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After Dark Critics' Picks

Best of Charlotte 2006


Best Concert Venue: Dale F. Halton Theater, CPCC
1206 Elizabeth Ave

The grand, oversized beams holding up the roof may seem a tad hokey in the Queen City. But ya know, so what? It’s what’s inside the venue that matters. Halton Theater on the Central campus of CPCC is a perfect midsize venue. It’s a tad bigger than Spirit Square, the seating layout is just right and the stage has elegant warmth. As one example, the sound during Bollywood playback singer Kumar Sanu’s show there was phenomenal.

Best Concert of Past 12 Months: X @ Tremont Music Hall

For us music scribes, it’s tough to pick the best concert of the year from an array of fine shows that passed through town. Yes, even in the Queen City, there are many kickass shows every year. But the best show during this past year, hands down, was the return of the legendary LA punk/roots band X. The original members — John Doe, Exene Cervenka, D.J. Bonebrake and the inimitable rockabilly-influenced guitarist Billy Zoom — showed how a quartet of 50-somethings can rock your socks. The good news is they’re coming back August 23 at the same venue. Don’t be caught sittin’ at home scratching your butt while watching Friends reruns this time around.

Best Music Event of Past 12 Months: Rolling Stones @ Bobcats Arena

When it looked like U2 was going to be the first rock band to play at our swanky new downtown arena, we thought, OK, that’s pretty cool. But when it was later announced that the friggin' Rolling Stones, the granddaddy of rock bands (except to you Beatles fans, of course), would be the ones to offer satisfaction (and “Satisfaction”), we let out a rebel yell, pumped our fists in the air and flashed our tits like we were rootin' for Dale Jr. at the Coca-Cola 600. Yes, it cost nearly both arms and both legs to get a ticket to the show, but we’re hear to tell ya this: The energy and vibe present during that most memorable night in October 2005 was more than just cool; it was amazing ... and it spanned generations. Parents brought their kids, and the kids, in turn, got to watch their parents relive their adolescence by shaking their hips and singing along to the songs they grew up with. This event stands as the best move Bobcat Johnson & Company have made thus far at the new arena.

Best Club for Music: Visulite
1615 Elizabeth Ave.

Whether hosting an intimate acoustic gig or full-blown rawk show, the versatility of midtown’s Visulite Theatre makes it a favorite with many bands and fans. The bills offer an eclectic mix of national and local acts, and the multi-tiered room has a little bit of everything — a dance floor/mosh pit, plenty of seating and quality sight lines throughout.

Best Club for Dancing: Scorpio
2301 Freedom Dr.

The closest thing Charlotte has to a true NYC-style dance club is also the best thing Charlotte has in terms of dancing. With four different bar areas and two massive dance floors, it’s the spot for gays, straights and gender benders to shake it like a Polaroid picture every Sunday night (the dance night) to a combo of house, break beats and Top 40. Scorpio has been in business for more than 30 years, surviving two fires and everything else thrown at it — and in the wild that is nightlife, it’s the survival of the fittest, or, should I say, the bestest.

Best Place for a First Date: Elizabeth Billiards

Let’s face it: You can learn only so much during a date of dinner and drinks. To determine the key factors of a relationship — like, does your date know how to manipulate a cue ball with proper English? — you need to hang out someplace real, like EB’s. The atmosphere is laid-back, and the entire night (beer and billiards) is downright economical. Tip: If your date forsakes the rather pedestrian, but certain, bridge shot for a showy, yet risky, behind-the-back shot, he might be “all hat and no cattle,” as our Texan friends are fond of saying.

Bar With Hottest Members of Opposite/Same Sex: Cans
500 West Fifth St

OK, let’s get the Beavis and Butt-head deal out of the way: Cans. Heh heh. You said “cans.” Well, maybe it’s the cans we’re looking at when checking out the members of the opposite sex. (Heh heh ... members.) It’s easy to see why all the hotties are hanging out here, with its way-hip warehouse feel, exposed brick walls and gleaming bar. Plus, it’s just steps away from all the action of daily commerce — and open late-night (even Sunday!) when other places are winding down. Order a flirtini for that cute blonde at the end of the bar, and see where it takes you ...

Best College Hangout: Grand Central
1000 Central Ave.

Because we remember how much we coveted cheap beer when we were in college. Grand Central offers $2 or $2.50 beers every night (‘cept Monday, when they’re closed). And Friday nights, 7-10pm, include a Happy Hour buffet and half-price martinis. Football season is right around the corner, and Grand Central has Cats fans covered, with an 8-foot and a 6-foot projection screen. After all, classes don’t start again until Monday.

Best Jukebox: The Philosopher's Stone Tavern
1958 East Seventh Street

It used to be that you walked in the P-stone and you had these choices: Widespread Panic and whatever was left. Now the cozy little bar and restaurant offers the best of both worlds: an analog (OK, so it’s the kind with real CDs that flip) model with equal parts Ryan Adams, Wilco, Al Green and the Faces, and a digital download model that, well, seems to offer Any Song Ever Written. Sure, it’s a little more expensive and, sure, it takes some of the fun out of it, but when you absolutely, positively gotta hear, say, Petey Pablo’s “Raise Up,” you’ll thank them.

Best Pool Hall: Elizabeth Billiards

A little bit dark, a little bit smoky (OK, maybe more than a little), and quite a lot of billiards makes EB’s a repeat winner. It ain't fancy — just 8-ball, 9-ball and serious dart-throwing — and that suits us perfectly. This Central Avenue hangout stands the test of time. A true neighborhood treasure.

Best Bowling Alley: George Pappas' Park Lanes
1700 Montford Drive

Is there any other? For years, Park Lanes has gotten our vote for its retro feel, Strike-Mor Pro Shop and high-quality crap food, including world-famous onion rings. If you’re looking for a place to host a fun gathering, check out Park Lanes, which offers special group rates for birthdays and other social functions. You’ll be bowled over.

Best Neighborhood Bar: Thomas Street Tavern

1218 Thomas Ave.

It feels like the heart of the neighborhood, with a joyful noise and happy vibe emanating from its doors almost every night. This family-owned place is rather simple: exposed brick and wood floors, four-top tables, pool tables and a stretch of bar. And it’s truly a place where “everybody knows your name”; every time we’ve gone in, we’ve known someone there. Go early for a primo seat on either the front or back porch. Take your laptop and connect to the Wi-Fi service, so you can read your e-mail along with the beer list.

Best Downtown Bar: RiRa
208 N. Tryon St.

The quintessential Irish pub, since 1997. The owners of RiRa now operate seven such bars up and down the East Coast, since the Charlotte location — the original — remains a raving success. In addition to live music and tasty eats (including quite a few authentic Irish entrees), RiRa is home of the perfect Guinness pint. Oh yeah — and this year, World Cup soccer (we hear that’s big in Europe, where Irish people are from).

Best Sports Bar: Stool Pigeons

Church Street

Take a look at the numbers: 21 taps of beer, three big-screen TVs and 17 regular-ol’ TVs (27 at the University location), $2 Bud Light drafts, three Charlotte-area bars. No wonder die-hard sports fans declare it #1; they love to roost here.

Best Gay/Lesbian Bar: DAKS Tavern

Huge ups for the place that calls itself an “eccentric little gay bar in Plaza-Midwood” and sponsors the Charlotte Royals, the Queen City’s gay rugby team. (Gay rugby: who knew?) Open every night, DAKS features billiards, energetic music, drink specials and arcade-style games. “Hot videos” and cozy recesses let you get up close and steamy with your favorite guy. Specials change daily and include $6 all-you-can-drink Bud Light drafts, free pool until 10pm, and talent showcases hosted by the fine entertainers Brandy Alexander, Serena Mitchell and Sierra Santana.

Best Strip Club: Uptown Cabaret
108 E. Morehead St

Taking a page from the wholesome folks in Las Vegas, the marketers at Uptown Cabaret promise that “what happens here, stays here.” And what happens here? As far as we can tell, men pay big bucks to have good-looking women tease them. But hey, whatever floats your boat. As Charlotte’s premier gentlemen’s club, Uptown Cabaret offers white-linen dining, VIP reservations, drink specials and — we almost forgot — scantily clad women dancing.

Best Place Still Open After 2AM: Skyland Family Restaurant
4544 South Blvd

Actually, it’s open 24 hours, so it doesn't matter how close to 2am you get there. Since 1960, owner Jimmy Kakavitsas has been welcoming Charlotte’s late-night crowd with diner-style favorites and breakfast anytime. Really, what could be better than chasing those last-call Red Bull Shooters with some liver mush and eggs? (Although we recommend the Patty Melt with an extra side of fried squash.)

Best Beer Selection: Mellow Mushroom
4100-A Carmel Rd.

Germany, Holland, Mexico, the Czech Republic — no, we’re not talking World Cup soccer, we’re talking beer at the Mellow Mushroom’s three Charlotte locations. After a brief hiatus, the ‘Shroom zooms back to the top of the Best list, thanks to a huge assortment of ales, porters, stouts, “high gravity” beers and bocks. Detailed descriptions of each style on the beer menu are a bonus for beer novices.

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