written work, including selections of her erotic poetry ("pornetry" as she calls it). She considers the Juicy Collection and all of her visual art "unspoken poems."

Like some aspects of the female anatomy, the location of the release party was elusive and mysterious. I almost walked into someone else's semi-formal event before finding Hill's studio tucked in the middle of a business center on North Tryon. The studio is made up of two tiny rooms, the white walls barely visible behind the patchwork of bright paintings that stretch from floor to ceiling.

The artist (far right) speaks with the author. (Photo by Tyrone Combs)
  • The artist (far right) speaks with the author. (Photo by Tyrone Combs)

In the first room, Hill's latest unspoken poems were unmistakable. In shades of brown and purple, the paintings were visually similar, but represented a diversity of vaginas.

As Hill described the collection: "Some of them are pierced, some of them are a little fuller than others, some of them are dark, some of them are light."

(Interestingly, though, all of them were shaved.)

The little studio was crowded. Attendees, including friends of Hill and the subjects of the paintings, rearranged themselves, stepping this way and that to stay out of the way. Some slipped past each other to make trips to pick up deviled eggs and chicken salad. People mulled over the paintings, pointing out favorites. One of the pieces reminded someone of a shaggy dog. Another said it looked like Edvard Munch's "The Scream." All agreed that the collection was important.

"It's definitely a way to bring light to our bodies, to paint positive about our vaginas and the things that they do, as far as bringing forth life, bringing forth intimacy, love and lust," said Hill. "All of those things are tied in. Even though it's nude and it's most definitely a private area, it's not vulgar. It's just art — the art of our bodies."

I went to get more chicken salad. Commenting on how good it was, someone called it "chicken crack" and everyone laughed. The buzz in the room was overwhelmingly joyful. Between signing books and taking photos, Hill told whomever was standing nearby about the challenges she faced in taking a photo of her own vagina.

"I have two selfie sticks," she said. "Not once did I think of using them!"

I felt like I had stumbled on a group of friends, and never like I didn't belong. The joy and intimacy of the venue reflected the joy and intimacy of the subject matter; no hushed tones, no docent monitoring from the corner of the room.

Hill mentioned that in the past she has unsuccessfully applied for grants to support her visual art projects — although she didn't apply for any for this particular collection. I thought about what role the venue and any attached institutional support have in altering the art's message and meaning.

I imagined an exhibit of BBW vaginas at the Mint Museum. Would an institutional sanction be worth celebrating? Would such a venue strip the art of its intended purpose: that it's by, for and about black women? More curation and less celebration?

Naturally, Hill seeks a wider audience for her work, but as the roomful of friends cracked jokes and passed around plastic cups full of wine, I couldn't help feeling like the intimacy of the little space and the exuberant atmosphere were an inextricable part of experiencing Hill's work.

Hill herself considered the event a success. The next day, she took to Facebook to thank everyone who supported her latest endeavor.

"The art of blk bbw vaginas is real," she wrote. "It's magnificent."

Apparently, Drake was right all along.

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Partying With the Parents

PG-13 for what?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 14, 2017 at 7:00 AM

"Aerin, we're trying something new!"

My mom had a huge grin on her face while she played shuffleboard at The Gin Mill in South End. I couldn't believe my P.I.C.'s parents convinced her to play. But there she and my pops were, having the time of their lives (I left out the fact that the game is more popular in retirement homes than among my generation and let them have fun with their new game).

My parents came to town for my dad's birthday a couple weeks ago and you know what that means. Not only was I able to party with people who can take care of me when I'm drinking but I

was also able to enjoy a staycation at the Ritz for a couple days — sorry, not sorry!

Let me start by saying that finding things to do when my parents are in town is a huge challenge. They aren't into drinking, packed bars, belligerent drunk folk, hookah or loud music. And based on my previous articles, you can imagine that limits our options quite a bit. In the past, we've found family-friendly activities in the Q.C., such as dressing up for a Halloween house party and jazz at Blue Restaurant & Bar. This time, however, the itinerary was completely up to me.

When they arrived on Thursday, the plan was for me to have all of my things ready to go so they could scoop me from work and we could go straight to the hotel. Obviously, drinking on Wednesday night got in the way of that. So I went home, gathered my things and had them pick me up from there. By the time they arrived, I was nervous we'd check in to the hotel and the birthday boy would go to sleep. So I made him put our first destination in the GPS — Sycamore Brewing.

Like I said, my parents aren't exactly the go-with-the-flow type. For the entire ride over to South End, my parents' banter was continuous. "Where are we going? I don't want to go to a bar. Is it that hookah spot? If so, I'm good. Are we in the hood?" I rolled my eyes and sighed with every complaint as we pulled into the parking lot at Sycamore.

"Is Guy here?" my pops asked as we walked in. I didn't even know what he was talking about at first. That's when I saw the Papi Queso kitchen menu in front of him. His eyes lit up as he said, "Shut up! That's what I meant by 'is Guy here?!'"

My parents are huge fans of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Pops had talked about the "Papi Queso" episode for months, so I knew snagging The Pig Mac — complete with pulled pork, bourbon onions and mac 'n' cheese — was at the top of our to-do list. We sat down at one of the picnic tables outside — thankfully it wasn't Food Truck Friday — on one of the most perfect, cool Queen City evenings. After eating his Pig Mac and enjoying one of his favorite past-times of people-watching, my pops would've loved to hit the town, but my mom and I knew it was only a matter of time before he passed out for the night.

The following day, I went to work. They met me for lunch and I introduced them to one of my favorite people in the city and coincidentally, my favorite hot dog — Vic the Chili Man.

We ate dogs in Romare Bearden Park and made plans for them to crash my office's happy hour at 204 North a few hours later. I should've avoided the glasses of champagne I had before dinner, because that's when the P.I.C. hit me up asking what our plans were for the night.

We decided to head to Gin Mill and beat the tipsy crowd. Once I saw how entertained our parents were playing shuffleboard, I decided it would be a good idea to get an RBV ... I was wrong. On a weekend when I should've been showing how "grown up" I was, my mindset shifted quickly from PG to the border between PG-13 and quickly into rated R territory. SBy the time 10 p.m. rolled around, I was ready to rally and my parents were dragging me, kicking and screaming in my mind, back to the hotel. There, I proceeded to argue with them about why I should be "allowed" to take an Uber back out and why I didn't want to watch a movie they were watching until I passed out – fully clothed. Sighs.

Thank goodness for breakfast in the hotel, errands and a little brunch at Napa on Providence to tie off the weekend nicely. Otherwise, I might've single-handedly ruined a great visit. Oh Aerin, when will you learn?

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Uptown's Best-Kept Secret Returns

Queen City speakeasy

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 11:28 AM

On The week of April 1st, I received an email from someone who worked for a marketing company based in New York. It read:

"I'm happy to share that The Dock returns this weekend! Starting Saturday night April 1 at 9 p.m., Uptown speakeasy, The Dock will once again throw open its doors. After renovations, The Dock is more easily accessible though guests will still have to look for the light in the loading dock of the Charlotte Marriott City Center on N. Church St.

"The Dock will be open every Saturday night serving five Prohibition era cocktails, wine, beer and snacks... along with a few surprises. On other nights, the space will be Charlotte's most unique private event space.

"If you'd like to check out The Dock this Saturday night (4/1), just arrive early and use the secret password – 'April Fool's' (no joke!) – to skip the line."

This sounded too good to be true. If you've followed along, you know checking out The Dock has been at the top of my to-do list since I caught wind of the new, secret spot back in fall 2016. I'm sure you're wondering, "If it was at the top of your list, Aerin, why are you just now going? It's June 2017, after all!" Sighs. A combination of too much to drink on certain nights, inclement weather on others but mostly, they were shut down by the fire department for a short while i.e. "renovations."

Now back to this email. The more I talked about the contents of this email from a stranger, the more I started to freak myself out about whether or not it was legit. Why New York? No marketing for The Dock on his social? Was this really an April Fool's joke? What if he was a creeper? Maybe I watch way too many horror movies, but you're not going to catch me walking around a part of Uptown I'm less familiar with looking for a secret entrance based on an invite from an out-of-state stranger.

I decided I wouldn't go until I didn't have to go by myself. Next thing you know, it's June and my girlfriends and I are planning a girls' night to check it out finally. Better late than never though, right?

We hopped out of our Uber and approached the stairs of the loading dock. Once inside, we rounded the corner and another door with a handwritten sign on a piece of scrap paper read: Welcome to The Dock. White brick, corrugated metal on the ceiling, string lights, barrels for tables and a small buffet toward the front contribute to the intimate, cocktail party-style vibe in the small space.

The crowd was slightly more pompous than typical partygoers at SIP — the place we ended up going after. But then again, why wouldn't an elusive, underground bar with a limited drink menu attract a "more mature" crowd? Ever so tipsy and a wee bit uncomfortable, we were dead set on grabbing at least one drink before heading somewhere we could truly turn up.

We approached the buffet, where the bartender was literally turning up the heat on a Manhattan he was preparing. The drink menu was outlined in chalk on small board: Evening Libations – Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Sidecar, French 75 and Rum Punch. After waiting for a bit while he handcrafted each cocktail, we decided we'd just grab a glass of champagne. (Or maybe it was the fact that we'd already "tied a few on" and couldn't handle a strong cocktail?) We chatted with the bar manager while he mixed drinks about the recent changes they'd made, the drink menu and the bar's limited marketing strategy – you can't find info on them anywhere outside of articles.

He explained that the concept for The Dock was inspired by Prohibition (not the other Uptown bar, the time period). When you think back to the 1930s and the illegality of consumption, you don't think about social media or Google Plus pages. Instead, you think of keeping things on the hush, hush. Spreading the good news about your secret cocktail room via word of mouth.

Overall? The Dock is a cool-ass space for hosting a private event or coordinating the pregame before the pregame. Or maybe you want to take your "Real Sidechick of Charlotte" — if you haven't heard, GOOGLE IT NOW – to a quiet spot where no one will see you. Or maybe even find a Sugar Daddy — don't Google that one at work, things could get hairy. Whatever your reason for going, experiencing it for yourself almost feels like a rite of passage in the Queen City.

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