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After Dark: Critics' Picks

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BEST CONCERT VENUE (LARGE)

Neighborhood Theatre

A repeat winner. Since going through a remodeling, the Neighborhood Theatre has quickly become a venue-of-all-sizes. They can put in seats for the mellow shows and clear house to make room for dancing. The VIP sections give great views while the balcony offers a completely different perspective. The staff is comprised of some of the friendliest scene supporters around, and the recent lineups have been notable, including a number of sold-out shows, including two by the Black Crowes last fall.

511 E. 36th St.
704-358-9298

BEST CONCERT VENUE (MEDIUM)

Visulite Theatre

While continuing to draw in bands of all kinds, the Visulite continues providing great sound and quality acts while also showcasing a local festival or two from time to time. They've had local music showcases, burlesque shows, national touring acts and a little bit of everything in between. You've also gotta love the multi-tiered approach that gives a great view from just about anywhere in the place.

1615 Elizabeth Ave.
704-358-9200

BEST CONCERT VENUE (SMALL)

Milestone

It's hard to forget the traditions and history in this place ... until you walk through the door and literally see the writing on the wall. Credit goes to Neal (MF) Harper for his undying dedication to keeping the venue going and booking bands that most places in town wouldn't even give a second glance to. When it comes to supporting local and independent music, The Milestone is where it's at.

3400 Tuckaseegee Road
704-398-0472

BEST CONCERT OF PAST 12 MONTHS

Get Out and Vote @ Amos' Southend

The last minute mini-tour by the Beastie Boys in support of getting people out to vote was a major coup for both Charlotte and Amos' Southend. While the tour hit arenas and coliseums in other markets, the show here sold out in minutes and, literally, had the crammed-in audience climbing the rafters for a better view. Sheryl Crow and Santigold were also on the bill.

BEST CLUB FOR MUSIC

Neighborhood Theatre

If it's options you like, it's options you'll get. They can cover the floor with chairs for mellow enjoyment, clear half the floor to mix things up or open the place entirely for getting the collective groove going. It leans toward the jam side of the street, but there've been plenty of other acts to fill the gaps for rock, blues, bluegrass and just about everything in between. NoDa wouldn't be the same without it.

511 E. 36th St.
704-358-9298

BEST CLUB FOR DANCING

Halo

Once quietly tucked away in the mostly vacant yet quite expansive N.C. Music Factory complex, Halo (formerly known as the Garden & Gun Club) is now taking full advantage of the recent openings of the new Fillmore Charlotte and Uptown Amphitheatre offering free pre-show and/or post-show cover on concert nights. So it shouldn't come as a surprise to club regulars that more folks are turning out to soak up the club's atmosphere and hit its dance floor. House music seems to be the main focus, yet depending on the crowd (or show next door), that can change. There's also comfy couches for lounging and an outdoor patio for cooling down when you're not out on the floor.

820 Hamilton St., Suite A2
704-246-1752

BEST KARAOKE

Jackalope Jacks Restaurant & Bar

Good karaoke is an oxymoronic myth. But if you must belt out your favorite Journey ballads, Jackalope Jacks is the place to be on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays starting up around 10:30 p.m. If you aren't feeling bold enough to perform, you can American Idolize those who do from the comfort of the closest booth or barstool.

1936 E. 7th St.
704-347-1918

BEST PLACE FOR A FIRST DATE

Las Ramblas

What better way to get to know your potential soulmate than sharing small plates of savory Spanish cuisine? The warm, intimate ambience alone is worth the dining experience. Then add an amazing tapas menu and wine list into the mix and you're sure to make a great impression ... or, if you don't, at least the meal will.

2400 Park Road, Suite M
704-335-8444

BAR WITH HOTTEST MEMBERS OF OPPOSITE/SAME SEX

Anywhere In The EpiCentre

Tanned hotties swarm to the EpiCentre like moths to a flame. Partygoers from UNC-Charlotte to Gastonia come dressed to impress. At the EpiCentre, there's no such thing as skin too tan, boobs too big, a dress too short, or a graphic tee too flashy. Bring all your goodies and shake it.

210 E. Trade St.

BEST POOL HALL

Elizabeth Billiards

A repeat winner. We dare you to find a better place to rack 'em up. We haven't, which is why EB has won this category an infinite number of years in a row. Sharks and novices alike will feel at home in this no-frills friendly dive bar, complete with cheap beer and billowing nimbus clouds of nicotine that'll keep you smelling cigarette fresh for days.

1400 Central Ave.
704-342-2663

BEST BOWLING ALLEY

Strike City

For non-leaguers who just like to get out there and have fun, you can't beat the upscale bowling atmosphere at Strike City. Get full restaurant and bar service laneside from the comfort of your chic seating area, which feels more like the VIP section of a nightclub than an alley. If bowling isn't your game, a dance floor, big screens, and three bars will keep you entertained.

210 E. Trade St.
704-716-9300

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR

Thomas Street Tavern

Is it any surprise that our pick for Best Area to Live would also be home to our favorite neighborhood bar? But you don't have to live in the 'hood to feel welcome at T-Street. This Plaza Midwood mainstay attracts people from all walks, with its massive dog-friendly deck in back, which in addition to the stadium seating for ping-pong and a full alfresco bar, now offers free Wi-Fi.

1218 Thomas Ave.
704-376-1622

BEST DOWNTOWN BAR

Ri Ra Irish Pub

A repeat winner. Bring on the new nightlife ... nothing as of yet has compared to this tried and true favorite. The guys who started this place know a thing or two about Irish pubs. Born and raised in Dublin, one has a background in design (as evidenced by the beautiful bar) and the other in Guinness marketing (as evidenced by what's poured behind the bar). Even with the unfortunate fire that has temporarily closed the joint, we propose a toast to David Kelly and Ciaran Sheehan: Twelve years of Dublinesque debauchery and going strong. Cheers!

208 N. Tryon St.
704-333-5554

BEST SPORTS BAR

Fox & Hound Smokehouse & Tavern

If you don't have a ticket but like being close to the action, their Uptown location sits in close proximity to both Bank of America Stadium and Time Warner Cable Arena. Wood accents with hunter green and burgundy walls provide a casual yet classy atmosphere to rendezvous with the guys. With multiple levels and multiple screens, you're sure to find a spot to scream and yell for (or at) your favorite Carolina team.

330 N. Tryon St.
704-333-4113

15235 John J. Delaney Drive
704-544-8902

BEST GAY/LESBIAN BAR

Petra's Piano Bar

This cabaret-style club is not your run-of-the-mill (read "Howl at the Moon") piano bar. Of course you can still gather around the baby grand and sing along on Friday and Saturday nights, but Petra's has expanded over the past year to add more space including a patio and pool room for your lounging pleasure. Don't miss Dragaoke on Wednesday nights with Roxy C. Moorecox. If singing isn't your thing, there's something for everyone, from live jazz and trivia to DJs and drag shows.

1919 Commonwealth Ave.
704-332-6608

BEST BAR/RESTAURANT PATIO

Suite

Even if you don't roll with the dressed-to-impress club crowd, you'll appreciate the Zen-chic ambience of Suite's prized private outdoor area. Take in the views of Uptown from one of the VIP tables on their Skyview Terrace where they offer the same swank service you get throughout the club. You have to pay to sit outside, but standing room is open to all club members and their guests.

210 E. Trade St.
704-971-7878

BEST STRIP CLUB

Uptown Cabaret

You won't find dudes doing meth in the bathroom at this upscale "gentleman's" establishment, which is more than we can say for its sketchier competition. This club has class -- as they say on their Web site, "If you look like you just walked out of an MTV hip-hop video, you're probably not going to get in." Get your fill of breasts and free all-you-can-eat wings on Fridays with their Happiest Happy Hour.

108 E. Morehead St.
704-344-0802

BEST DIVE BAR

The Thirsty Beaver Saloon

A repeat winner. If you like Selwyn Pub, you won't like the Beaver. Which is pretty much exactly what we love about this place. You won't find the typical khaki-clad Charlotte clientele here. What you will find at this funky, smoke-free spot is PBR tallboys, killer Bloodys, a great jukebox and a colorful cast of regulars.

1225 Central Ave.
704-332-3612

BEST-LOOKING BAR STAFF

Mez

F&B isn't all about the presentation, but it helps when you're served with a smile. Especially when that smile is attached to a pretty face. While their food has received rave reviews from critics, we're equally enthralled with the lovely ladies and gents who make their martinis garnished with eye candy behind the bar at this EpiCentre hotspot.

210 E. Trade St.
704-971-2400

BEST PLACE OPEN UNTIL 2 A.M.

Apostrophe Lounge

When you're hanging at Apostrophe Lounge -- with its earth-toned furniture, hardwood floors and décor that oozes sex appeal -- you don't feel like you're spending time in a typical bar; no, it's more like kickin' back at your rich friend's apartment. So, you know, it's so cozy you want to take your pants off and spoon somebody on the couch. Yes, it's that cozy. And on top of the great ambience, Apostrophe serves an exhaustive number of tasty cocktails and exotic beers; plays a cool selection of music; and attracts a decidedly unpretentious congregation of patrons who not only love the finer things in life, but also know how to get down.

1440 S. Tryon St.
704-371-7079

BEST PLACE OPEN AFTER 2 A.M.

Amélie's French Bakery

For those 4 a.m. munchies, Amélie's is the best place to check out -- the sweets are très délicieux. Fresh fruit tarts, their signature 5-layer Petit Fours, ganache cups, pecan sticky buns, éclairs ... yum! And, oh yes, they also serve soups and sandwiches. We don't know who this Amélie chick is, but she's good people in our book!

2424 N. Davidson St.
704-376-1781

BEST BEER SELECTION

The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

A repeat winner. Is any place in Charlotte ever going to come close to snuffing out the Saucer? Any takers? Because we can't recall the last time someone else won this category. They keep their vast selection fresh, unveiling new brews from all over (they have 82 beers on tap and more than 120 in bottles) and are the only game in town for some of their stock, such as the recently debuted Duvel Green.

965 N. Tryon St., Suite A
704-568-7ALE

BEST COCKTAIL SELECTION

Cosmos Cafe

The bartenders at this Uptown spot have been mixing their magic for more than a decade. Of course, there's the signature Cosmopolitan (which has thankfully outlived its Sex and the City stigma), but you'd be remiss if you didn't venture down their martini list to sample other creative concoctions like the Fruit Loop and the Sweeteani. With a new Ballantyne location you now have your choice of where to get your gimlet on.

300 N. College St., Suite 101
704-372-3553

8420 Rea Road
704-544-5268

BEST DRINK SPECIALS

Dammit Janet!

In a recession, it's best to stick with the cheap stuff; i.e. beer. Yet most clubs offer this "cheap" beverage at anywhere from $3-$6 a bottle. At this 1970s spot, though, all domestics are $1.50 to $2 and imports run $2.50. That may not quite reflect '70s prices, but hey, we'll take 'em.

3746 N. Davidson St.


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