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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

At Sex-Themed Open Mic, Stories Stay Unrehearsed and Uplifting

Going down on kink culture

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 7:00 AM

The Modern Erotic is a new column in which Allison Braden will explore Charlotte's sexier side.

Allison Braden
  • Allison Braden

At last week's "Foreplay! Goes South," a monthly sex-themed open mic event, I heard stories about firsts. But these were not stories of the blush of youth or that first trepidatious touch. One woman stood at the microphone and told the dim and crowded room about her first experience with a glory hole, then her first experience having sex while others watched. A man talked about his first kink convention. Another shared a story about learning an important lesson: "You can ride the dick, but the dick rides back!"

With that, the room erupted in hoots and hollers, something the event organizers, Metanoia and Zoe Hart (who requested to be identified by their stage names), absolutely encourage. Before anyone takes the mic, the pair stand on the stage and explain the guidelines. "Burletiquette" rules apply — hollering and catcalling are welcome, as long as it's positive. Respect and consent are the emphasized priorities and, according to Metanoia, are fundamental to the success of the event.

"We work really, really hard to foster that type of environment –– something that's casual, that's comfortable, that feels safe and accepting."

Before the open mic portion of the night, there's an hour of informal socializing, during which Metanoia and Hart try to meet and chat with every attendee. Their efforts to build an accepting and open environment helps participants feel comfortable sharing intimate stories, whether it's their first time or their 50th.

"I think it's a really healthy thing to hear about sex and to even share your stories if you do feel comfortable, and I just love seeing people who blossom," Hart says.

The emphasis on cultivating the right environment is why the event, which started a year and a half ago, has had a challenge finding a permanent home. In April, it was held at Petra's in Plaza Midwood for the first time. The pendant lights over the bar set a sultry mood while Beyonce played over the speakers. At the bar, I chatted with a professional dominatrix. She drove over an hour to attend, but didn't come for the stories. (With 15 years of experience basically torturing people, she told me, she has enough stories to last a lifetime.) For her, it's about being part of a community and socializing with her friends.

"I'm in the kinky lifestyle and this is a kinky event."

And she's right: It is a kinky event. Many attendees learn about it on FetLife.com, a social media platform for members of the kink community, but it's certainly not exclusive to that community. Other attendees learn about it on Facebook, or they just wander into the crowded bar. Metanoia says that first-time attendees are often surprised at how explicit and edgy the stories can be.

"The stories do get very graphic, very explicit, very edgy," she says. "Which we enjoy." Hart adds that, generally, "it's a positive experience for them when they hear that. It opens a door in their mind." Kyle, who requested that I use only his first name, is a regular at the event. He says, "There's nothing I could say that would be the creepiest, weirdest thing that's been said."

Lacking any pretension or judgement, the crowd is wildly diverse in age, gender identity and sexual preferences, but most attendees are white. Before going, I had wondered how political the event would be, even though the open mic has nothing to do with politics. Lately, it's seemed sex and politics are inextricably linked. Especially in North Carolina, Kyle says, we need a venue where everyone is accepted. "We need a place where no matter what their thing is, it's OK for it to be a thing."

When I asked Metanoia and Hart about politics, they paused to consider the question. During the open mic, I could see why a connection between the event and politics didn't immediately spring to mind. The stories were raw, unrehearsed and vulnerable. They were funny, and when the audience laughed, everyone laughed together. The storytellers brought the whole room wherever they were, whether it was on a first date or being erotically mummified on a beach. As they brought the audience on their most personal journeys, the storytellers radiated joy, and the room radiated it right back. The storytellers were seen and heard and accepted. Politics seemed far away and utterly irrelevant.

Kyle calls it "uplifting." There was a lot of uplifting content, but in this case, I think he meant it figuratively.

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Facing a Decision on 4/20

To smoke or not to smoke, that is the question

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 7:00 AM

"One time I got so high, I had an out-of-body experience. We were smoking marijuana out of a gravity bong which was comprised of a two-liter bottle and a huge plastic tub. I don't even remember clearing the chamber when all of a sudden I was riding around the room looking down on my body. While I could still hear everyone as if they were right next to me, I couldn't hop back in my body to save my life. That's when I saw someone walk in and say, 'Who's this dead girl you've got in here?'" — SE

April 20 is just a few days away and you know what that means: Weed week! Considered a national holiday in some circles, 4/20 is a day that recreational users celebrate the consumption of marijuana. According to Wikipedia and HuffPost, that the concept was born when a group of high school kids referred to as the Waldos decided to meet up at their fave spot to smoke pot at 4:20 every day in 1971.

Not surprising at all given the timeframe; we're all familiar with hippies, right? Nevertheless, 4/20 has become the holiday for pot smokers and their allies. News outlets break out their favorite recipes, stories and events focused on 4/20 activities.

"The first time I encountered marijuana use in public in the Q.C. was in a music venue. I was shocked that no one seemed to hide what they were doing. What was crazier, no one was getting arrested." — BE

As I was riding dirty on the light rail on Monday — no I wasn't carrying marijuana, I was riding the light rail without a ticket because the machines were broken — I started thinking back on the first time I heard about marijuana. I couldn't remember. I'm sure I watched one of those instructional videos on the effects of drug use in middle school or high school, but I couldn't remember the first time one of my friends alluded to using it, or when I decided it wasn't a "big deal" to me.

"The benefits of marijuana in conjunction with autism are astronomical! I would love to be able to give [my child] real cannabis oil for his autism." — FM

My parents have always been what many would call "helicopter parents" and never condoned the use of any drug, including alcohol. They warned about the dangers of "gateway drugs" and how the best advice they could give was never to get wrapped up in any of it. And I can honestly say since having those conversations with them as a child, it was the best advice anyone could give. Even the stranger I chatted with at Tin Roof made a point to say that while he felt weed should be legalized, every person is built and reacts differently.

Television stations like Viceland, my favorite for binge-watching such shows as "Desus and Mero," regularly explore all facets of marijuana, especially during Weed Week. From exploring the stories of addicts who may have started out smoking marijuana to the small pot farmer in California to world-renowned chefs cultivating cannabis-infused delights and medical marijuana facilities, there's little we haven't heard when it comes to Mary Jane.

As a 26-year-old graduate of what many consider a "party school," and experiencing nightlife professionally as an adult, I'm very well aware of the ways in which drugs have become a norm. I've lost friends to more dangerous drugs than marijuana. I've seen other friends go to jail for years for possession of marijuana. But I've also seen the benefits of cannabis for friends and families struggling with autism, cancer and Parkinson's. That's why I understand how the question of "to smoke or not to smoke" has become a critical debate.

I polled my friends on Facebook and I know that the majority of them would be paranoid about weighing in. But for those who did, it was clear the consensus was yes, smoke. Whether the argument was along the lines of "other drugs are more harmful, including alcohol," or "there are many benefits from a medical perspective," these are conversations ready to be had.

The landscape of drug use, marijuana, in particular, is changing rapidly. A full 28 U.S. states and D.C. have laws legalizing marijuana in one shape or form. North Carolina rejoined the conversation this year as legislators began taking another look at legalizing medical marijuana. As I reflect on my experience throughout college and in Charlotte nightlife, I'm left with the questions of how legislation can help us all move forward in a positive way.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Durham Shenanigans Lead To a Concord Discovery

Howdy neighbor

Posted By on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 at 4:00 AM

I didn't throw up this weekend.

In fact, I was barely hungover. A normal feat for many, I'm sure. However, I took a trip back to Durham for my five-year college reunion at Duke University.

Still doesn't put anything into perspective for you? I've known this 10-plus group of people for almost 10 years. It was with them that I learned how to rage. With them I learned the art of "puke and rally." With them I learned what it meant to drunk-cry.

You thought my coworkers in Charlotte were some characters? This crew gets lit and then heads back to their respective states where they've passed the bar, napped while working at Google, dominated Wall Street, clued us in on the best deals at Amazon and perfected the brightest smile in dental school. Yeah, you could say we're a different breed.

That said, I was nervous my excitement would take me back to the "good ol' days." Which is why I was shocked that I managed to make it the whole weekend with little-to-no hangover. As a matter of fact, my friend sent me a meme on Sunday that was a picture of an annoyingly chipper SpongeBob throwing flowers in Squidward's face; it said, "That friend who never has a hangover and is ready to go out again even though last night you two almost died." I chuckled to myself while reflecting on the weekend, thinking about how many parties I snuck into without paying and tasting the remnants of how much alcohol we drank.

Even though I was about to head down to my car and could easily stop by a fast-food joint before driving back to Charlotte on Sunday, I ordered room service. A shrimp Caesar salad, scrambled eggs with cheese and a Pepsi. Fifty bucks later, I can't say I regretted my decision; however, my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach as I looked at half of everything still plopped on my plate.

Oh well.

After the two-hour trip back to the Q.C., the boyfriend asked if I wanted to stop by Carolina Courts for an AAU game in downtown Concord. I was tired, but I'd also missed the boy toy, who couldn't go to my reunion, so I thought, "Why not?" The only problem? We were both hungry and the concession stand was virtually empty. I started searching for Concord restaurant options on Google. I thought surely we'd be able to easily find a cool place to grab a bite.

Nope. Everything is closed on Sundays in downtown Concord, including the hot dog spot that had its neon "Open" sign turned on. I'd already parked my car, though, so I just started walking, hoping to stumble upon something. That's when I looked across the street and noticed a storefront with "beer," "music" and "food." I didn't even care what kind of food they served, at least it was open.

When I walked in, I was captivated by the homey vibe and eclectic nature of a spot that I'd simply happened upon.

Lil' Robert's Place is a bar, bottle shop and live-music venue on Union Street in Concord, just a hop, skip and jump from Uptown. The décor reminded me of the oddities you find at Common Market, but the atmosphere was anything but your local grocery market hangout.

A cardboard Snoop Dogg drinking a Blast (brought to you by Colt 45) stood in the corner in the front room surrounded by yellow velvet couches. A Midway arcade game console was to the left. A deer, dressed in random clothes, welcomed me into the larger sitting area decorated with a drum set, string lights, more of Grandma's comfy couches, and more art and signage than a person with ADHD could handle. There was also a Concordopoly board game with a Sun Drop logo. (Who knew Concord had its own Monopoly game?)

After passing through the main sitting area, I grabbed a stool and sat at the bar. I'm not going to lie, I was initially nervous that I'd run upon a motorcycle gang rest stop instead of a hipster haven. But the bartender welcomed me with open arms, and even though he was a man of few words at first, when I started asking questions he had lots of great things to say about this spot that's been open for seven years.

I ordered four hotdogs and two sodas. While waiting, I asked if they had any sour beers. They did.

"Guess who's drinking a beer already?" I texted my reunion squad group as I grabbed a pint.

What else do you need to know about Lil' Robert's Place? Back patio, check. Bottled wine and beer for you to take on the road, check. Open mic nights on Wednesdays. Live music on Fridays. And unlike the two or three breweries in the area, this place is open seven days a week.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Are You Smarter Than an Eighth Grader?

A buzzed spelling bee could help you figure it out

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Two Saturdays ago, the boyfriend and I decided to go to Petra's Bar in Plaza Midwood for Su Casa. If you didn't catch one of my past articles on the event, search Creative Loafing's website for the tag line, "The monthly oasis for Charlotte's culturally starved." What does it look like, you may ask? Afrobeats, natural hair and chocolatey goodness! If diversity is something you're missing in the Q.C., this event, which takes place on the last Saturday of every month, is one you won't want to miss.

After a trip to the bathroom, the boyfriend turns to me and says, "They have a buzzed spelling bee here. There's one next Tuesday." And that was all I needed to hear.

What most people don't know about me is that I'm a total nerd. I loved multiplication shootout and spelling bees in elementary and middle school. So you can imagine how my excitement must have been overflowing as I made plans for "goin' up on a Tuesday" knowing I would have to go to work the next day.

On Tuesday morning, March 28, I started my recruiting of coworkers. "Would you be down to go to a drunken spelling bee?" I asked. One of them laughed when I showed her the flier.

"So what?," she said. "They're going to be like, 'Spell hippopotamus?' OK, H-I-P-P...hip, hop, otamus...hmm." As soon as she realized she may not be able to spell the word, she bought in.

So we made plans to go to The Corner Pub for $3 wine night and then migrate over to Petra's for signups between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m.

I ended up having to get my hair done, so when the boyfriend and I arrived, two of my coworkers were sitting there "buzzed" as can be with huge smiles on their faces. The reason for the smiles?

They'd only signed me up for the spelling bee and my fun fact was, "I bring cat food with me to bars." Great. I'd picked up some food for my cat and left it at Corner Pub; they had to bring it with them to Petra's, and now I was the "cat lady." Sigh. I rushed to the bar to grab liquid courage in the form of an RBV before the competition began.

I scanned the crowd. I've never been so comfortable bringing my backpack and wearing my thick-prescription glasses. Why? It seemed like everyone was wearing glasses. Call us hipsters or nerds, I didn't care, I'd found my eighth-grade class all over again.

Before getting started, the "sultry" male host laid out the rules of engagement. If for any reason, a speller couldn't spell a word, they had three lifelines they could use: chug a drink, spell an easier word backward or a secret option. (Forgive me if those are incorrect, I did my best to take thorough notes, but in my defense, I had to establish a "buzz" in order to participate. Wink, wink.)

My first word: meanwhile. I knew I had this one, so my friends encouraged me to ask for the definition and origin. This was most definitely commonplace for the first round, as spellers used the opportunity to "own the stage." I kept asking myself, "Is this a spelling bee or stand-up?" Everyone and their mama ended up taking five minutes to spell their words. Nevertheless, I walked away victorious after the first round. What'd I get for my efforts? A tall-boy PBR that I would later regret.

After every participant took their first turn, there was a "redemption round" in which those who'd been kicked out could try again to restore their honor. The second round began, and I could feel myself going to "buzz city."

I don't even know what my second word was, so I went for a lifeline. Of course, I didn't think about any of the lifelines except for chug a drink. Yeah, I had three quarters of a tall boy left and had to chug the entire thing.

The crowd watched in uncomfortable amusement, wondering if I'd vom with every burp. [Spoiler alert, I didn't. However, by the third round, when I received either "'subjugation" or "crescendo," I don't think I could've even spelled my name.]

What did I learn? I spelled much better in the eighth grade, when I couldn't consume alcohol. Oh, and get this: Someone got the word "hippopotamus!" Thank goodness it wasn't me. Be on the lookout for the next Buzzed Spelling Bee at Petra's scheduled for April 25! It most definitely is a blast from the past.

backtalk@clclt.com

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Party Girl Gives and Receives Late-night Wisdom

Stranger ranger

Posted By on Wed, Mar 29, 2017 at 7:00 AM

"I had you pegged for the snootie type."

That's what a random bargoer visiting Tin Roof in the Epicentre said to me after we started talking about everything from where he'd live outside of the United States to social relations in Charlotte to the best hip hop artists on the scene. We laughed, because he was wearing pajama pants and already had been snubbed by many other patrons.

I was honest with him: I, too, had judged him before we spoke, but not because he was wearing his PJ's — after all, I've seen much more interesting things at Tin Roof and elsewhere. I had been trying to figure him out, because that's what I do.

As a frequent rider of Charlotte's public transportation, I've run into quite a few characters who will try and get my number while I'm engaged in a phone conversation, sometimes even when I'm on the phone with my mother. "Aerin, tell them to go away!" she will tell me as I reassure her the person is harmless. She's always meant what she says when it comes to "stranger danger."

This particular day I was cranking out my column while enjoying drinks. While taking a phone call I noticed PJ (a nickname I've given him in place of his true identity) and thought, "How long before this guy attempts to interrupt my flow." But he didn't. He kept to himself, went back inside to grab a drink and when I entered to grab another he casually asked, "Whatcha writing about?" When I told him I was writing about nightlife, he became intrigued. I thought, "This will be the perfect opportunity to learn more about the urban nightlife scene."

Little did I know, he'd school me on so much more.

After heading home, I began to think about the many social interactions I've had since I started writing for Creative Loafing. I've mentioned it before, but my RBF (resting b*tch face) could rival Rihanna at an awards show where she's not getting an award. And I'm thankful for liquid courage and the fact that I have to "show myself friendly" because I'm writing and meeting people. In fact, I can't tell you how many "conversations" the boyfriend's had with me about showing up when I say I'm going to show up when he knows I've been running my mouth somewhere with someone.

In previous columns I've shared some of the most hilarious things I've overheard while out at local bars and restaurants. Now I've upgraded to joining those conversations. Just a couple weeks ago, I went to Ink n Ivy to grab a couple drinks with my P.I.C. and a few people from work. After deciding I was ready to "break the seal," I raced to the women's bathroom where I heard two ladies having a conversation over the bathroom wall.

"Yo, it smells like a fish market in here," one of them said and laughed. It took us all a minute to realize how awkward that reality was before we all burst into laugher. *Insert long-drawn-out conversation while washing our hands about hygiene and how well each were wearing a clothing item. Typical.*

Then there was the random passerby on the street, who was nice enough to lend me and my coworkers a copy of his mixtape "Undisputed" — free. A nice guy who seems to be facing some challenges, he never hesitates to drum up a conversation about music and the need to discipline children. It's people like him that have a lot to say, and simply want someone to listen.

And you can't forget the hundreds of Ubers — yes, I Uber quite a lot — that are forced to pick me up in between destinations. Those are some of the longest, most intimate conversations I've had with strangers since I've been in Charlotte. Granted, part of that is because I want to get to know who's literally got my life in their hands. But the other part is the indescribable urge to tell someone what's on your mind in the late-night hours and most likely never see them again. I came across one of the most hilarious memes on just the other day that said, "If you've told at least one Uber driver your entire life story, you'll fit in just fine here." (credit: @shopelsafine) So don't act like I'm the only one.

Nevertheless, there's something to be said about meeting people you think you'd never be friends with or who make a difference in your life without even realizing it. From the musician trying to make a living on the street, to the hot guy at the bar who actually had a personality, who are some of the most memorable strangers you've met in the Q.C. and where'd you meet them?

Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

(Psst, keep an eye out for Part 2. I've got some questions I'm going to ask every stranger I meet and share their responses with you!)

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ain't Neva Sprung

Kicking off spring with a bang

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

Sunday morning I was packing a bag to stay at the boyfriend's for the week. You gotta love the commuter/honeymoon phase. If only he understood what it meant to bring a "U-Haul to the second date." Nevertheless, packing for multiple days almost always means I have to check the weather, especially with the way things have been in the QC lately — we did just have snow you know? I pull out my phone, reluctant to see how cold it was going to be all week and to my surprise, my weather app indicated warm weather and sunshine. Thank goodness.

Just a couple weeks ago the boyfriend and I were heading to the mountains to go skiing. I wasn't going to let a silly stereotype regarding black people and extreme sports slow me down.

We'd had an extremely stressful week and we were excited about just having a little bit of fun. Looking back, I thought about a status I came across after that adventure that said, "You want to make God laugh? Show Him your plans." Well He/She was definitely laughing as our plans kept falling apart. We made it, but by the time we arrived after what felt like "A Series of Unfortunate Events," I was ready to "trump" any card with my "black card" and avoid all cold, snow and physical activity like the plague.

Needless to say, after we returned to the Queen City, my patience was wearing thin as I anticipated warmer weather.

"I'm sorry for what I said when it was winter." I actually laughed out loud when I saw that meme scroll across my timeline on Facebook Monday morning. Then, a sponsored banner ad complete with fluttering birds or butterflies popped up letting me know it was the first day of spring — along with every other human on my timeline posting pics of tulips and flowers we'd all thought would die during the "snow." That's when I realized that Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka Winter Depression, was a reality that we were all actively trying to escape.

If you've lived in Charlotte long enough to experience the full range of seasons, you are very well aware of how much the city and nightlife scene changes with the seasons. Patios, beers, festivals, break-ups, pools, sunshine, guns and buns. Everyone has smiles on lips and hands on hips. The ladies don't have to worry about tip-toeing around in heels in the freezing cold and can finally shed the layers to let loose. Not to mention that my birthday's in April, which solidifies spring as the best time of the year.

All this to say, spring has officially sprung in the Q.C. and I'm all for it. My CL cohorts may have released their official Spring Guide last week, but I decided I'd have a go.

Besides craft beer, sour ales and hip-hop, here's my personal top three list of what's on tap for spring in Charlotte:

3rd Annual Moo and Brew: If you've kept up with me since the early days, you'll remember I wrote an article on how to prepare for festival season by attending my first one in Charlotte with my editor at the time. If you love burgers and beer, this event is for you. Accompanied by live music and local goods, there's something for everyone to enjoy. Get your tickets before it's too late, Moo and Brew is scheduled for Saturday, April 22nd rain or shine.

Hippie Fest: Throw it back to one of my fave decades — I'll leave the why up to your imagination *wink wink* — for Hippie Fest 2017. Groovy vibes, food trucks, local vendors, tie dye and maybe even some illegal activities, Hippie Fest is sure to be a hilarious event. Perfect for the new age free spirit, stretch your festival legs on April 22nd. Keep in mind, this is the same day as Moo and Brew. You can totally do both!

The Queen's Cup Steeplechase: Hat contest! Dress in your Sunday's best and tailgate with your friends for the Queen's Cup. You've seen horse races on TV and watched gamblers lose a bunch of money, but have you experienced the excitement for yourself? Bet on a race or just party at the tailgate like most will end up doing. You won't want to miss schmoozing at one of the most anticipated social events of the season. Grab your tickets before the event on April 29th!

These events are just a snapshot of what's to come in the Q.C. this spring. Keep up with my whereabouts by following me on social media or by checking out my column. What are your plans for #QCspring2017? Share it with me and we can party together at backtalk@clclt.com!

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Of Duke Wins and Karaoke

The answer lies within the "secret room" at 8.2.0

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

After staying out too late on Thursday, the end of the Friday work day couldn't have come soon enough. By the time 3:30 p.m. rolled around I was itching to get the weekend started.

Why was I so anxious, you may ask? Well, for one, Duke was playing Carolina in the ACC tournament. If you haven't heard already, the Duke University/UNC Chapel Hill basketball rivalry is the biggest rivalry between two sports programs in North Carolina.

After multiple texts, threats and Facebook posts from UNC fans, this Duke alum was ready to paint the Queen City with royal blue.

The night started out with a couple RBVs at the Corner Pub off North Graham. Per usual, I should've eaten but I opted for a glass of water here and there instead. That's why when I showed up an hour late to meet the boyfriend and company at Brazwell's on Montford I was so wired and anxious for the game that I talked all the way up until the last couple minutes.

After the game was over and Duke walked away victorious, the boy toy and I convinced a couple of his friends to join us for celebratory hookahs at Barreled at the Lift. Sighs.

This night was starting to look just like every other Friday in the Q.C. That's when I realized one of my co-workers was celebrating her birthday at 8.2.0. Charlotte. If the boyfriend had been smart, he would've vetoed that decision. But he's also a Duke fan so it didn't take much convincing when I suggested checking out somewhere new.

For months, I've had multiple friends talk about how much they loved going to 8.2.0 for karaoke.

However, they never went into detail about why they loved it so much and, quite frankly, finding the energy to go to AvidXchange (will we ever get used to this name change?) takes more effort than I feel like putting forth most times. Fortunately, the boyfriend was the designated driver making the adventure much more feasible.

(Side note: Shout-out to Scott, one of the chefs — I believe — for chatting with me about the venue for what had to be the longest 17 minutes of your life. I listened to the voice note of our conversation and it was the longest 17 minutes of my life, so I feel your pain.)

By the time we finally arrived, it was pretty much time for my co-workers to throw in the towel. They'd been rallying since escaping the office as well and it's safe to say we should have all been home. Before they left, however, they took the time to take me on a private tour of the humongous venue.

The space is broken up into rooms, each serving a different purpose. From the moment you enter, you'll notice an arcade room featuring old school games and next door, in another enclosed room, the attraction everyone's talking about: karaoke.

I was shocked I literally couldn't hear patrons belting out songs while standing in the main bar area — soundproof glass. No more shame karaoke lovers, you can sing as loud as you want!

But that wasn't even the best part of 8.2.0. If you're like me and you love secrets, you'll be floored at the secret room featuring a library, record player, lounge chairs and jazz music over the speakers. Try not to narc, like I almost did; knowledge of this hideout is a privilege, not a right. I'd suggest sitting back and watching customers to see where the entrance is.

Brought to you by the same owners of VBGB, 8.2.0 adds something quite unique to the nightlife scene in Charlotte. Feeling karaoke? They got you. Feeling like playing a few games? They got you. As my new friend (hopefully) put it, "It's hard to get bored of."

And if you do get bored, you can eat your face off in their pizzeria. Thankfully, I'd at least had a slice before chatting my man Scott's head off.

What's featured on the menu? All the gourmet "za" your heart can handle, including a cauliflower-crust option for you calorie counters.

Meatballs, cauli-balls, pommes frites (cooked extra crispy for those that end up eating them at home anyways), dips and salads. Your midnight munchies will thank you.

Four bars, outdoor patio, massive event space, karaoke, arcade games, secret rooms and a late night menu. Does it get much better than that? Be sure to check out 8.2.0, if you haven't already, and share your experience with me at backtalk@clclt.com!

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Busing Through the Queen City -- But Not on CATS

La Di Da di, We Know How to Party

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 4:00 AM

"Meet us at Piedmont Social House," my co-worker said as I attempted to chug an off-brand version of Pedialyte. Sighs.

The last time I'd gone to PSH was for a random after-house party. Before that? I'd gone to meet with the marketing manager about the grand opening. Both times? I was either working on a hangover or hungover wearing the same clothes I'd worn the night before.

In other words, I wasn't sure going there was a good idea.

Last week, I mentioned in my column that I ended up having to forego CIAA events for two reasons. The first being I partied too hard on Friday in French Quarter after planning just a drink or two after work with coworkers. The second being those same coworkers had planned a bus party. Now, if you've followed this column for a while, you know this isn't the first time I've gone on a party bus with these same coworkers to PNC for Weenie Roast and a Dave Matthews Band concert. Both times, I wanted to run for my life and grab an Uber by 9 p.m.

Nevertheless, one of those coworkers found out he was having a baby and why wouldn't my amazing friends think we should throw a party in his honor? That's when the concept of a "Dadchelor Bus" came to be. Oh, you didn't know? According to Google, it's a thing. A Dadchelor Party, or Man Shower, is a celebration of baby-making for the fellas. Welcome to the feminist movement of 2017?

Don't get me wrong, every party bus we've been on has been epic, but I was definitely scared. Especially given the fact that I'd gone to grab a beverage that I despise because it "prevents dehydration and replaces nutrients and electrolytes lost through vomiting and diarrhea."

By the time I started feeling better, I'd been at the dealership getting my oil changed for an hour and I was running late for the bus pick-up in Southend. That's when my coworker called suggesting I just meet the crew at PSH. That meant they were already well on their way as far as pregaming goes and I would be showing up completely sober to the beginning of a hot mess.

When I arrived by way 30 minutes later, all my friends greeted me with the warmest, happy-drunk welcome ever. While taking group pics (without the party bus in the background because apparently that was a faux pas at that point) I knew I would have to make a break for the bar to catch up ASAP. That's when one of my coworkers pulled out a baby bottle filled with a mixture of vodka and Gatorade. Ingenious. A Dadchelor-themed party bus complete with baby bottle party favors for every guest?! Too bad, Gatorade isn't a thick enough chaser for my palate, I couldn't even stomach the idea of sucking on a baby bottle nipple that anyone else had already suckled on. One RBV later accompanied by nausea, and we were hopping back on the bus for what seemed like the longest ride back to Uptown ever.

Soon after boarding the bus I realized I was nowhere near ready to rally. I know, I know, what a buzzkill I was, right? That's when baby bottle nipples were being thrown in my face. "Aerin, you're not tipsy enough, you need to drink it." "Oh no I'm fine, just chilling," I responded queasily. That didn't work. All I could think was, "This. Is. Happening. Get over it." What we didn't factor in, however, was that this was the first time we would be party busing without a "pot (or parking lot) to piss in." So imagine a bus full of full bladders riding on a bus with no bathroom and no destination. Yeah, I couldn't even focus on drinking a beer or music because after each bathroom break my anxiety went through the roof wondering when we'd stop by a bathroom again.

It wasn't until we were dropped off in front of Tyber Creek for Tyberpalooza and those of us that made it until 9 p.m. were nonsensical that I realized I was tipsy but still not drunk enough for the shenanigans. The line at Tyber was absolutely ludicrous and I was seeking shelter for my inner circle. I looked for anywhere we could find refuge, and that's when my eyes landed on Big Ben British Restaurant & Pub. I'd never been or knew anyone who'd been, and yet, there we were asking if we could stash our cooler anywhere, baby bottles in hand.

Needless to say, this party bus trip was one we will never forget, and I drank Pedialyte and survived the following morning like a Queen of the City should. The next time you're trying to get weird and can't find anything to do, hit the road in style and safety, grab a crew and rent a party bus!

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Reflections on Tournament Weekend

"I never go out during CIAA"

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

After work on Friday, a few of my galpals were trying to decide if going to grab a drink was a smart idea. As I mentioned in last week's column, a large handful of my coworkers were anticipating a "Dadchelor" (aka father-to-be) celebration for the following day on a party bus. While we didn't want to go home at 5:45 p.m. on a Friday night, we also didn't want to be hungover.

Finally, we decided a drink or two wouldn't hurt and started discussing where exactly we would go. "Not to get super fancy, but doesn't the new place, The Imperial, have a roof top?" I was pumped. I'd visited this venue for the first time a few weeks ago and was thoroughly impressed. (I can't say I was in a state to visit the rooftop at the time though.) "Hmm. Was just thinking there may be a CIAA party there tonight." And just like that, my excitement dwindled. Let me explain why.

For four years I've listened to Charlotteans — from a variety of demographics, I might add — complain about the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) tournament, which consists of NCAA division II conference teams from primarily historically black institutions. Around the same time every year, my timeline becomes filled with flyers advertising parties that will be held all around the Queen City celebrating the tournament. While many friends and acquaintances are filled with the same amount of excitement as my coworkers had over anticipation of our party bus, others are simply annoyed by the inconvenience. Some are frustrated by the traffic, others by how packed every single bar is and let's be honest, others are simply uncomfortable with, or even scared of, the idea that so many black and brown faces gather in celebration of the event.

I picked up my phone and started Googling different venues Uptown, including The Imperial, where we could go. Nothing showed up on the Instagram or Facebook of the Imperial so I thought we were golden. I checked their business hours and confirmed they were open at 5 o'clock. I informed everyone I would call and see what was up.

After I didn't receive an answer, I decided I would just wait until work was over and walk there. When I stepped outside, the city was buzzing with excitement. My office had never been Uptown before, so I'd never experienced the CIAA vibes in the heart of the city. Hell, even Vapiano's, my favorite Italian spot, was bumping with music and packed from what I could tell.

As I walked down S. Tryon to The Imperial, I took note of every bar we could go to and whether or not a day party was in progress. When I turned on College Street to do the same thing, on the way back toward The EpiCentre, I noticed that Flight and Lucky's were both partying and charging covers. Sigh.

I walked up the stairs to The Imperial in a sweatshirt and jeans to ask the person standing outside if they were open. "We'll be open in like an hour, we're hosting an event and entry will be $20." Yeah, no one, including myself, was going to pay a cover for a drink or two. Even a coworker I passed that was just planning on grabbing Libretto's texted me to tell me everywhere in The Epicentre was packed. In a last ditch effort, we settled on Latta Arcade, commonly known as the French Quarter.

I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. Almost as nervous as I was in the days following the acquittal of the cop involved in the Keith Lamont Scott case. No, I wasn't worried about going to the French Quarter or drinking too much, but that someone, anyone, would have comments about the inconvenience of CIAA or about how unsafe/threatened they felt and "allude" to the reason being related to race.

A couple years ago during CIAA weekend, I was visiting a local bar that wasn't hosting a tournament party. A white guy, no lie, came all the way across the bar to tell someone right next to me, "There's so many black people in here tonight." Coincidence? Doubt it.

Even though I dodged those kinds of conversations Friday night, it wasn't long before my timeline was filled with commentary on any and every incident — I mean, incidents don't happen regularly in Charlotte, right? Before the weekend was over, multiple news sources had reported a shooting allegedly involving Young Dolph and around 100 shots fired. "We knew this was going to happen. SMH!" I read on someone's status. To which I wanted to reply, "Why exactly?"

Instead, I chopped it up as yet another "successful" CIAA weekend.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

CIAA 2017 Is Officially Upon the Queen City

Excitement builds for a familiar party

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

The entirety of last week was spent preparing for the weekend and Monday. Why, you may ask. Waking up every morning with, "Do I really need a job?" on my mind and still going to work every day would drive anyone mad. But every so often, the good little worker receives his or her just reward, and it comes in the form of national holidays. If you didn't have President's Day off, I'm so sorry. I did absolutely nothing but tend to myself and I don't regret a single second. I slept in, watched "Chef's Table" on Netflix, got inspired, wrote and slept my ass off.

Just when I was starting to get #fomo (fear of missing out) thinking about the long weekend coming to an end and not filling that time with fun activities, I realized we have another big weekend coming up in the Queen City. Yes, I mean "we" and not just "me." If you've been in Charlotte for any amount of time you know that one of the most anticipated weekends each year falls around the end of February and it goes by the name of CIAA.

Every year, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association holds an annual basketball tournament featuring the historically black institutions of NCAA's Division II. Although the attendance at the actual basketball games has declined significantly, the amount of revenue the tournament brings to the city is undeniable. Did I mention the parties are epic?

Picture being surrounded by your best friends, popping a bottle of champagne in the middle of a Vegas-style strip club only to look up and see Champagne Papi himself partying next to you. That's just a normal night during CIAA in Charlotte. Some of the world's most famous artists flock to our city, taking the experience to a whole new level.

When I first moved to Charlotte, I was captivated by the urban nightlife scene. After all, you don't get to experience much real nightlife in Trinity, NC or as an underage college student. One of my roommates at that time worked for one of the most popular promoters in the city and you know what that meant – free entry into some of the hottest parties all year long. That connection really came in handy when Lil Wayne – my favorite rapper of all time – made an appearance at Cameo a couple years ago. Sighs, if only I could've touched one of his dreads.

Five years later, despite social tensions and allegations of local companies instituting versions of a "black tax," it never ceases to amaze me how excited I get when CIAA comes to town. A short week with a weekend full of entertainment makes for a smiling face in the office. This year, my plan is to check out a day party at a venue I haven't visited before and hit up Su Casa at Petra's. I've done the whole "stay out until 4 a.m. thing" during CIAA and as my mom always said, "Nothing good happens after 2 a.m." I'd rather capitalize on the day and pass out early or find something laidback to get into late-night.

(Not to mention, I'll probably be steeped in Dave Matthews on a party bus on Saturday. You know my coworkers, always finding a way to celebrate anything in the biggest way. This time, we're celebrating a father-to-be.)

No matter what you're doing for CIAA, here's a few things to keep in mind if you're planning on joining in on the festivities this weekend:

1. Pick your entertainment. If you're interested in twerkin' to your favorite new artist like Migos, Young Thug or Meek Mill, find out exactly where they're going to be and if they're going to be performing or just doing a walk through.

2. Dress to impress. Everyone during CIAA is "fresh to death." There's some truth behind the rumor you've heard about putting that tax refund check to good use. Just kidding, sort of.

3. Research the venue. Parking available? Too far for you to Uber? Find out as much as you can about the venue ahead of time. Especially considering a lot of venues pop up just for the weekend.

4. Expect every spot to be busy. If you're one of those Charlotteans who's scared to attend a CIAA event, I would suggest you stay in all weekend or find a hole in the wall, because every venue that's open will probably be packed.

Where do you plan on spending your CIAA weekend? Fill me in at backtalk@clclt.com.

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