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Creative Lounging: Inside the Q.C.'s coziest new nightspots 

Going to a nightclub in Charlotte is sometimes like going shopping on Black Friday: The lines are ridiculously long, the crowds are thick with intoxicated people (whether that be by alcohol or the high of a great sale), fights break out over an object of desire and you leave with a huge dent into your bank account.

All that said, clubs in the Queen City are still a staple of the nightlife scene. Head out to Suite, Whisky River, The Breakfast Club or The Forum (among many other places) on any Saturday night and you'll still find tons of folks.

Recently, however, a new type of venue has been popping up more and more on the local scene -- places where you can meet up with people in a warm, intimate environment and have a conversation without yelling over loud music. Lounges, a more laidback type of nightspot, draw in folks who are looking for a good drink and a good time without the long lines and packed dance floors, and it seems like the major players who shape Charlotte's nightlife are recognizing that.

Grab a comfy chair, and check out a few of the city's new lounges on the following pages, as well as some more places slated to open soon. We won't even charge you a cover for it.

The Spot: Dharma Lounge

The Quote: According to co-owner Eric Pliner, "Dharma is a boutique lounge. It's not catered to the mainstream, there's no VIP, there's no bottle service, there's none of that. It's going back to the days when the place to go out and drink and have a good time is still available where you don't have to wonder how much it's going to cost to sit down on the couch -- you just sit down on the couch. It's a cross between a neighborhood bar and a nightclub. It's got a lot of Eastern influences as far as the design. The idea behind it was to create a place that was pretty but not pretentious -- someplace where you can feel comfortable, without a dress code. It's a place where everybody can come and be a part of something. We aren't trying to preach segregation. We don't want to segregate people, we want them to come together and enjoy the music. It's not on the beaten path and we don't want to be."

The First Impression: The 7-foot Buddha statue with headphones definitely demanded our attention -- it's hard to not keep looking at it. Couple that with Eastern-influenced art, origami hanging from the ceiling, and plenty of seating (including much-too-comfortable daybeds accented with colorful pillows), and you've definitely got the lounge experience on lock. And, by the way, if you walk in and feel like no one's there, just check outside on the patio -- that's where folks seem congregate sometimes.

The Hours: Wednesdays through Sundays, 9 p.m.-2 a.m.

The Site: 1440 S. Tryon St. www.dharmalounge.com.

The Spot: Luna Lounge

The Quote: When describing his joint, co-owner Rick Gur says, "At Luna Lounge, we try to create something where every night has individual personality. Wednesday nights are Pop Life [an event that's still sponsored by The Sol Kitchen and Creative Loafing], which is more urban, international, Brazilian, Argentinean and upbeat music. Thursday nights are Rock It Thursdays, which are more like rock 'n' roll and Top 40 [music]. Fridays are house music, techno, and Saturdays we have international music, with Greek, Persian, Latin, and other international beats. And Mondays are Service Industry Nights."

The First Impression: With red and amber light accents adorning the room and mirrored walls capturing the reflections of candles scattered about, Luna just oozes warmth. The night we rolled through, the DJ was on point, offering a mix of beats that you don't hear on the radio, which is always a good thing.

The Hours: Mondays, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 9 p.m.-2 a.m.

The Site: 521 N. College St. www.lunacharlotte.com.

The Spot: Twenty-Two

The Quote: Lise Barnett, co-owner of Twenty-Two, says, "Rodney Raines and I, we're partners in this business, and we've been in this neighborhood for a long time. We really wanted to bring something to the neighborhood that was a new take on an art gallery. We wanted to be able to provide a late-night venue that you can come in and relax -- in the gallery, or if you want, have a drink at the bar. We're also considered a wine shop; we sell retail wine. We're going to be serving late-night coffee soon, and we'll have monthly change-outs of art. We wanted to bring something to the neighborhood that wasn't here, a relaxed, comfortable place for people to hang out."

The First Impression: Everything's so modern-looking here -- from the stemless wine glasses to the high-tech bathrooms to the wide, sturdy barstools. With bright lighting and a clean design (and when we say clean, we mean uncluttered), you can't help but enjoy the colorful paintings on the walls. One request: Could someone please turn up the music?

The Hours: Wednesdays through Sundays, noon until late.

The Site: 1500 Central Ave. www.acecustomtattoo.com/twentytwo/twentytwo.html.

The Others

Of course, there are other lounges in the Q.C. that are worth mentioning. While these few listed below aren't exactly newbies anymore, they are definitely destinations you should add to your must-visit list.

• Fiji Sushi Bar & Lounge and Kashmir Nightclub: A few clubs have met their doom on Uptown's 5th Street corridor, but Fiji Sushi Bar & Lounge and Kashmir Nightclub look like they have what it takes to be contenders. Step inside and you'll find Asian décor, tasty sushi to satisfy your raw-fish cravings in Fiji, comfy furniture to lounge around on in Kashmir, and pure exclusivity in the Zen Lounge. 116 W. 5th St. www.fijisushi.com. www.kashmirnightclubs.com.

• Soul Gastrolounge: A self-styled "music restaurant," (according to co-owner Andy Kastanas) Soul offers food (mezes, tapas and Asian-inspired menu items) alongside DJs like That Guy Smitty and Johnnie Davis, spinning "soulful house" music. Located directly above Twenty-Two, the warm lighting and chill vibe are enough to elicit full-blown lounge status -- with some delicious munchies thrown in for good measure. 1500-B Central Ave.www.soulgastrolounge.com.

• Crave Dessert Bar: Crave's niche is desserts -- yummy cupcakes, cheesecakes and chocolate delights all guaranteed to satisfy your sweet tooth. But the beauty in this dessert bar is its lounge aspect; you certainly wouldn't come to Crave to shake your tailfeather -- but you can sip on some wine, nibble on a decadent dessert and/or chat up some friends with mellow music playing in the background. 500 W. 5th St. www.cravedessertbar.com.

• Apostrophe Lounge: Small often equals cozy, and that's just what you find in Apostrophe Lounge. On any given night, you can find something going on, whether it's salsa lessons, old-school hip-hop or the monthly gathering of the fashion-minded group Stiletto Girls. 1440 S. Tryon St. www.apostrophelounge.com.

Coming Soon

• Bar At 316: A martini/wine bar lounge is moving into the building that once housed Liaisons, a now-defunct gay bar often called "The Pink House." According to Jeff Edwards, one of the managing partners of Bar At 316, the gay-friendly and hetero-friendly lounge will be opening in early December. 316 Rensselaer Ave.

• Butter: Word on the street says that in January, the N.C. Music Factory will welcome its second nightlife spot (Halo being the first). Butter is being touted as a high-end New York-style lounge with world-class DJs spinning on the ones and twos. I guess we'll see, now won't we. 820 Hamilton St.

• Kazba: As if the EpiCentre wasn't poppin' enough. Kazba, which promises to be an upscale, intimate lounge adorned in Mediterranean/Moroccan style, will offer smaller booths, multiple VIP sections and bottle service. According to Emily Hudgens, creative director for the Ghazi Company, Kazba is set to open next to Mez in mid-December. 210. E. Trade. St.

• On The Roxx: Finally, the South Boulevard location of On The Roxx, an upscale yet casual martini/wine lounge with two other locations (one in Ballantyne and one in Lake Norman), will be opening up in mid December, according to owner John Costanzo. 1520 South Blvd.

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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