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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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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Weekend of Boo Lovin' and New Experiences With a Splash of Vom

Let the good times roll

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

I'm not going to lie to y'all, 2017 thus far has been pretty lit.

Even though the month of January flew by and we're a paycheck away from the end of February, I've been so busy finding adventures it feels like New Year's Eve was over six months ago. Stoke, check. Salud Beer Shop, check. Lucky's Bar and Arcade, Essex and Imperial Lounge, check, check and check.

Oh, and of course my escape to Asheville brought an entirely new nightlife experience to my weekend for less than half a tank of gas.

After taking in the mountain views and crisp air, a stressful week in Charlotte commenced. I presented in front of my entire company, stage fright and all, started training a new co-worker and landed a cover page in Creative Loafing. (That's right, I hope you picked up your copy for all the juice on what it's like for singles searching for love with a Being Mary Jane mindset.) After all that stress, I took a break two weekends ago and got some much-needed R&R. And when I say R&R, I mean that, outside of making food runs to McDonald's and Taco Bell, I didn't leave the house at all Saturday. That's why I was ready to rally this past weekend.

Friday after leaving the office, I followed my usual schedule, which landed me in the most uncomfortable bleachers at a basketball game – the boyfriend coaches. Even though high school games are short, you'd be surprised how slow the time passes when you're sitting through four of them. We were both tired when they were over and defeated after three out of the four didn't get a W, but that was more incentive for us to grab a "drank."

"Any of your friends doing anything tonight?" The usual question the boo asks, with a hint of irritation, when I'm trying to get a temperature gauge on whether or not he actually wants to go out. That's when I know he knows I'm in the mood even if he isn't – just for drinks and dancing folks, get your head out of the gutter. *wink wink*

Of course, my friends were either already planning for a show or planning a night in – whack! But I knew I had to make a decision fast, or he was going to put on his sweats – the equivalent of me taking off my glasses, my bra and makeup – and that would be "all we wrote." So I went for a spot I knew he couldn't resist – Blue Olive Lounge.

One of my fave unexpected gems in the boonies, aka Ballantyne, Blue Olive is a popular hangout for a mature crowd seeking an upscale experience with a hint of "ratchet." (Urban dictionary people.)

From Erykah Badu, Foxy Brown and Jay-Z to Juvenile, Drake and Crime Mob, the music hits all the crowd favorites without overwhelming one demographic or another. Attribute it to an epic DJ if you want, but every time I end up at Blue Olive, I dance all night long. (It was only after two hours of hugging the toilet that I regretted my decision.)

As you can imagine, the next morning was an uneventful one and I settled for catnapping, television and a home-cooked lunch. It wasn't until later on that evening the boy toy and I were itching for some excitement. We were hoping for a grilled cheese from Papi Queso at Sycamore, but now that they're all popular and ish after being featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," "they ain't got time for that!" Of course, that meant dinner took priority over going to a bar, so we started down the list of possibilities. We settled on a spot he hadn't been and I'd only been to once: Alexander Michael's.

Who can resist a meta tag like this when you pull this restaurant up on Google? "A locally owned and operated American tavern in Charlotte's historic 4th Ward serving fresh, unpretentious food that is well prepared with quality ingredients." I certainly couldn't. And they were right. The quaint, popular neighborhood restaurant, may attract some of Charlotte's elite, but the food is anything but pretentious. Hearty and full of flavor, the 4th Ward Stroganoff and Honey Chicken Pasta (with a bacon and tomato cream sauce) were so good we actually couldn't wait to be hungry again and eat what was left over! (Pro tip: the venue is small, so grab a drink at the bar while you wait, or eat at the bar like we did.)

After a meal like that and a wild Friday night, we didn't need another rally, so we decided to call it a night. I watched The Huntsman: Winter's War, ate more of my leftovers and climbed into bed. Now that's what I call a nightcap.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

True Confessions from the Millennial Dating World

When your love life is one big television drama

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Aerin Spruill is 'Being Mary Jane' - PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY DANA VINDIGNI
  • Photo illustration by Dana Vindigni
  • Aerin Spruill is 'Being Mary Jane'

Let's be honest, the dating scene and the meaning of love is different since our parents and grandparents were young whippersnappers.

Facebook and dating apps weren't around, computers may not have even existed (certainly not cellphones), marrying young and having children was normal, sex before marriage may have been taboo (depending on whether or not you were a hippie), and the list goes on. The game has changed and it's arguable whether that change has been for the better or worse.

On the one hand, women feel more comfortable exercising their agency. On the other, there's a general consensus that true commitment has been thrown out the window. In the lead-up to this Valentine's Day, I reached out to some friends to get a sense of the dating problems faced by my fellow Charlotte (mostly) millennials, who in some cases are ... well, rightfully pissed off.

"She told me today she wants to 'make sure I'm the one.' What the fucking fuck?! It's been four and half years. She doesn't know what it means to sacrifice everything and sacrifice daily for the person you love. She doesn't know how to show love without being in love. She doesn't know how to fall back in love. All she cares about is her fucking self. And you know what's really annoying? After all this time, I have nothing but memories, just memories. I will get no credit for helping, for shaping or for loving. Instead, some other bitch will reap all the hard work I've put in and get ALL the credit. Ain't that some bullshit?"

– Text received at 2 a.m.

"What's missing? Commitment *insert crying laughing cat emoji*."

– CN, 32

"I love hard. Period. I love deeply. Period. I know what I want, and I don't play games, which has made being a single, twenty-something, young professional in a new city very difficult. I haven't been in a real relationship in YEARS. But that's not the problem. The real problem is, I have not wanted to be in a relationship with any of the guys I have dated over the past few years, except for one. They all show me very early on that they just cannot keep up. As Bey would say, 'I'm just too much for them!'

"At this point, my dating life is limited to those guys I meet on dating apps that are cute enough to swipe right on and smart enough to hold a text conversation long enough for me to accept an actual date. I don't think I am being picky, but I am sure some would say otherwise. Bottom line, my love life has been non-existent, and until a non-fuckboy enters the picture I am okay with that."

– NL, 27

aerinspruill_copy.jpg

Recently, I re-watched three seasons of a show my mom and I had become obsessed with back in 2013. Being Mary Jane — created by Mara Brock Akil, whose name you may remember if you watched The Jamie Foxx Show, Moesha or Girlfriends ­— is a BET series based on the life and love of Mary Jane Paul (MJP), a thirty-something, successful news anchor living in Atlanta.

For those of you who haven't watched the show yet – SPOILER ALERT! From the outset, viewers understand that while MJP seems to have a grasp on her professional life, her personal life isn't where she wants it to be. Many have identified with her experiences as she struggles to find The One, while also balancing a cut-throat career and family drama.

Season One kicks off with a bang when MJP is lying next to a very attractive gentleman and asking God to give her a sign as to whether or not he's The One. He suddenly wakes up and proceeds to vomit all over her. As if that isn't already a nightmare red flag, soon after helping him to the bathroom, she discovers a wedding band while picking up his clothes! And that's just the beginning of the drama that ensues in her personal life.

Over the course of the next two seasons, we find out her best friend performed fellatio on the love of her life — whose sperm she stole and froze after a one-night stand — after which she gets in a car wreck, she finds out she can't get pregnant after undergoing fertility treatment on national television, her best friend commits suicide, she's forced to take care of family debts and health care bills, and she shares seemingly promising moments with a few men who don't end up satisfying her "standards" of love. In the end, MJP always seems to get the short end of the stick.

I have a few friends who can relate...

"He's like, 'Hey.'

"I'm like, 'Hey.'

"He's like, 'How are you?'

"I'm like, 'Look I've had a crush on you for a while. Let's go on a date.'

"And he's like, 'Great, how about tomorrow?' Babe, we go see Moonlight.

"LIKE, WHAT DUDE IS LIKE, 'LET'S SEE MOONLIGHT'!? And he had already seen it. Man after my own damn heart.

"Then we go to the wine bar by my house and hang out and talk and next thing I know, BAM, we are tonguing each other down. Like, cannot keep our hands off each other. We go back to my place and continue but don't have sex. He says he wants to see me again. SHIT IS PERFECT!

"It's the holidays, so he's out of town for like a while. So I don't see him but we are texting, cool. So he's back and I'm like, 'When can we get together?' And then he tries to come over and chill a few times but my homegirl was staying with me so he like couldn't really. But also our texting is very sexual. Which I think nothing of because as you know I'm a sexual person. And I say, "Hey, yeah I'm like tryna (insert action word for have sex) with you but I also like you, I don't just want sex. Anyway, my homegirl is finally gone and I'm like, 'Hey, let's kick it.' And he's out of town again, so I'm like, 'Cool, when you get back.'

"And he hits me with: He doesn't just want a sexual relationship and thinks we should just be friends..."

– HC, 26

I sympathized, no empathized, with Mary Jane, because I, too, was familiar with getting the short end of the stick. A few years ago, I was in an on-again off-again relationship. Even though the majority of our relationship overlapped with the turbulent years of undergraduate life, I thought I was doing everything right. True, I got drunk and purged way too often, damaged property and even fell into depression, but I was a great girlfriend.

Six or so years later, I found out via social media that person was in a new relationship. And after ignoring all the signs that we should part ways anyways, my version of happily-ever-after was shattered. In the words of the anonymous friend who texted me at 2 a.m., "Ain't that a b*tch?" Nevertheless, I learned from the experience, I've moved on and all that jazz.

Still, discontent with the dating scene followed me to the Queen City. I thought my inability to connect with someone was simply a "I'm a single woman, hear me roar, I'm going to eat all of you and keep it moving" attitude, until I started writing about nightlife and discovered that many singles in the city were singing the same tune: dating in Charlotte sucks. My friends, my coworkers and strangers have expressed frustration with dating in the city. They've tried all the dating apps, gone on all the dates and yet still feel unfulfilled.

"I have gone on many Tinder/Bumble dates. I have gone on some that were fantastic, but we decided that we are better friends than dates. With this in mind, I have found that this is a great way to make friends. I have also had boyfriends come out of Tinder or Bumble, including my last two exes. This means to me that there are gems and great guys out there, and my relationships with these guys have lasted more than six months. I consider this to be a long time in today's dating world.

"[But] just like I have had great dates and made great friends, there have been some serious disasters. The Netflix-and-Chill mentality is out there and there's also the mentality where guys have expectations just because they bought you dinner or bought you a drink during your date."

– SN, 26 (Shout-out to her most recent dating disaster, who compared paying for her dinner to the sex he was going to buy on his next trip, then threw her card at her when she tried to pay. Oh, and still asked for a kiss when she tried to leave.)

Aerin Spruill and just another Mary Jane
  • Aerin Spruill and just another Mary Jane

The more discussions I've had with people who feel like their dating lives are a series of Punk'd episodes, the more I realize that we're all Mary Jane. While Being Mary Jane has brought and continues to bring critical conversations surrounding race, the glass ceiling, the cyclical nature of family issues and black love to the forefront, at its core the show reveals the complexities of dating, relationships and finding true love.

Mary Jane could be any one of us — black, brown, white, gay, straight, transgender. The name Mary Jane Paul, in and of itself, is basic. At its mention, unless you've watched the show, you have no idea what MJP looks like or what she's been through.

Since college, I've been surrounded by perfect examples of Mary Jane Paul: great people who can't seem to find the love they've been searching for. In a world where therapy, break-ups, anxiety prescriptions, suicide and love deferred are commonplace, I challenged my friends, co-workers and family to tell me, in their own words, what life is like being a real Mary Jane.

"For me personally, 'cause Mary Jane is not me...she is [a] hoe. It's hard dating as you get older. Slim pickings, baggage, no job, records, bad credit...Not to mention you've become set in your ways, not wanting to give. In a relationship, it's about balance, give and take. Every argument isn't worth a response, which is hard for me because I have to have the last say. *insert smiley face emoji* But I'm working on it.

"A lot of people are coming with game, not being genuine. But you need to have good morals and values. If not, you will settle for any and everything. Love yourself."

A few seconds later, I receive a second text: "I guess in a way...I am similar to Mary Jane...without the slut part. Still looking or maybe hoping for marriage at 40 years old."

– SL, 46

From the outset of my newest relationship it's been my goal to maintain transparency and open lines of communication. I don't shy away from sharing my goals for "our" future or keeping it real when something ain't right.

I hate to say it, but social media and phone use are always going to be interesting topics of conversation for those dating. Are you on your phone more than you're engaged in conversation with your significant other? Are you opting for nonstop convo on Tinder instead of face-to-face interaction?

As technology continues to advance, how will the landscape of love change?

"I feel that everyone is missing from the dating scene. Men and WOMEN. We're all missing the point. I'm not going to bash one gender when, as a woman, I do the similar wrong things. Have you 'ghosted' someone? Never returned a text or call? High expectations when you don't have it ALL together? I'm guilty of it. We all want instant gratification. Technology, society and culture."

– PL, 27

This isn't just a conversation for the ladies, either; men are grappling with the challenges of dating and relationships as well, especially with regards to the role that technology plays:

"As a single 'real' man (who hasn't watched BMJ since I was in a relationship), I'd have to agree with PL that both genders are at fault. The main factor that I see (from my experience and others) is that people can't put down their smart phones long enough to build a real connection. We're too distracted with social media and dating apps to build real person to person chemistry.

The fact that you can 'meet' people so easily in the virtual realm makes it difficult when you actually see them in person; there's awkward silences or people aren't who they portray themselves to be online. And the fact that there are all kinds of dudes in your DMs and guys can go on Tender or POF (not me, btw, lol) and find options so easily, we take each other for granted and are quick to look elsewhere very quickly."

– WJ, 33

"I just want to meet a guy who is not racist or sexist and wants to cook together and hang out and do cool shit and smoke a few blunts. I'm not looking to trap anyone. I just want to go with the flow and have a good time. And if it turns into a long-term committed thing, cool. But that hasn't happened for me. I've never had a smooth normal relationship without its shit. And I'm like damn, do they even exist?"

– HC, 26

Being Mary Jane isn't the first and certainly, won't be the last television series or platform for discussing matters of love unfulfilled. There are more and more examples of the diversity of love, learning to love oneself and other series of unfortunate love events on television and in our lives.

What are your thoughts on being a Mary Jane in the Queen City?

Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

*Names in this article have been left anonymous to protect the identities of those mentioned.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Escape from Q.C.

Where am I? Oh, in Asheville

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

Saturday morning I woke up in a cozy little nook in a twin-sized bed sleeping head to feet with one of my old co-workers.

The sun had just started peeking through clouds over the mountains outside and early risers had already started blasting music over a sound system. Hungover, confused and staring at a ladybug crawling up a wall, I thought, "Where am I? Oh yeah, I remember now. Asheville."

My head was pounding, the nausea was creeping in and all I wanted to do was sleep for the rest of the day. Who would've thought a girl's night in would lead to a worse hangover than a night out?

Let's rewind.

As an only child and a self-proclaimed extroverted introvert, I'm constantly torn between wanting to curl up in a ball alone and watch Netflix or chat it up with strangers during a night on the town.

A challenging issue, you can imagine, for a writer seeking inspiration from nightlife experiences. Nevertheless, I knew I had to put my anxiety aside when two of my co-workers suggested a girl's trip to Asheville to celebrate their birthdays. And even though I knew I would rehearse every excuse in the book to avoid forced, large-group social interaction, it was clear that between the election and the never-ending routine of having a 9-to-5, I needed to get away from the city for a bit.

My half-day at work flew by and the next thing I knew, another co-worker and I were in her car, chatting each other's heads off and en route to the mountains.

As our distance away from the QC increased, my anxiety decreased and I found myself more excited to spend a weekend away from it all. Or maybe it was the RBV I mixed before we left? Whatever the case may have been, we were ecstatic to be the first to explore our four bedroom, four bath, 2,700 square foot log cabin (and claim our beds, of course).

Even though we decided to stay in Friday, we raged like we would've any other night. Céline Dion, Aminé's "Caroline" and Prince's "Purple Rain," echoed throughout the house and even outside as we utilized the cabin's stereo system.

Did you know that nine girls could finish off three handles of vodka, wine and cases of beer? Well, we did. Three of us made it to 2 a.m. and that's when we thought it would be a good idea to open and a bottle of champagne. But guess who was the only person truly hungover and violently holding it all down in an Uber ride to Burial Beer Co., our first stop of the day? That's right. Yours truly.

After forcing my first beer, however, I was ready to rally. It only took two stops and an epic pic to upload to Instagram for me to realize what all the fuss is about when it comes to Asheville.

The downtown area reminded me of NoDa with all of its murals, hole-in-the-wall bars, breweries and foodie spots. The difference? Asheville can eat NoDa. Beards, manbuns, dogs, babies, Carhartts, hiking boots and sunnies have never looked better.

Did I mention a handcrafted cocktail only cost $5? Tell me, where can you get a craft cocktail in Charlotte for the low low?

Our Saturday itinerary included: Burial Beer Co., French Broad Chocolates, Green Man Brewery, The Funkatorium (the East Coast's first sour taproom), Twin Leaf Brewery, Cúrate (for Spanish tapas), Sovereign Remedies, MG Road Bar & Lounge and Tiger Mountain.

There was one more at the end but come on, give me credit for remembering all that! And before you knew it, we were popping champagne bottles back at the cabin.

You must be wondering how I managed to make it all day Saturday? I only drank one beer at every brewery we went to before dinner and followed each up with a water. I didn't start drinking liquor until dinner and, even then, I kept myself to one drink at each bar.

Though I was still hungover the next morning as we prepared to clean up our mess and head home, I was beyond proud of my accomplishment.

After four chicken nuggets from McDs on the way back to Charlotte, I felt the need to reconnect with my Asheville experience. So a few friends and I decided to head over to NoDa for a few more hipster vibes before the weekend came to an end.

I've already started planning my next Queen City escape. Where do you go when you need to get our Charlotte for a little bit? Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Will the QC in 2K17 fight to keep up with a changing climate?

A new nightlife landscape

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 11:25 AM

This past weekend I only had one item on my to-do list: check out The Dock, a prohibition-style speakeasy accessed through the loading dock of Charlotte Marriott Center City. The new-ish secret spot was closed last weekend due to weather, so I talked it up all week in anticipation of Saturday — the only day the place is open for business.

After seeing a tantalizing post on Instagram Saturday morning, the boyfriend and I decided to splurge for lunch at CO, a pan-Asian restaurant in the Park Road Shopping Center. Pork and ginger gyoza, pork and crab spring rolls, a California roll, caramel pork bahn mi and drunken Thai noodles. Have you ever heard the expression, "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach?" A jalapeno guava margarita nor a lemongrass ginger martini could wash away the itis that overcame us (see Urban Dictionary for definition of "itis").

We gathered our to-go boxes and bee-lined it home for a nap. Three hours later, it was dark outside and we drowsily started getting ready. As we pulled up in our Uber outside of the Marriott loading dock and approached the door it was hard for me to contain the months of anticipation that had built up.

We were greeted by an attendant who informed us that The Dock had been shut down by the fire department. And just like that, our dreams were crushed. However, the drunk couple that piled in behind us were having a harder time coping with the loss. "That's not what we hearrr..." the guy joked. "The man outside says we're in the right plaaace..." With every drunken lilt at the end of each of his sentences I could tell he thought the attendant was waiting for a magic password. The attendant's RBF (resting b*tch face), on the other hand, didn't appear to hold a single joke.

Defeated, we walked to Istanbul Hookah Lounge in Brevard Court/French Quarter/Latta Arcade. All I could think was, "Another venue in the Queen City bites the dust."

July of this year will mark my fifth anniversary living in Charlotte. In that short time, the nightlife landscape has gone through quite a few changes. Familiar buildings have traversed the entire alphabet of business names. Prime example: The NC Music Factory is now "Avidxchange?" Our favorite music venues are closing: Amos' Southend, The Chop Shop, Tremont Music Hall and Tommy's Pub. BAR Charlotte and its counterparts that dominated the space between E. 6th and E. 7th streets on N. College have passed on and since been replaced by a slew of venues that are a part of the new NorthSide Station.

As the Queen City explodes, we can agree on at least one consistency with regards to nightlife: it's constantly changing. And now that we've been ranked in the top 20 best places to live, according to the U.S. News & World Report, that landscape is going to continue to change. Hence, my dismay when I discovered The Tiki Hideaway, a Polynesian tapas and craft cocktails bar, was permanently closed after only a few months. And of course, my most recent disappointment, the shutting down of The Dock. So what now?

For as long as I can remember, random people have asked me some version of, "What's missing from Charlotte nightlife?" The familiar question usually follows my coming out as a nightlife writer and precedes the awkward response, "You know, I'm not really sure." Despite the fact that I easily get bored with the nightlife scene, I'd never sat down and ironed out the details of what it should look like.

Will new business owners attempt to skirt and swerve the authorities as bars and restaurants stray from traditional guidelines? Will the allure of hidden, underground, Prohibition-style spaces take over Uptown? Or will the obsession with skyscrapers and apartments give way to a series of #bestrooftopbarincharlotte contests? Will we fill the gap between young professionals and older demographics?

Personally, I'm hoping for a landscape that resembles that of New York. One teetering at the intersection of revolutionary, underground, modern and high-energy.

We've witnessed the rise of the brewery, the delight of craft cocktails, the influx of speakeasies and the diverse flavors of tapas. Let's hold on to the classics that promote texture: Snug Harbor, Roxbury, The Rabbit Hole, Abari, Petra's, Twenty-Two, Bar At 316, Jeff's Bucket Shop, etc. Then let's sprinkle in more late-night tapas restaurants, old school hip-hop and R&B, lounges, drag ball culture, secret passwords at underground venues and EDM dance parties on a residential property. The possibilities are limitless.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How to make the best of an over-hyped snowstorm

Sunday Funday

Posted By on Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 4:00 AM

It's 7 o'clock on the dot. I'm on the light rail cruisin' the streets [hums the tune of Usher's "Nice and Slow"]. Seriously though, Monday morning at 7 a.m. I was riding the blue line into Uptown and the sun was just starting to rise over the QC. It would've been a beautiful picture but then I reached into my jacket pocket to find two tokens and was reminded of Sunday Funday. Needless to say, it was the longest, most nauseating ride I've taken in a while.

Let's rewind.

On Friday, the office buzzed with excitement in anticipation of Snowmageddon 2017. The first snow of winter and you would've thought we were still in elementary school, waiting for the principal to call it. Despite warnings of snowfall, around 7 p.m. my pals were dead set on going out. At first, I was hesitant, but then we kept hearing reports that the bulk of the "storm" wouldn't hit until early Saturday morning. Who were we to waste a night out after a long week?

The boyfriend and I popped into the grocery store for last-minute rations (and mixers) before getting ready. Surprisingly, we had no issues securing an Uber to Sanctuary Pub in NoDa. Decked out with TVs and picture frames, this dive bar located next to Neighborhood Theatre is usually a spot I stop in for a quick drink, play tunes on the internet jukebox, snag the pool table before 9 p.m. for free or grab a snack — you can order your Cajun faves from neighboring Boudreaux's while grabbing a drink at the bar.

After a couple of RBVs, my co-workers were itching for karaoke. We braved freezing rain to walk to Noda 101, next to Jack Beagles. I'd forgotten all about this bar. But there we were, sitting at the table right in the front, perusing the song list. Yeah, I wasn't drunk enough. I opted for the role of crazed fan as my co-workers took the stage.

The highlight of the night? Watching a guy snatch the mic from a co-worker who was singing Prince's "Kiss," then belt out some of the highest notes in the song, and hand the mic calmly back as he exited stage left. The ultimate #micdrop. We requested an Uber before getting stranded in NoDa and after getting home ate an entire pizza. Maybe that was actually the highlight of my night?

The next morning, we gave "Netflix and chill" a whole new meaning. I lost count of how many catnaps we took, how much food we ate and how much TV we watched. We'd already decided that if weather permitted, we'd be hunting down The Dock — Uptown's hidden speakeasy. We headed that way around 9:30 p.m. After 20 minutes exploring the wrong loading dock area and running into another couple on the same adventure, we finally set our eyes on the graffiti-style sign that marked the entrance. To our dismay, it was closed due to road conditions. Dammit. The experience we'd been talking about for months would have to wait another weekend. At least now we knew where to go.

We ended up revisiting another spot in Charlotte Marriott City Center — Stoke Charlotte, one of my newest favorite spots to splurge on date night, featuring great food and craft cocktails. They didn't have the ingredients for the cocktail I wanted, but the culinary experts behind the bar didn't disappoint. Before I knew it, I had the perfect margarita with a twist — jalapenos!

I wasn't sure if I'd be up for Sunday Funday when I took my first morning trip to the bathroom, wincing angrily at the bright sunlight. But a series of texts from my P.I.C. and I was whistling a different tune. Looking back, holding those two tokens on the light rail, I realized my Sunday Funday doom was set in motion the moment I decided to make an RBV and pregame meet-up with her at Duckworth's Grill & Taphouse.

After a few beers, we played a drinking game involving fingers and a shot of Fireball — don't ask. That's when I convinced everyone to check out the new game bar at NorthSide Station, Lucky's Bar and Arcade. I'd fallen in love with the game bar Abari in NoDa, so I couldn't wait to see what Lucky's was all about. Without giving away all the deets, it's like Chuck E. Cheese's for adults with all the bells and whistles. Air hockey, Galaga and a Jurassic Park-themed shooting game were the highlights of my experience. Oh, and a tasty martini creation with...drum roll please...a Nerds rope! Come on, does it get much better than that?

New year, new me, I said. No more hangovers, I said. And there I was, hungover on a Monday after going out every night the first weekend of 2017. Sighs. I can say, however, it was well worth it. The weekend was full of adventure.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

New Year's Eve celebrations brought back some of my fave memories

A familiar threesome

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 4:00 AM

The year 2017 is finally upon us, Queen City. Is it just me or did 2016 fly by?

Then again, I guess it feels like that every year. And just like every other year, preparing for New Year's Eve celebrations brought back some of my most hilarious memories made in the city. The first being a threesome.

Oh come on, get your mind out of the gutter. I'm not talking about a literal threesome, but a non-traditional date with my current boy toy.

This year, we decided to bring in the New Year at Barreled at the Lift, a speakeasy and hookah lounge nestled at the bottom of the stairs beneath Libretto's on Woodlawn. It's the first place we met and the place we were going to celebrate 2017 listening to good tunes and drinking great drinks at "Chicago: A New Year's Eve Affair."

There were only three VIP tickets left when we reached out to the owner. That's when I remembered my BFFE (best friend forever and ever) had texted me a couple weeks earlier asking if she could come to Charlotte for New Year's Eve.

Of course she could, I answered.

As we started getting ready, donning our 1920s-themed clothing, BFFE was singing, "Just the three of us, we can make it if we try. Just the three of us, her, you and I" to the tune of Grover Washington Jr's "Just the Two of Us."

I laughed, thinking back to the first time the three of us met and the ongoing "love triangle" joke we've shared.

The boyfriend stood me up the first time we were supposed to meet one another. The boat was broken [insert air quotes], I tell everyone when the usual question arises, "How'd you guys meet?" I've always thought that excuse was weak.

That's why when he asked to grab drinks at Barreled one Thursday evening I had no qualms bringing my BFFE along with me. After all, I wasn't going to get stood up twice, was I?.

My BFFE and I chatted alone most of the time, but eventually I let him get in a word or two. Despite having to go to work the next day, I convinced him to come with us to Jeff's Bucket Shop for karaoke, and the rest is history.

Who would've thought a third-wheel — the boyfriend being the "plus one" — date would be relived a year and a half later.

The more that I thought about it, however, the more sense it made for me to be creating yet another memory with my BFFE for NYE. She's been present for three out of the four celebrations I've been to in the city and helped create some of my most favorite memories.

From being grounded together when we were kids after getting in trouble at Kmart when we were 14, to throwing up in a sport star's bathtub in the Ritz Carlton Uptown, to almost ruining a neighboer's suede couch with candle wax, she's always been there.

Every vom, every embarrassment, every epic party and every heart break.

We hadn't seen each other in a couple months, but nothing had changed. She picked me up Friday night at my aunt's house and we headed to Charlotte together.

We talked so much, we didn't even realize we'd gone past Charlotte to downtown Gastonia! Next thing you know, we were taking shots with one of our other friends from back home at Ink N Ivy, then Slate Billiards.

(Side note: Have you ever had a Green tea shot? We discovered them together Friday night, an they are not too shabby.)

The next morning, when the three of us were hungover beyond belief, and our bestie had to go to work, I thought, "Yep, nothing has changed." We laid around all day, the boyfriend grabbed us breakfast and the three of us hopped in an Uber together to head to Montford before the countdown.

After watching the first half of the Ohio State football game at Brazwell's, we walked (well, walked and complained of our feet hurting) to Barreled.

The familiar dim light and comfy couches welcomed us and we were placed in our section. VIP status, what what? We ordered a watermelon mint hookah, "the usual," and settled in for the long haul.

By the time the countdown began, I had abandoned my hangover and another was already settling in.

We grabbed a flute of champagne and cheered to yet another year of love, friendship and adventure.

Here's to making more memories in the QC this year!

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

How will you ring in the new year?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Every year around this time, we all see and hear the same sort of things: “Here’s your Facebook year in review…”, #NewYearNewMe or “Check out my New Year’s resolutions…” Hell, even I’ve been tempted to post a status about eating right and getting my summer body back — too bad I haven’t had a “summer bod” in a few years.

This year, the conversation I’m tired of having is, “Are you going to be in Charlotte for NYE? What are you going to do?” Prior to a few days ago, my answer was the same as it was last year, “I have no idea.” I’m sure you’ve been there before, too. After every failed NYE, I’ve promised myself that “Next year’s going to be different. I’m going to save up enough money for a magical experience, maybe even travel and it’s going to be epic!”

For my first NYE in the Q.C., my friends and I bought tickets to Label’s Great Gasby-themed shindig. I donned a fur coat and costume jewelry and prepared myself for an amazing night. Our Uber showed up late, took the long route through Uptown and we ended up running in as they started the countdown.

The second? I’d just started seeing someone and even though I was “living single,” I was excited about the possibility of having someone to share a smooch with. Just a few hours before the event, I received the disappointing text, “My ex invited herself, I’m sorry.” Are you kidding me?

While last year wasn’t a complete waste — I was with my boyfriend and great friends — I was still dissatisfied when I ended up spending my entire night on Montford Drive, a familiar hotspot in the Queen all year long. Let’s be honest, we all love Southside Charlotte on a drunken escapade, but a magical NYE? I beg to differ.

Fast forward to 2016, I started asking my boyfriend about what we were going to do for New Year’s Eve months in advance. And once again, nothing was set in stone until the week before. I was dead set on a destination. Either Orlando — where he was going to be for a few days prior — or a casino where we could bring in the new year right — making money. Both ideas were shut down when he realized his favorite football team was playing in yet another “big game.” Who would want to risk missing that? *Rolls eyes*

So what’s the next thing I did? I hit up Google and started weighing our options. The problem was, there were so many factors to take into account. But this time, I had experience and a variety of resources at my fingertips. Don’t risk starting 2017 off on the wrong note, if you’re not sure where you’re spending NYE, do as I did and take the following into account:

1. Ticket price: If you have the extra cash to spend, just make sure you actually like the destination. Some of my favorite venues, such as Ink N Ivy, still have tickets available, but you’re going to spend a pretty penny, especially if you missed out on early bird specials. And keep in mind, there are plenty of cheap and free options too.

2. Transportation: After hearing horror stories of friends racking up Uber charges over $300 and getting stuck at Label for a couple hours due to surge pricing, I knew firsthand how troublesome NYE transportation could be. Designate a sober driver, locate a venue in an area that’s less popular or prepare for the surge.

3. Service: There are plenty of venues Uptown that I love for aesthetic reasons, but that doesn’t mean the service is great. If you’ve had a hard time getting a drink at a certain bar on a regular night, it’ll probably be a nightmare on NYE.

4. Alcohol: Are you going to drink a little or a lot? Only interested in a champagne toast at midnight? Will you leave the party early? After all, you shouldn’t pay a high ticket price for an open bar if you’re not going to take full advantage of it. Don’t forget to read the fine print, your options may be limited.
5. Comfort: Is general admission significantly cheaper but you’ll be standing the whole time?

Comfort is key when you’re in for the long haul, especially for those of you wearing heels. If you don’t like the idea of standing all night, find out whether or not there will be opportunities for seating.

It’s not too late to find somewhere to spend your NYE in Charlotte. Where will you countdown to 2017? Check out our New Year’s Eve Guide.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Having fun in the Q.C. without diving deep into your pockets

What's better than Free. 99?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2016 at 7:00 AM

If you consume social media regularly you've probably come across your fair share of memes with a caption along the lines of, "When you check your bank account on Sunday after partying all weekend..." And if you're anything like me you chuckle and repost as you reflect on your most recent 'How-much-did-I-spend-last-night' anxiety attack.

I had one of those this past Friday when my boyfriend and I decided to hit up one of our usual spots. I thought we'd only ordered a hookah and three cocktails a piece. It wasn't until I grabbed the tab that I realized one of us had actually ordered the "group shots" we'd taken — a Royal Flush that I regretted immediately, by the way. A hundred dollars later, I wondered if the short-lived night was worth it. The next morning, I woke up to the drunken Google search: "free things to do on the weekends in Charlotte, NC."

Blame it on a drained bank account after shopping for Christmas or preparation for New Year's Eve resolutions, but it was obvious, even in my drunken state, that saving money was the name of the game. The dilemma? Finding unique things to do for "free 99" and limiting the amount of money spent on alcohol. (Side note: "free 99," a slang term for something that's free.)

So I began searching for free events, activities and the like around Charlotte. Fortunately, they weren't too hard to find.

Relive your childhood at Coco: A month ago one of my co-workers and I decided to stray away from the norm and head to Coco and the Director for Wine & Color Wednesdays. Once a month, you can relive the glory of your childhood by coloring until your heart's content. Adult coloring books are all the rave if you haven't noticed, but maybe you want to try it out for free? Stop by Coco, take in the relaxed ambiance, grab a couple pages from a coloring book and all the coloring utensils that your heart desires. (I know I said no alcohol, but select wines are only $5 a pop!)

Take twerking to another level: Not too long ago, a friend of mine dropped a bug in my ear that she and her hubby had taken swing dancing classes at 7th Street Public Market and I fell in love with the idea. It doesn't appear they're offering that event right now, but venues like BluNotes of Charlotte are. Every Thursday on Live Latin night, you can take a free salsa or bachata lesson. Not to mention, there's a Meetup group, "Charlotte Loves to Dance," where you can connect with others in the area who enjoy dancing and find lessons for free or cheap.

Support local voices at an open mic night: Do you love spoken word? Think you have what it takes to be a comedian? There are plenty of open mic nights to be discovered in the Queen City. Whether you're searching for spoken word or opportunities to belt out your fave karaoke song, a simple search will unveil a range of venues with little to no cover. Find Your Muse Open Mic Night on Mondays at The Evening Muse, Grannae's Boyz presents Say Word Tuesdays and beyond.

Find your zen: If you've spent some time in Charlotte, you've heard and pictured Greg Olsen doing yoga at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. Well, OMB isn't the only spot in Charlotte to host free yoga. A lot of local breweries and bars are hopping on the bandwagon offering yoga for the low low. Check out Hattie's Tap and Tavern, Free Range Brewing or Google for the latest yogi events in Charlotte.

Gain knowledge and culture: I've never been a museum or art fan until I happened upon an HB2 art installation at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation earlier this year. Since then, I've been giving museums more of a chance to impress me. On certain days of the week or month, you can check out Mint Museum of Art, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and other Uptown faves for free. If you're learning to appreciate museums like myself, you can do it for free if you're strategic. Hit up museum's websites for free days/nights and look for Uptown Crawls (like the free one in this week's Top 10 section).

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Don't settle for less when you're spending more

Make Q.C. dinners great again

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 7:00 AM

I hate spending money on alcohol, especially if I end up flushing it down the drain just a few hours later. But I really hate spending money on a meal that's lackluster. My thought process? If I'm going to pick up a hefty tab, the food should be borderline orgasmic. There's nothing worse than going to say, Duckworth's — no offense — to get a burger, fries and two beers only find out the total plus tip is around $30. I blame it on being a former resident of the foodiest city in North Carolina — Durham.

I'll never forget my first trip to Bali Hai, a Mongolian restaurant just a couple blocks away from my residential high school — believe it or not, I wasn't sent away to boarding school for bad behavior. We weren't allowed cars, so we had to make the most of what was within walking distance. Bali Hai, with all of its self-stack bowls, fresh ingredients, crabmeat add-ons and house-made sauces was to die for. Unfortunately, Ghengis Grill is the closest thing to Bali Hai that we have in Charlotte, and let me tell you, it doesn't even compare.

After six years in Durham, surrounded by a multitude of cultures, my palate craves more. I'm no longer satisfied with the same ol' same ol' for lunch, and don't mention McDonald's unless its 3 a.m. and my eyes are swollen with hunger. What's even worse? The boyfriend is your basic carnivore who prefers meat and potatoes with minimal condiments. Every now and then, however, I convince him to step out of his comfort zone and try something new.

This past Friday, we were contemplating what we'd eat for dinner. Sighs. Picture Ryan Gosling screaming at Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, "It is that simple. What do YOU want?!" That's how our dinner conversations usually go. This time, however, I was tired from a long day and in the mood for something tasty. I gave him two options: Essex Bar and Bistro or Stoke Charlotte. Two of the newest restaurants in Uptown, I thought, "There's no way we could make a wrong choice." I let him peruse the menus and, after he saw a flat iron steak, we decided on Stoke.

Nestled in the Marriot lobby nextdoor to Coco and the Director, Stoke has caught my eye on many occasion. The minimalist and rustic appearance of the wood panels surrounding the entryway with STOKE placed in large, silver letters above intrigued me from the get-go. I called around 7:30 p.m. to secure a reservation for 9:00 p.m.

(Pro tip #1: When you enter the Marriot lobby, you'll find dual entrances to the eating area. The hostess stand is at the lower entrance.)

We arrived a bit early, and starving, so we were pleasantly surprised that we could sit in the lobby area, play board games and even place orders for drinks/appetizers. While we waited, I ordered one of their whiskey cocktails, deviled eggs, country ham and pickles. Not a lot of food for the starving 9-to-5er, but I'm learning how to be patient and curb my appetite without ruining dinner. After a game of chess, our table was ready and my tummy breathed a sigh of relief.

(Pro tip #2: I'm not even a whiskey drinker, but the cocktail was delicious. Chances are, you won't need more than two of these well-crafted and stiff drinks that run between $10-12. That'll save you money in the long run.)

We'd already salivated over the menu, so we knew what we wanted as soon as we sat down: flat iron steak, pork shank, roasted fingerlings and barbecued carrots. I couldn't believe what a score this dinner choice was. The average person would expect to leave a place like this still hungry, especially considering the steak was only $18, but we were bursting with satisfaction when we left. Not to mention, everything was absolutely delicious!

Our only regret? We had no room left for dessert. The couple next to us had ordered a one-pound doughnut — which wasn't listed on the menus I'd stalked online — that rivaled any other you've feasted your eyes on. Upon seeing our neighbors receive their check, I quickly offered to take the rest of their plate to which the response was a definitive no. Confirmed, the donut was that good.

(Pro tip #3: The menu I found on their website differed slightly from the one that we received when we sat down. Expect that with a smaller menu, some items may rotate on a semi-regular basis.)

If you haven't been yet, get Stoke-d! Your belly will thank you.

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