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Late night in the city 

One writer searches for life in Charlotte after 2 a.m.

It’s been a long workweek and you’re restless. So on Friday night, you decide that it’s time to party and have a good time.

Unfortunately, as soon as you hit the streets of Uptown, the clock begins to strike 2 a.m. —  and that means it’s last call for alcohol, and your favorite playground is about to shut its doors for the evening. 

The street sweeper is out spraying down the roads and pushing the trash into the storm drains. Somebody just walked out of a nightclub and vomited in the bushes. And despite the fact that you are totally grossed out by the girl who fell on the sidewalk and showed the whole town the crack of her ass, you're not ready to go home. How could you be?

After downing a few Red Bulls mixed with vodka, the last thing you and your designated driver (who is hopped up on caffeine) want to do is call it a night.

Sadly, however, after 2 a.m. most establishments close for business.

No one will ever say that the Queen City never sleeps. Sometimes it seems as if Queen Charlotte closes her boudoir curtains before the sun goes down ... and this is even on the weekend! Unless there's a huge event in Charlotte, after last call most people go home. The lucky ones go home with somebody.

But not you and not tonight; you don't want to be a part of a seedy one-night stand.

So, the question hangs in the air like dark storm clouds: What the hell is there to do after 2 a.m.?

Taking to the streets of Charlotte, I decide to explore this quandary and find out if there is life after 2 a.m. Around 12:30 a.m., I call my one and only night owl, Erica.

"Hey, want to go out?" I ask.

"It's 12:30. Everything is about to close. You do know that, don't you?" she replies.

"Yeah, but I'm sure there is something going on tonight. And I'm going to find it."

"Have you been drinking coffee all night?" she asks.

"How do you know?"

We laugh and she says, in an effort to keep me safe, she'll ride out with me.

As it turns out -- unbeknownst to Erica and I -- the weekend I decided to explore Charlotte after 2 a.m., a police officer was the victim of a hit-and-run in front of Eastland Mall ... and then there were the robberies in East Charlotte. But, ignorance is bliss; so, as my friend and I roam the street, we search for places to go and people to see.

There's one good thing about Uptown in the early morning hours -- plenty of free parking. After pulling into a space on Church Street, we walk past parking spots that are much closer to the downtown bars and clubs and in better-lit areas.

"Damn, I should move my car," I tell Erica.

"Wait," she says. "There are spots up there."

"I'm going to get my car. You stand in this spot so that no one gets it."

She shoots me a look then says, "Who? We're the only fools out here!"

Nodding, I reply, "You have a point. Too bad Starbucks isn't still open."

Uptown is bustling with a ton of drunks, I discover after parking my car under a streetlight near a residential building on Church Street.

"This is housing?" Erica asks as we head down the street.

"Yeah."

"Have they been asleep since 9 p.m.?"

"Probably. You know these are some of the same people who didn't want Coyote Ugly to move over where Daddy's used to be. If they aren't sleeping, they're probably listening to classical music, sipping on milk and scotch."

Suddenly, a pedestrian named Ashley Harts and some of her friends who are visiting Charlotte stumble up the street. After chatting her up for a few minutes, Harts says the only after-hours place to go is Fuel Pizza. "There's nothing going on after 2 a.m. Well, HOM [the swanky Uptown nightclub], is open."

"Are you going to HOM?" I ask.

"No, I'm going home to go to sleep. Good luck finding something to do," she says and then catches up with her friends.

On the sidewalk across the street, two women and a man are walking slowly -- as if they know the location of a late-night party. I approach them.

"What is there to do in Charlotte after 2 a.m.?" I ask.

The first woman, who looks as if she's been drinking, says, "You go home and suck dick."

Her companions laugh. And of course none of them want to give their names.

The man, who most likely is going to get his dick sucked, suggests going to a liquor house on Tuckaseegee Road. But he can't give the exact address of said establishment.

These little after-hours houses are, by the way, illegal. In October 2006, CMPD waged war against them, according to an archived story on www.jointogether.org.

"Some operations are sophisticated, with dance floors and armed guards. But shutting them down is hard; if one house is raided, the party often just moves elsewhere. Investigators also have a hard time gathering enough evidence to justify a raid or making a case. Often, liquor houses don't even get the attention of police until violence occurs," reads a report on the Web site.

"Are you going to the liquor house tonight?" I ask.

The other woman in the group answers for him. "No, because she said she's going home to suck his dick, and I'm going to watch." They break out into laughter as they cross the street and get into their car.

Erica and I head over to HOM, wondering if they still charge full admission price this late. We're greeted at the door by Vladimir Males. Despite the late hour, he's teeming with energy and snarky comments about the drunks walking the street and the ones trying to enter the club. (And yes, it costs us $10 after 2 a.m. to get into HOM. But you can enter the on-site restaurant Feast for free.)

Males says, this late in the night, the people coming to the club are folks who work in the industry.

"We're it," he says. "After 2 a.m., HOM is the only place open." Of course, HOM doesn't serve alcohol after 2 a.m. But looking at the level of intoxication of the people strolling up in this spot, they don't need to serve up drinks.

Based on the size and diversity of the crowd, it appears that anyone who's not packing it up and going home is trying to get into HOM. While we're talking, he sees a few people standing around the door and in a exasperated voice, he says, "Are they fighting?" He ducks in the club and finds that there isn't a fight, just people standing around. Males looks relieved when he comes back outside.

Since most of the people visiting to the club that late are already drunk, he has to weed out the really shit-faced folks planning to come in and start a ruckus. Like the group of assholes walking down the street, dressed in black T-shirts and sneakers. One of these dudes, for whatever reason, decides to slap my friend on her butt.

"Man," one of his drunk friends says, "you're going to jail."

The ass-slapper looks at Erica and asks, "Are you the police?"

"Keep it moving," she replies, her face balled up in a mixture of shock and anger.

"I'm sorry, it's my birthday."

"Keep it moving," she says again.

"I just want to hear you say that it's OK."

"No, it's not OK. Now keep it moving!"

One of the men steps to Males and says, "I'll give you $100 if you let us in."

Males shakes his head. "You could give me $500 and you're still not getting in," he replied.

After the rejected partiers move along, Males shakes his head and tells me that when he's not working, he doesn't like going out. "This stuff is stressful," he said.

I bet.

In the time that we were standing outside of HOM, at least three women hit on Males. One intoxicated chick, who is also celebrating her birthday, walks up to him and plants a wet kiss on his cheek. She also does the same thing to a man who's leaving the club. I'm not really sure if she knew him that well.

After leaving HOM, we head down the street, noticing that Uptown is clearing out pretty quickly. It reminds me of Winston-Salem's downtown, except I don't see any tumbleweeds blowing across the empty streets. Just as we're about to pack it up, we sight a celebrity. And no, it's not Dale Jr. It's seven-foot Alexis Ajinca, a Charlotte Bobcats rookie from France. Damn, he's tall.

His entourage is different than most NBA players'; no one is sporting cornrows or a bunch of bling. The guys with him are short and seem to be seeking companionship from any woman who walks down the street. Ajinca watches with a look of amusement as one of his homeboys gets a woman's phone number. (I'm still trying to figure out who is drunker, the man who asks the woman for her phone number or the woman who gives it to him? He has Saturday Night Fever vibe going -- not really a good luck. I wonder if she gave him the rejection hot line number: 704-208-1658.)

So, what is this NBA player doing roaming the streets of Uptown at 3 a.m.? I couldn't help but ask.

"Nothing," he says with a pronounced French accent and then proceeds to do some kind of weird dance that scares me a little. It's time to go. Obviously, Uptown is closed and filled with weird motherfuckers.

We head down the wrong street to get to my car. But as we're backtracking to get back to where the vehicle is parked, we spot a long line at the corner of Trade and Tryon streets. What's this? A new club? A hot after-hours party spot? No. It's a damned hot dog stand.

"Street meat," says Libby, a woman who's standing in line. She and her friends headed out at 11 p.m. to check out Suite. As she waits for Kerry to get her chili dog, she says. "Then we left there and went to Alley Cat."

"Where you could at least get a drink," chimes in Heather. The women say they had a good time at Alley Cat, it wasn't that crowded and the vibe was nice. But at 2 a.m., they weren't exactly ready to leave and go home.

"What's next on the agenda?" I ask.

"There's not much else to do, other than party at a friend's house," Libby says. She's originally from New Jersey, and she's not used to everything shutting down at 2 a.m. Besides, when she and her friends go out, which isn't every weekend, they want to party all night long.

"This kind of sucks," says Libby. "We don't go out until 11 p.m., so that gives you -- what -- three hours?"

Heather says, in her hometown, which is somewher in Kentucky, bars don't close until 4 a.m.

"Charlotte needs a 24-hour diner," says Kerry right before taking a big bite of her hot dog. "Right there on the corner."

After 2 a.m., it seems as if food is the only thing really popping in the Queen City. One of the most popular places to eat on Saturday night is the Skyland Family Restaurant on South Boulevard. Its parking lot is usually packed with cars. It's too crowded to get in tonight, so we move down the street to the Waffle House. Out in the parking lot, a CMPD officer stands guard, but he seems to be busier flirting than actually working. Sure hope this dude is off duty.

Inside the Waffle House, it looks as if it's kind of quiet. But as I walk up to the register to order a cup of coffee -- you know, since all of the Starbucks are closed -- a man sitting at the bar leans over and asks, "Have you ever seen a Waffle House fight?"

"No. What happened?"

He says the cooks are mad because the food is stacking up and the waitresses aren't serving the people fast enough. Though he's sitting patiently and has given his order to his server Helen, he knows that it's going to be a while before he eats.

"Wow," I say as I look at the grease collecting in the cooling food sitting on the counter in front of the grill.

"I haven't been to the Waffle House in seven years," he says, watching the waitress scramble to feed the hungry people sitting at the plastic tables.

"What brings you here tonight?"

"I'm hungry as fuck," he says with a laugh. The man, who says he's too drunk to give me his name, spent the night partying at Thomas Street Tavern before heading to the Waffle House for a stomach full of grease.

If he was that drunk, I wonder why the cop outside didn't notice?

When a waitress walks by the register, I flag her down and ask if I could get a cup of coffee to go.

"I have to take care of that table first," she says while grabbing silverware.

Really? Does it take that much to pour coffee in a paper cup? I'm sure she's one of the waitresses who pissed the cook off, so I decide to leave. Why make a scene over coffee? Besides, the rowdy people at the table she was dying to get back to probably gave her enough hell.

Up the street from the Waffle House is a 24-hour Walgreens drug store. Since sex and food is all people seem to think about at this hour, I wonder if Walgreens sells a lot of condoms after last call?

Inside the Walgreens, located at the corner of Woodlawn Road and South Boulevard, assistant manager Kevin sits on a display in the front of the store eating fruit and talking to an off-duty police officer. Both look as if they could use a cup of coffee. It's nearly 4 a.m. and there are two customers in the store. And no, they didn't buy condoms.

"We don't sell a lot of condoms [this time of night]. We sell a lot of candy, frozen food and sodas," he says as he heads to the register.

The two customers are ready to pay for their chips, soda and chocolate. Kevin gives me a smile and a nod as he scans the merchandise.

"I told you: trash food," he says.

Around 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., Kevin says many elderly people come in to do some serious shopping. That makes sense. Traffic is lighter and so are the crowds in the store.

But what about the condoms?

"We sell a good bit of condoms before the clubs close. Occasionally, we get someone coming in late to get condoms."

"Someone who has last pick of what's left over in the club," the cop chimes in with a laugh.

with my quest finally complete, allow me to reflect on a few things to do in Charlotte after 2 a.m.:

• Get some street meat with extra mustard.

• Go home and suck some dick or hunt down the liquor house.

• Get some food at an all-night restaurant, but be prepared to wait for it.

• Get your shopping done at Walgreens or a Wal-Mart Super Center.

If all else fails, at 5 a.m. you can repent for all of your unholy deeds by turning on the radio and listening to gospel music.

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