Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Everyone's a Friend at Smokey Joe's

A solo trip to a bar with no method to its madness

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2018 at 7:00 AM

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Let's talk about dive bars. . . again. Last week I described how I fell in love with Midwood Country Club from the moment I almost fell into the patio. Instead of the venue being an actual country club, I had stumbled upon a dive bar and couldn't have asked for more. Why? Beause I'm smack in the middle of a major dive bar phase, at the moment.

There's just something about the rinky-dink feel of a divey spot that's dimly lit, lacking in "matching" décor, serving cheap drinks and maybe even smelling of mold. Those are the spots that you'll meet people from all walks of life. You may not feel comfortable or like you're "at home" at first, but then the next thing you know, you're a "regular."

I recently visited one of my favorite dive bars for the first time in a while: Smokey Joe's Cafe.

And you know how I know I've gotten to the point where I feel completely comfortable there? I went all by my lonesome.

The first time I'd heard anything about Smokey Joe's, I was actually across the street at East African Cuisine. I noticed the little hole-in-the-wall and chopped it up as a biker bar I'd probably never visit. A week later, one of my friends who lived in the area asked a couple of us to meet her "at this spot on Monroe [Road]" for drinks after work. I was shocked when I pulled up to the unassuming building where I'd just convinced myself I'd never go.

Little did I know, it would become one of my favorite places to get weird.

And honestly, that's one of the best ways to describe it: weird. The layout of the patio doesn't make much sense. There's sand beneath the ping pong table outside. There are a few fire pits, maybe even a TV? You may stumble walking on the uneven ground before stepping inside. Renovations? Yeah right.

There are tchotchkes everywhere with no clear connection between any of them. There's even a waterfall in a nook in the ceiling – where does the water go exactly? But that's what gives the spot so much character. There's no rhyme or reason for the random items, decorations or mismatching furniture and yet it's just as cozy as can be. Not to mention, the drinks are stiff and cheap.

When I returned recently, I had the pleasure of catching a live show on the stage tucked in the back corner to the left and I fell in love all over again. Shana Blake and Friends perform at Smokey Joe's every Thursday. Blake, the lead singer, has a voice that will captivate you and her "friends" are ridiculously talented on each of their instruments of choice. I sat on a church pew, yes a church pew, and watched them perform while sipping a whiskey and coke.

Yikes, the first sip stung and I was tempted to go back to the bar and ask for a splash more of coke! But my mother didn't raise no punk, so I powered through.

When the show was over, I went outside to sit by one of the fire pits. I made it through that first drink so I thought I'd have one more.

Blake came outside to chat with some of the regulars and I just knew I had to tell her how beautiful her voice was. So I did. She was very sweet, which sometimes is hard to come by, even for local musicians.

I finished up my drink and decided it was time for me to go. As I was walking out, however, I noticed a hot dog stand right out front. "Don't tempt me with a good time," I thought to myself as I reached into my pocket for some cash.

Talk about topping off a great night. Live music at my favorite spot and a hot dog for the road.

The next day, I told everyone about how great they sounded and made them commit to coming back. And it's funny, I randomly went to Thomas Street Tavern the following Wednesday, and there she was performing inside! I doubt she recognized me, but in my more-than-tipsy stupor I remember saying, "Hey girl!" as I jammed out in my recently borrowed matching velour Michael Kors jumpsuit! *gasp* Nevertheless, it was a little reminder of my little dive bar nestled on Monroe Road.

I think I'll create a bucket list of dive bars across Charlotte and maybe even cross over into South Carolina. Tell me, where should I go?

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