Wednesday, December 13, 2017

It's Poppin' at Hoppin'

Help yourself at Charlotte's first self-serve bar

Posted By on Wed, Dec 13, 2017 at 10:47 AM


If the lights were turned off inside South End's newest craft beer attraction Hoppin', you may mistake this spot for just another commercial space waiting to be filled. As one of my former co-workers and I pulled up to the corner of West Bland and Winnifred streets on a recent Wednesday night, the warm light of the entryway doors and a circular window was the only indicator that there was life inside the small gray building.

I'd heard about a new self-serve craft beer and wine taproom somewhere near Seoul Food Meat Company and invited my friend to join me when I checked it out. I was a bit apprehensive at first, wondering if this place would end up having the same feel as other bottle shops around the Queen City. The answer? Not at all. When we entered the building, there were two people greeting us — one of whom took the time to walk us through the process:

- Show your ID and hand over your debit/credit card.

-Receive a wristband.

-Enter the taproom where you'll find 50 beer taps and 12 wine taps along the wall.

-Find your drink of choice and hold your wrist up to the hop symbol.

-When the green light appears, pour away.

Where's a Staples "easy" button when you need one? According to North Carolina law, you can't serve more than 32 ounces of alcohol at a time. That's why you'll have to return to the front when you've consumed 32 ounces. Don't worry, Hoppin' utilizes iPour technology, so you'll know everything about the beverage you choose and how many ounces you have left before you need to go back to a checkpoint.

I started browsing through the taps with one mission: find a sour beer. Just when I'd given up hope, I found one. I was nervous about looking crazy using the tap for the first time so I ended up with quite a few ounces of a very dark sour. Needless to say, I was able to hang on to that glass for quite some time.

We walked into the open area and walked up the stairs past the three huge flat-screen TVs and became obsessed with the layout and the concept immediately. The industrial elements of the building are offset by bright lighting and modern décor in a two-story taproom, another thing that separates Hoppin' from other, non-alcoholic self-serve venues in the area.

We passed by a set of dartboards and found a small couch to sit on that overlooks the bottom floor of the taproom. That's when I noticed there was another set of taps on the second floor! Convenience if I've ever seen it.

It struck me later that I was probably so taken in by Hoppin' because it's the perfect place for introverts and extroverts alike. I'm an only child, so I appreciate as few social interactions with people outside of my friend group as possible. I know, I know, who would've thought? But it's true; you're faithful Nightlife correspondent isn't always into meeting new people. Finding a bar I could walk into and get right down to business without even interacting with a bartender seemed like the perfect setup to me.

We walked outside to the back patio where patrons will be able to play cornhole and purchase ice cream once the weather warms up, judging by the presence of an unplugged cart sitting nearby. We sat on a bench while safely people watching the folks inside through a glass garage door.

We went in for one more round while glancing at the Hornets struggling to keep up with a Curry-less Golden State team. Hoppin' may not be first choice for major sports fans, but the TV situation works well for the casual fan.

Not to mention, at one point we were sitting next to a small stage so you know what that means ... potential for live music, karaoke and all that jazz.

Considering my friend and I showed up just a few days past their grand opening, Hoppin' is not hurtin' when it comes to being able to fill the space. Blame it on the fact that they were closed on Monday and Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether niche bars like this and Lumberjaxe will remain popular for just a couple months before the novelty wears off and people go back to their respetive neighborhood bars, but I think the concept they've created is one that remote workers, craft beer drinkers, business professionals and networking groups will be able to enjoy.

The short of it? If you're looking for "good beer, wine and good vibes" and you haven't been to Hoppin' yet, you're missing out on a great time. Just do us all a favor and learn to pour a beer from a tap, or you're going to look silly walking around the taproom with a glass full of foam.

But who am I to judge?

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Staying Sex Positive Amid Misconduct

Not giving in to the negative

Posted By on Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 7:00 AM


A while ago, a friend and I were talking over beers at Common Market when she said she believed the act of heterosexual sex to be inherently patriarchal and invasive by definition. Feminist psychologist Dee Graham would agree. In her influential and controversial 1995 book, Loving to Survive, Graham argued that men's sexuality is by nature violent. Women who fear reprisal in the face of this violence must conform to patriarchal norms of femininity to avoid being hurt or killed. Graham says what women perceive to be love and attraction toward men in fact comes from a kind of societal Stockholm syndrome.

Today, powerful men are losing their jobs left and right as allegations of sexual harassment and assault rain down upon them. Reading the details of these men's behavior is and should be appalling, and the pervasiveness of the problem lends credence to Graham's idea: Women are subjects of men, and we do what we must to survive.

These harassment allegations call into question feminist notions of sex positivity. It's abundantly clear that sex is a recurring source of pain, subjection and degradation for many women and some men. How can we celebrate such a force for harm?

Celebrating sex is exactly what this column aims to do. Sex is a conversation starter and conversations begin to bridge difference. Sex is also changing, and I try to highlight Charlotteans who take an active role in challenging traditional ideas of sex and wonder instead what sex could be in a perfect world.

Arguing with my friend over beer, I tried to conjure sex in its most perfect form: Fun and hot and sweet, like a gooey cookie just out of the oven. A window into someone else's being. An excellent way to pass time. An opportunity to connect, for a few minutes or for a lifetime.

My friend wasn't altogether impressed. That's what sex can be, she pointed out, but that's not what sex is for many people, especially women today. The sexual harassment allegations demonstrate that.

But still. The right response to harmful, inappropriate and patriarchal sex is not abstinence. It's an acknowledgement that sex and power are wielded to harm and abuse, but it's also a leaning into the potential of sex and consent.

"No means no" is a common refrain from assault prevention advocates. Many women aren't offered the choice to begin with, but whether she's asked or not, a woman who says no means it. In 2008, Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti edited a book that aimed to turn this formula on its head: Yes Means Yes! What if instead of having to deny consent, women could leap headlong and enthusiastically into sexual encounters, their desire burning hot? What if our stereotype of women's reluctance was replaced with women's desire running riot? Wouldn't sex be more fun for everyone?

We recently published the results of the Great Queen City Oral Sex Survey (to the dismay of some readers). The results pointed at the disparity between women's pleasure and men's. In many cases, "oral sex" was interpreted to mean fellatio exclusively. But the results also pointed toward what sex, oral or otherwise, can be: an otherworldly slice of heaven right here within our grasp.

When sex and power join forces, the results can be horrific. But despite the recent headlines and long falls from grace, I still believe that sex positivity from men and women alike is key. Enthusiastic consent can only begin, though, when fear and harassment end. When women are no longer held hostage to anyone's desire but their own.

Inspired by our crowdsourcing of oral sex tips and in the spirit of what sex could be, I would like to curate a playlist of songs that represent for Charlotteans their best sex, sex in the best possible world. Your contributions can be conventional or unconventional, romantic or profane or both. Tweet your song suggestions to @allisonbraden or @cl_charlotte. I’ll be compiling the playlist on Spotify.

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Shoot Your Shot, Take a Shot

My appearance on 'Margarita Confessionals'

Posted By on Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 7:00 AM


A couple weeks ago, I received a DM on Twitter (is that what you even call messages on Twitter?). A rare occurrence, I'm shocked that I even took notice of the alert. I opened the message to learn I'd been invited to join a live show and panel discussion put on by the ladies at The Margarita Confessionals. Margaritas? Sign me up!

If you haven't heard about The Margarita Confessionals before, it's a podcast that you can catch on Channel 96.1 on weekdays. The creators, Ali Washburn and Lauren Levine, are best friends who loved to chat about dating, relationships and work over a good marg. That's where the idea for the podcast came from. Almost a full two years later, here they were, "sliding into my DMs." (I think it's safe to say they had no idea what trouble they were getting themselves into.)

Despite the fact that I hate public speaking and struggle with anxiety over miniscule tasks such as deciding on a menu item, I agreed to be a panelist in the hopes that it would be a "good experience for me." Ali responded by saying, "It will be a very casual conversation about dating in CLT — basically everything you write about! Dating apps, meeting people irl [in real life], ghosting, etc. Just an honest picture about what it's like to be single in CLT :)" Then, she followed up with, "We'll take some shots before the show ;)"

Ali has clearly read my column, so she must have known I was going to hold her to the whole pre-show shot idea.

For the others of you who have kept up with my column, you know that the topic of dating, missed opportunities and relationship drama are at the top of my list of topics when it comes to nightlife. And after tackling my first cover story "True Confessions From the Millennial Dating World," I thought I was well-stocked with ammunition for my first panel discussion — "The State of the Date: a yearly address delivered in November by The Margarita Confessionals Podcast to Charlotte, giving the ladies' view of the state of the date," as it was advertised.

However, as the day of the show grew near, that afrorementioned anxiety started to rear its ugly face. Even though I'd invited a few friends to come, I'd secretly hoped they'd forget on the day of. Fortunately, most of them did until it was too late for them to figure out how to get tickets without my input — score! I wrapped up my workday and started to get ready. Everyone was encouraged to dress up like they were going on a first date. I donned my heels, which I hate to wear, and tried to find things to do to bide my time. I opened the fridge and remembered that I'd purchased Smirnoff Ice to "ice" other people with, and decided that I'd need to take a knee and chug one of them if I was going to survive this show.

When I jumped into my Uber, I immediately began to purge my anxiety. I told my driver about the show and how nervous I was. He agreed with my sentiments about public speaking and we laughed about how nerve-wracking the whole experience can be. Our laughter came to a complete halt when we rounded the corner before The Fillmore where a long line had begun to form. He looked back at me as we pulled up and asked if I was going to be okay as we both assumed that the line was for the show. I told him to wait while I found out if that's what the line was really for. Thankfully, it was for a concert at the larger Fillmore venue and not the panel at The Underground – whew!

As soon as I walked in, I went straight to the bar for that shot we'd discussed in our DM when someone stopped me for free drinks backstage. Okay, I'll wait. I went to the back and grabbed a beer. Ali and Lauren welcomed me with nice, warm hugs and I tried my best to act "normal" when the other panelists tried to get to know me. I found myself sharing in each interaction that I was just nervous. To be real, I didn't care what they did and didn't want to talk about what I did either. That's when we were told that we'd be able to hop on an open tab at the bar! I went straight up to the bartender and asked for a shot of fireball and an RBV — I wasn't playing any games.

By the time we were walking onto the stage for the show, I was so lit that all my inhibitions had faded all the way away. From questions like, "How do you feel about unsolicited dick pics?" to "What lines have worked on social dating apps?," I was prepared to pick up the mic at the drop of a dime. I was so comfortable, in fact, when an audience member asked what I felt was a tough question, I grabbed the mic and requested that we have round two of the lemon drop shots we'd had backstage! No one thought I'd do it, but you know I did!

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Holiday Cheers Return to the Queen City

The most wonderful time of the year

Posted on Wed, Nov 29, 2017 at 7:00 AM


It's that time of year again. The cold weather and premature nightfall are exacerbating your seasonal depression. The Christmas decorations and miscellaneous holiday tchotchkes you've been eyeing for weeks can finally find places to live around your home. And you've already started coming up with new resolutions for 2018 because you've haven't checked a single one off of your 2017 list. Trust me, you're not the only one.

For a couple weeks, I've been throwing side-eyes at friends and social media acquaintances who've been posting pictures of their Christmas tree prior to Thanksgiving. "Since when did people start putting up Christmas decorations before Turkey Day? And who told her that her Charlie Brown Christmas tree was cute?" I've asked a few of my friends. They rolled their eyes in response because they knew I was just sippin' on some holiday haterade.

And they were right, as soon as I returned to the Queen after spending time with family, I started planning out when I'd put up my trees. Yes, you read that right, I'm putting up multiple trees this year, two artificial and one real one. I've even been trying to figure out if I have room for garland. Who am I?!

Nevertheless, each year I try to compile a list of a few things to do in or around Charlotte during the holiday season and share it with my readers. Why break tradition this year? Here are a few things on my holiday bucket list this year:

Plan a friendsgivemas party. Maybe you missed out on friendsgiving. Maybe you want a good excuse to continue the torturous tradition of White Elephant Gift Exchange. Whatever your excuse, the month in between your next paid holiday is the perfect time to gather your friends and family for a friendsgivemas party. Think outside of the box. Instead of hosting a dinner party, coordinate a silent disco or take over your favorite watering hole.

Get lit with your coworkers. If you work a 9-to-5, you know that the holiday office party is one of the most highly anticipated events of the year. I mean, they even make movies about them! Don't be a Grinch and turn down free booze at some of the best venues in Charlotte. Lightly mingle with the higher-ups then sit back and enjoy the shitshow that the majority of your coworkers will become.

Embarrass yourself on ice skates. There's plenty of places to test out your ice skating skills around this time in the Q.C. But Holiday On Ice, Charlotte's outdoor ice skating rink Uptown screams #Charlottean! Grab your boo thang or a group of friends and head over to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza until January 7th!

Sign up for a bar crawl, run or volunteer work. "One of my biggest fears is that I'll marry into a family that runs 5Ks on holidays," reads a meme that I recently saw, and immediately co-signed after my third trip to the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. However, maybe you're one of the healthy/give-back-to-the-community types and running is your thing. Well, there's good news, you'll find plenty of runs, trots, walks and volunteer opportunities in the Queen City during the holiday season. But for those who prefer to exercise their palates, there's plenty of Santa and Christmas-themed bar crawls to go around, too.

Feast your eyes on 3,000,000 Christmas lights. Even though I have every intention of going to Speedway Christmas every year, I never seem to make it. But this year I've got to do it! If taking a ride through millions of Christmas lights doesn't put me in the holiday spirit, I don't know what will. Pack up your car any night of the week and head to the Charlotte Motor Speedway for a light show that will rival your wildest dreams.

Hop on the brewery train. You know how it is in Charlotte. You bring one unique concept to the nightlife scene and next thing you know, there's 1,000 more just like it. Well, it's not the worst idea when it comes to our obsession with breweries. There's so many popping up all over the city, that it's hard to keep up. Finally stop by Plaza Midwood's latest addition, Resident Culture, and cozy up to a pint, or three. Then make a point to visit a new brewery each weekend in December. There's nothing like exploring new spots in your city to put your seasonal depression at ease.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Little Pre-Thanksgiving Family Turn-up Time

Me, mom and Fantasia

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Secret Show Turns Into a Nice Night Up North

Sofar, so good

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


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

Yeah, probably not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Last-Minute Bon Iver Show Surpasses Nonexistent Expectations

On a wing with a prayer

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Not Dressed Up With Everywhere To Go

Pre-Halloween weekend in the Queen City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Be Careful with your Main Squeeze


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


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

-Choke Holds Obligate Kink Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Having Issues Stopping Boyfriend's Underpants Man

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

Get over it.

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

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

-Asking For A Friend

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

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

-People Are Nice To You

Thanks for sharing, PANTY.

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Dating Horror Stories from the Queen City

Nightmare on Trade Street

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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