- Justin Driscoll
A few years ago, Creative Loafing sent out a reporter to investigate if there was life in Charlotte after 2 a.m., when most bars and clubs close. During her night out on the town, said writer hit up the 5th Street nightclub HOM (now closed), Waffle House and Walgreens.
Needless to say, in 2008, the number of after-hours spots was seriously lacking.
Five years later, we wondered: Is that still the case? Sure, a night owl can satisfy an attack of the late-night munchies at any number of 24-hour eateries that now call Charlotte home. But aside from stuffing face at Midnight Diner in an attempt to sober up or talking about the meaning of life with friends and strangers until 4 a.m. in the Amelie's atrium, what else is there to do when you're not quite ready to call it a night?
We tasked two writers — Megan Henshall and Emmins Blythe — with the difficult assignment of searching for a good time in the Queen City after 2 a.m. Armed with caffeine (and other substances), Henshall and Blythe set out to discover something new about the city in which they live.
Party veteran returns for an 'epic'
By Megan Henshall
Staying out all night isn't something that happens accidentally anymore. At 30 years old, I typically start yawning on the dance floor circa 1 a.m., and it's then that I take my leave for a premeditated date with Advil and a large SmartWater.
When approached to write this feature, I felt like a retired hero called to battle for a righteous cause. Or maybe I just wanted to prove that I could still hang. I may have (mostly) traded in my party pants for oversized sweats, but I used to own the night. I rivaled anyone in a drinking contest or dance-off. I was unstoppable, a sexpot whose walk never boasted shame. Challenge accepted, Creative Loafing. This would be my personal Iliad. I would once again don my armor and assemble my crew. We would howl at the moon and watch the sun rise victorious, with smeared war paint (mascara) and bare feet (heels discarded).
With the advantage of hindsight and enhanced preparatory skills, I constructed the battle plan, carefully selecting with whom I would share this adventure. Supplies included leggings with plenty of give, trendy sneakers, pharmaceuticals (mostly Adderall) and Red Bull.
Once armed with drugs, heavy caffeine and my endlessly fun and energetic friend Jodene (Jodisyphus or Jo for the purposes of this epic), I enlisted intel from locals on the ins and outs of Charlotte after 2 a.m. The majority of the responses, unfortunately, were food-centric. "Midnight Diner's grits are the jam!" shared one friend, and although I fully intended to partake in late-night delicacies, I was in search of a challenge.
The evening of battle, a Friday night, I met Jo at Ed's Tavern, where she tends bar. She's a lady of many talents, skilled in the art of revelry but also cunning and capable of playing the chameleon. I arrived at approximately 1:20 a.m., drank two heavily poured Red Bull vodkas, and then ordered from Ed's late-night menu to fuel up. Beowulf may not have needed waffles to defeat the Grendel, but I absolutely needed to carbo-load in order to quest. Ed's recently began offering a late-night diner situation where you can order food until 4 a.m. while playing tunes on the digital jukebox. The experience is both melodic and delicious.
Before our departure at 2:45 a.m., we enlisted one additional soldier: Anna, a plucky, blonde, wisp of a thing; an ingénue at first glance, but in actuality a wild child.
The next stop on our journey was a reggae bar called Crystal on The Plaza. I stumbled across its existence via what I can only believe to be divine intervention (i.e., Google), while doing reconnaissance for the mission. Admittedly, the journey across town wasn't an easy one. Sitting still in the car, even with house music blaring, was impeding our will to party with every minute that passed. Crystal is located outside of NoDa and is the most magical hidden treasure I have found in Charlotte. It doesn't look like much from the exterior, a dive bar in nearly every way save the expansive patio in the rear. We parked in a gravel lot and could hear the music even before we opened the car doors. A DJ! At 3 a.m.! We chugged what was left of our "roadies" (a six-pack of beer) and all but ran into the building.
It was everything I had hoped it would be and more: crowded enough to feel like a party, but plenty of room for dancing. Although the late hour prohibited the serving of alcohol, most had already been amply served. The people, staff and ownership were incredibly friendly and welcoming, offering us bottled water and companionship on the dance floor.
We arrived just in time for the evening ritual of twerk. Ladies lined up around the DJ booth to participate in the pageant. Men waited with bated breath, holding their cell phone cameras in anticipation. When the chosen song began, the ladies took turns booty-bouncing and doing forceful splits to the back beat. One particularly alluring siren managed to get into a headstand with her elbows touching her knees to successfully make her ass "pop" in mid-air. The crowd chanted and cheered, and the three of us stood in awe. Awards were presented for best in show, the dance floor opened up for everyone, and we gave our all until we were sweaty and our thighs trembled from getting low. Moderately low. Well, lower.
As the clock neared 4:15 a.m., we left to seek other options requiring less cardio. The strip clubs were closing, and we were still too wired for the likes of Amelie's, so we needed to find a happy medium. A friend invited us to join some other brave all-night partiers at the Ashton, a luxury townhome community in South End. I've learned that you never know what you're going to get with this type of invitation. "Rooftop party" could mean one solitary dude with MusicChoice slow jams blaring from the television when you arrive.
Upon arriving at the Ashton, we were greeted by a helpful and charming doorman. He showed us kindness by giving us bottled water and regaling us with stories similar to Taxicab Confessions.
The rooftop patio of this place was like Eden for the weary intoxicated. There was music, a heated pool and a giant fire pit. Most importantly, there was a truly amazing view of the skyline, offering the perfect place to sing, fire dance, pay homage to the warriors before us and watch the sun rise. We ended the night with a communal joint, a group photo to commemorate our journey and gratitude for a mission accomplished.
If my charge was to find life in Charlotte after 2 a.m., we excelled. Thanks to a little courage and a lot of stimulants, our all-night escapade was the most fun that I have had in a long time. I definitely still had it. I slew the dragons of aging and becoming "too old" for adventures such as this. I still own the night.
Megan Henshall is an Echo Hills-based certified (CMP, CSEP) meeting and special event planner by day, potato chip aficionado and karaoke enthusiast. If she could have any super power, it would be invisibility so that she could eavesdrop and stare without getting busted.
Transplant sees the dark side of Charlotte
By Emmins Blythe
"What's there to do in Charlotte after 2 a.m.? Shit, what's there to do in Charlotte before 2 a.m.?"
This is one friend's reaction when told about this article: A hyperbolic statement, to be sure, but hardly a new one. I've heard it, even thought it, plenty of times.
And there does always seem to be something validating this complaint. Most recently, the greedhead's attempt to drive the Thirsty Beaver out of business. Or how about the proposed rezoning ordinance that would start classifying bars and restaurants as nightclubs, meaning they would have to be 400 feet from residential areas.
I've been wrestling with whether or not I want to stay in this city since I got here five-plus years ago. In some ways, I view this assignment as a last-ditch effort to find a reason to stop living one-foot-in, one-foot-out of this place. To fully embrace Charlotte as my city, a city with a soul worth exploring, even after 2 a.m., if you look hard enough. I wanted to find a city that doesn't just have all the props of a real city, but one that actually feels like one, too.
ATTEMPT No. 1
On my first-night-out attempt to write this story, I'm wearing a "KEEP CHARLOTTE BORING" T-shirt. The intention isn't to start conversations, but I know it will.
I sit down at a table on the front patio of the Common Market in Plaza Midwood after locating my friend Ruth*, whom I've agreed to meet here. Right away, a guy at the table asks about my attire. I tell him it's just a shirt that some guy is selling to raise money for his website of the same name. The site is unimpressive, but I like the shirt.
He starts speculating on the guy's motives, seemingly as a way to indirectly ask about mine. "I bet he's the type of guy who has a problem with the Peculiar Rabbit."
I don't know if he is or not, but I know if I read in tomorrow's paper that the Peculiar Rabbit burned down in an electrical fire, I wouldn't mind (provided no one was hurt). The Peculiar Rabbit, even before they leased the lot across the street from them and started charging to park, teaches the lesson that sometimes you should be grateful for an abandoned building. You never know what they might turn it into, after all.
"Or this front patio," he continues. "I was talking to a guy who was complaining about this patio, saying no one goes on the back patio anymore. They just want to be seen."
"That's because the back patio is really narrow," Ruth chimes in. "Plus, it floods when it rains."
"Yeah, fuck the Peculiar Rabbit," I say, "but the patio complaint seems stupid."
"But I could be just as bored in a major city as you are here," he says.
"You could, I suppose, if you really tried, or are yourself boring."
With this, we finally lose him and before I know it, it is 2 a.m. and they are kicking us out. We've met up with a couple more mutual friends and one, a woman I've met a handful of times, invites us back to her place.
We talk about her upcoming trip to Europe and drink beer. We talk about music and drink more beer. Before I know it, I'm passed out on the couch. Ruth walks back into the room and nudges me awake, awkwardly informing me that the girl whose place we're at, the one I vaguely know, wants to hook up with me, so I should stay.
Well, this isn't boring, I think.
But I've been lucky in lust lately, and I'm tired and drunk and decide that this might not make for a great first sexual impression. I go home, figuring it will keep until she gets back from her trip, if it's destined.
ATTEMPT No. 2
A week or so passes and I'm at my friends' house, drinking, smoking pot, trying to come up with something to do. Of course, there are strip clubs and diners, but in either case, that's just watching drunk people feeding, which gets uninspiring quick. We end up doing nothing until 3 a.m., when one of them mentions the big apartment complex going up on Monroe. There appears to be no real security, aside from a half-assed fence that doesn't even surround the entire site.
I had looked in all the usual places for the motivation to stay in Charlotte. It seemed it was time to try more random tracks, and what's more random than climbing around on a construction site like an exuberant little kid?
We're the loudest urban explorers known to man, and it's a wonder no one is arresting us. We're knocking over planks of wood. We're yelling in the parking deck to hear our voices echo. We're trying to start generators and bobcats. This is not the proper way to urban explore.
I stand on a half-built deck and look out at sleepy Charlotte.
"You know, we couldn't get away with this in a bigger city," my friend Rob says while emptying his bladder onto the ground two stories below.
"You're probably right," I say.
There's the crash of another two-by-four hitting the ground and the cursing of our drunk, clumsy friend behind us.
This is one of the better nights I've had in this city. We probably would have been arrested in a larger city, where there are more people around to rat you out. At the same time, though, we likely wouldn't have been desperate enough to revert to this in the first place.
Boredom creates opportunity. It can also create destruction.
- Emmins Blythe
ATTEMPT No. 3
I used to ride the bus and thus know Charlotte public transportation is appallingly bad. So it's with empathy that I read my friend Jacob's Facebook status just before 2 a.m. about missing the last bus. He has an hour-long walk ahead of him, so I pick him up and drive him to his house on the west side.
We get to his house around 2:30 a.m. He tells me his roommate is dating a woman in her 50s, so I shouldn't be alarmed when I see her. This seems odd, but when she opens the door to let us in, I see that she looks closer to her 60s. She's obviously led a hard life.
She moves aside to reveal a shirtless guy sleeping on the couch. He's in his early 20s but is also aging rapidly. He looks like a Blood Sugar Sex Magik-era John Frusciante with a Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) haircut.
I've brought a bottle of wine, but there isn't an opener. The ridiculousness of having a bottle of white wine in these environs, instead of the more appropriate 40 ounce of OE, strikes me and I stifle a laugh.
Jacob goes into the kitchen to look for the bottle opener he's already been told won't be there, and the other two follow him. I hear furtive talking as I half-watch the TV.
Finally wandering into the kitchen, I see them huddled over something on the counter. What it is only comes into focus through the context clues of what else is sitting on that counter: bent spoons, a belt, a tiny syringe.
I almost turn around to leave, but there's the article to write, and if this is something that people do in Charlotte after 2 a.m. — which it certainly seems to be, considering we now rank in the top five cities for black tar heroin — then I can consider it research.
I look at the table while listening to them talk, taking inventory.
Right in front of me is a visitor card from Elevation Church, which has been filled out but obviously not turned in. There's also an open notebook with the words "Food Stamps" and a phone number scrawled across the top.
Jesus Christ, I think, if I was making this up, it would be bad writing. If only.
"I don't think you can do that much, man," Jacob says. "Put some of that back in the spoon, I don't want you falling out on me."
I drive home still trying to figure out this city's post-2 a.m. nightlife. Still trying to figure out this city's nightlife at all. Still trying to figure out this city, after almost six years of living here.
Is it boring? Yes. In a sense, at least.
Is there anything to do? Of course. Some of it positively aided by the boredom, some of it negatively so.
Either way, I find myself halfway hoping I'm about done with this city. But if not, I'll find something else to do in it. All I'll ever have to do is wait to get properly bored first, and that seems easy enough.
* Names in this story have been changed to protect the guilty.
Emmins Blythe is a freelance writer living in his adopted – for now – hometown of Charlotte, after spending time in the Northeast and Midwest. The only writing award he has ever won was for a form poem (a villanelle) based on a reality dating show episode.