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A User's Guide to Drinking in Charlotte* 

Or, why "upscale" is a descriptor best left to condo developments, strip malls and other accoutements of yuppie-dom

A friend of mine, visiting from out of town, once stepped with me inside a bar off Old Pineville Road to observe what she deemed a sad scene. To judge by the patron's visages one would think they'd all just been laid off.

"Man, this is the place you come to drink when you get fired," she cracked. Elizabeth fancies herself a funny one.

Nevertheless, we settled in for a few bottles and, by the time we left, had met an assortment of characters -- including a guy who emerged from the bathroom self-mummified in toilet paper. Sadly, that bar later moved to fancier digs. While still a fun bar, its character did not quite make the move: I doubt I'll soon see anyone emerging from the men's room covered with Angel Soft.

This week, Creative Loafing celebrates its annual Beer Week. On other pages of this newspaper, you'll find mentions of several events designed to educate you about beer. This story, however, is not specifically about beer. I will not mention hops, flavor or clarity. Though I admire those folks whose dedication drives innovation in this beloved industry, I believe that if you can coherently discuss a beer's hops, flavor or clarity, then chances are you need a few more rounds. Like, 10 more.

This, instead, is a short paean to drinking in Charlotte and why it matters.

Drinking in Charlotte isn't that much different than drinking elsewhere -- though it does seem people here are more likely abandon their stale cubicles in search of equally sterile lounges. I fully expect any day now to read an advertisement for such a bar -- er, ultra lounge -- boasting of its upscale bathrooms.

Such pretension appeals to people who want to pretend they live in a locale more cosmopolitan than it really is, I suppose. I, on the other hand, will settle for taverns classy enough to actually stock toilet paper. At least I'll have reasonable belief I leave without having squandered the month's mortgage over some tapas and faux martinis. Some brave souls insist Charlotte needs more of these establishments. I disagree with their sentiment, but I share their intent. With such boosterism in mind, here's the first of a few suggestions for better drinking in Charlotte:

Drink for civic pride

For years, Charlotte has been quaintly hell-bent on assuming status as a world-class city. Can you name a world-class city that doesn't have some sort of well-known drinking culture? Chances are, it's not a very interesting one. Paris and Rome have their wines; Moscow its vodka; Tokyo its sake; and Dublin ... well ... it's Dublin.

Even stateside burgs can boast their props. Roam the streets of Cleveland, and you'll see a bar on many a corner. (Incidentally, Cleveland consistently vies with Detroit for the title of poorest U.S. city.) Even in New York City, home of some of the most overpriced, watered-down gin and tonics you'll ever sip, an industrious soul can find a little corner of paradise -- in Manhattan, no less -- that serves free hot dogs with its $7 pitchers of some crappy domestic. And in such places, stories are made and city lore is spawned.

These cities have an organic drinking culture that Charlotte lacks, which is to be forgiven, considering the Prohibitionist bent of our past: The state legislature only authorized liquor sales by the drink in 1978. And the yahoos squalled about that, too.

Drink for unity

No, Sen. Barack Obama won't be using this idea in his campaign. But ample evidence exists that a few pints can bring friends together and create new ones. Just venture to most any bar at 1:45 a.m. and watch people. As George Jean Nathan, a noted drama critic, once declared, "I drink to make other people interesting." Drink enough, and anyone will be.

Drink for freedom from the nannystate/pharmaceutical overlords

Drinking is not supposed to be fun anymore. Fashionable, yes. A great way to meet with friends over a beer or two? Sure. (Though honestly, if all you have to say to someone can be expressed within the time it takes to down two Yuenglings, are you really good friends?)

But to enjoy beer for its intoxicating factors is déclassé. Frank Kelly Rich, the visionary editor of Modern Drunkard magazine, notes a relationship between modern-day prohibitionists and the pharmaceutical industry. These days, we're encouraged to visit a shrink who will talk to you for two minutes, whip out a prescription pad and prescribe a few happy pills. Nature, however, has given us a tool that's available over-the-counter. You can buy it at the drug store and the corner Sip' n Skip. You can even make it in your bathtub. And this beverage was not designed to be sipped and fussed over like a $1,400 bottle of wine.

Finally, nurture your relationships with designated-driver friends

Yeah, we know you wouldn't want to be one. Of course, you might not want to endanger yourself as a cop, firefighter or CMS schoolteacher, either. But like the aforementioned professionals, when you need a designated driver, you're really in need.

Or at least you'll need them to borrow money for cab fare. You don't want end up with a designated driver who's motoring on a suspended license -- a fact you find out only after a routine traffic stop leaves you and your non-driving, decidedly non-sober friends stranded by a graveyard at 3 a.m.

Not that that's happened to anyone I know.

* Let's get a few things straight: CL does not endorse risky behavior, i.e. getting sloshed and hitting the streets, calling your boss after ingesting a fifth of tequila or using your cell phone after 2 a.m. -- in any capacity. We know there is a disease called alcoholism, and we are respectful of those who have to live with the disease. But those sufferers of another disease, killjoyism, please don't drag the rest of us down with you prohibitionism. As many a drinker has pointed out, FDR and Churchill were friends of the glass. Hitler was not, nor is George W. Bush. Just sayin'.

More Charlotte Bar Crawl

Drink here

Inside a trio of Charlotte's quirkiest watering holes

The quotable drunkard

Famous (and not-so famous) libation-centric sayings

 

 

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