Critics' Picks: After Dark

Best of Charlotte 2018

Staff Pick

"Too weird to live, too rare to die." It's time to get out there and have some fun.

Best New Nightlife Spot - Skylark Social Club

Unruly Boys play at Skylark Social Club (Photo by Justin Driscoll)
  • Unruly Boys play at Skylark Social Club (Photo by Justin Driscoll)

Just as Warren Stiles, owner of Midwood Country Club in Plaza Midwood, was beginning to turn the neighboring Station into a legit rock club for indie rock and punk fans to see their local favorites in a close setting, he went and sold the place. But no worries, it was three musicians — Justin Driscoll, Taylor Arthur and Joshua Taddeo — who took the reins from there, and they've made sure no momentum was lost.

Opened in January, Skylark has been mentioned by multiple musicians on CL's Local Vibes podcast as a favorite place to play, but it's more than just an intimate music venue, it's an awesome bar. Skylark hosts events like monthly Emo Night, and staff is apt to whip up some awesome throwback cocktails to throw back, like the time they invested in cases of Capri Sun to use in one nostalgic intoxicant. That really brought us back to our drunken childhoods.

Best Karaoke Spot - 8.2.0

This isn't your run-of-the-mill, sign up with a random karaoke DJ who's OK with you performing the third rendition of "Tennessee Whiskey" of the night. This is upgraded, the Iron-Man-technology version of karaoke.

Step into the backroom lounge of 8.2.0 with hosts Melyssa, Anthony and Patrick for a variety show/karaoke night event. If you miss a note or stumble the words, don't worry, the rest of the bar can't hear you as the lounge is soundproof.

It's not American Idol, but you can showcase your vocal talents through your favorite Amy Winehouse or Adele tune. Make sure you do your vocal cord warm ups, though, and drink some soothing tea with honey afterward.

Enjoying a Fahrenheit cocktail (Photo by Dana Vindigni)
  • Enjoying a Fahrenheit cocktail (Photo by Dana Vindigni)

Best Just Stay Away From the Ledge - Fahrenheit

It's got a cocktail program that's hard to beat and a great view of the city to boot. You can feel on the edge of the urban world while sipping Spicy Charlottes or Mintless Mojitos next to the firelight of the open-air patio. Created by chef Rocco Whalen, Fahrenheit puts bar and restaurant patrons close to being on top of the city.

Not only is it a great place to take friends visiting the city, but the view alone will take your breath away. If you've got a fear of heights, don't worry. The glass panelling fence will keep you safe. Just don't try to climb it.

Best Bar to Get Dressed Up For - Dot Dot Dot

It's a bar with a dress code and mind for patrons' comfort. It's upscale and classy, providing an old-timey and fancy experience for those who waltz through the door (with a membership, of course). Have you ever had Spanish octopus? Well it's available at Dot Dot Dot along with the classic Manhattan and old-fashioned libations. Dress up and feel like Jay Gatsby at this speakeasy-style bar.

It's name, Dot Dot Dot, is an ode to the ellipses, intentionally omitting a word or sentence without changing its meaning. Don't omit this speakeasy spot from your list of places to visit.

Elevator Jay and Autumn Rainwater at a Player Made party. (Photo by David Butler)
  • Elevator Jay and Autumn Rainwater at a Player Made party. (Photo by David Butler)

Best #FreeAsFuck Event - Player Made

If you've been paying attention, you know that the Charlotte hip-hop scene has been blowing up in recent years. What you might not know is there's a spot where you can head on the second Friday of each month to rub shoulders with damn near that whole scene while listening to multiple DJs play Southern rap classics and probably see at least one of Charlotte's best rappers do their thing live on stage. Well there is, and it's at Snug Harbor, and it's ... Free. As. Fuck.

Best Clusterfuck - Bland Street Station

All-American Pub, Slate and Oak Room connect at Bland Street station to create a conglomerate of spacious party areas to take your wasted friends who are assuring the group that they can do one more shot. Even better, it's right next to the light rail so you can shove them on the Lynx to take them home.

With Hot Taco right around the corner and DJs bumping tunes all night, it's the No. 1 spot for yo-pros to show off how much money they aren't putting in their Roth IRAs and are instead buying Fireball shots for other people in hopes to get their phone numbers, knowing that they probably won't.

Best Place To Day Drink - NoDa Company Store

It seems like every time we visit the Company Store the damn patio has grown larger. It's like that floating blob of trash out in the Pacific Ocean, only good. They've got picnic tables out front and out back, larger tables for stool pigeons, a BBQ space for those free Sunday morning cookouts, a small stage for singer/songwriter performances and, last but not least, the Butterfly Highway, a nice shaded area along the side of the building where one can swing to their heart's content and not be bothered by children or dogs, who are not allowed. How is that not a must in all bars and breweries by now?

Best Place to Bar Hop - Along the Light Rail

Earlier this year, Creative Loafing's Boozin' on a Budget team hit the CATS Blue Line for an excursion that left us all a lil' sluggish in the office the next day, to say the least. And that's the story of how we confirmed that the new light rail extension has created a great route that lets you drink with all types of folks from the city: the college kids of University, the hipsters of NoDa, the bankers of Uptown and the yuppies of South End. A few of our other winners are in easy walking distance to the light rail, including Company Store, Fahrenheit and Dilworth Tasting Room. Just don't pass out on your way home.

The Dilworth Tasting Room patio (Photo by Dana Vindigni)
  • The Dilworth Tasting Room patio (Photo by Dana Vindigni)

Best Patio - Dilworth Tasting Room

Take a trip to Europe, or just head to the Dilworth Tasting Room for the same experience. Passion for wine mixed with an upscale atmosphere makes this spot a destination. Not to mention the gorgeous open-air patio that graces guests with a secret garden-like ambience not available anywhere else in the Queen City.

It's cozy without being sloppy, but fancy without being arrogant. Grab a bottle of wine or just a few glasses to clink together in the garden patio. At night, string lighting keeps the environment light and warm as you drink the evening away. Just save some for the fishes in the patio's pond.

Best Place To Be a Kid Again - Science on the Rocks

Science on the Rocks (Photo courtesy of Discovery Place)
  • Science on the Rocks (Photo courtesy of Discovery Place)

Leave the kids at home for this one. Science on the Rocks at Discovery Place brings together the things you love most: playing with dope science stuff and drinking. At this 21-and-up event, adults are invited to explore the museum after-hours without those meddlin' kids in the way. Games, science and pyrotechnics are waiting for you on North Tryon Street and so are shaken-not-stirred drinks to carry throughout the night. Discover your inner child at the Discovery place and pound a few drinks at the same time. Responsibly, of course.

Best Hangover Cure - Lang Van

You know that feeling when your head hurts, but there's nothing you can really stomach, but that same stomach is screaming at you to feed it? If you don't, you're far more responsible than us and we applaud you. But for those trying to crawl through a hungover day, you're going to want some pho. The mix of sodium and protein makes this a miracle for those in need of both — that means you, drunkie — and if you're going to have some pho for medical reasons, why not have the best damn pho in town?

Jamie Starks of Tommy's Pub (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)
  • Jamie Starks of Tommy's Pub (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Best Comeback - Tommy's Pub

We all mourned the loss of Tommy's Pub when it was bought out in 2015 to be plowed over by developers after nearly 40 years of serving as the Cheers of Charlotte. It was a long process for owner Jamie Starks to find a legit spot to get back up and running again, but he's back. Starks opened the doors at the new Tommy's Pub on Eastway Drive just about a year ago exactly, and has picked up right where he left off serving as a venue for some of Charlotte's smaller acts and serving up cheap drinks in a great atmosphere while he's at it. We're hoping this one can go another 40 years, and we believe it will.

Best Dive Bar - Thirsty Beaver

Sure, everybody knows the story of the tiny little bar-that-could sticking it to the man by forcing developers to build their high-rise condos around them. And that's a cool story, we agree, but with or without the egregious towers looking down on them, Thirsty Beaver remains the same old lil' charming pool bar with Hee Haw playing on the television.

We poked some fun at their cheap beer selection in our first Boozin' on a Budget tour earlier this year, but we will never not be in love with this cozy renegade of a bar. Besides, cheap beer is what we're looking for. Next time you're there, have a Hamm's for us.

Knocturnal (Photo by Brian Twitty)
  • Knocturnal (Photo by Brian Twitty)

Best Place to Twerk it Out - Knocturnal

This weekly hip-hop party at Snug Harbor recently celebrated its 6th birthday. Knocturnal does a lot on Monday nights: It brings the city's best b-boys and b-girls out to cypher. It gives rappers a large audience to wow with their hottest freestyles. It attracts celebrities (recently spotted: Hannibal Burress). It employs four resident DJs, plus a photographer to document all the fun.

But what it does best is make asses shake. So many on the dance floor, you can feel the ground move (that's an ass-quake). For one glorious night each week, you and your butt can join them and forget everything wrong with 2018.

Best Place to Wish You Had a Bartender - Hoppin'

You don't have to flirt with the bartender to get a good drink at Hoppin'. That's because, well, there are no bartenders. When patrons enter, they're given a wrist band and let loose on the taps. And there's a lot of taps. Seasonals, locals, regionals and national brews, ciders and wines are available for anyone who just wants to pour it themselves.

It's an interesting concept, but a streamlined one all the same. Hoppin' is efficiency at its peak. The spacious, open and inviting establishment is the perfect place if you just want to sit and talk with your friends without a pesky bartender bugging you for another round. Maybe the next step will be brew it yourself.

Best Hookah & Chill - ROC's Jazz Bar

Snag a hookah and go outside on the benches and marble-topped tables to chill and listen to some local rappers on their showbill.

Grab a specialty cocktail at this AvidXchange Factory establishment and relax to some jazz and good vibes. Events like Trap Paint & Play, bassists, guitarists and other fun times by the Music Factory fountain adorn the calendar that ROC's Jazz bar upkeeps. Instead of being all about that bass, they're all about that smooth, smooth jazz (and more).

Best Day Party - Hazy Sunday at Petra's

Sunday is a day to chill. Kick it on Petra's back patio for max chill with vibes from Probably Will and DJ Ray. 'Nuff said. Just chill.

Best Live Music - Snug Harbor

A happy and Snug crowd. (Photo by Justin Driscoll)
  • A happy and Snug crowd. (Photo by Justin Driscoll)

It comes up so much on our Local Vibes podcast that we automatically call this Plaza Midwood venue our unofficial sponsor. Snug Harbor has done such a great job in recent years of booking a diverse set of bands, rappers and other acts that there is nobody really touching them right now in this category.

And that's not to mention the weekly and monthly events, many of which we've already recognized right here in these pages, that guarantee that any time you stop by Snug on a whim, you're going to have a sickass night.

The stage awaits... (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)
  • The stage awaits... (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Best Open Mic Night - Find Your Muse

Is there any better open mic around town than Find Your Muse? Each week the Evening Muse event hosts a regional featured performer who's mixed in among a variety of talented local artists. Want to see how good you are as a musician or songwriter? Hit the bare bones stage with one of the city's best sound systems to showcase your talent. In addition to all the fine music, you'll also be surrounded by some of the city's finest venue staff and owners.

Plenty of other open mics happen around the city, but none have had the consistency, staying power and notoriety of Find Your Muse. It's a great way to catch up-and-coming artists or for musicians to try out new material.

Best Strip Club - Uptown Cabaret

Like the venue above, Uptown Cabaret has locked down this category in recent years. Last year, we gave a nod to the Sin Sundays parties, which are still the best amateur night in the city, but they always come through with free admission following sporting events and — seriously — one of the best buffets in town. If you know what's good for you, you're going to want to head to this year's Halloween party, taking place on Oct. 28.

Best Bartender - Chris Burns

Chris Burns (Photo by Brian Twitty)
  • Chris Burns (Photo by Brian Twitty)

Everyone knows Chris Burns. His face is framed by his red beard, a Hornets-colored hat and his signature warm smile. And he's perpetually slinging beers, cocktails and high fives in all your favorite Plaza Midwood bars. He knows you, too. After one trip to the bar, he knows your name and drink order, maybe a little something about your family or background, too.

How? Because he asks. And he cares. And he remembers. He knows when you've had enough, too and never looks at you sideways when his line is five deep and you ask for a water. He knows the right thing to say to make your night better, even if it's already going pretty well. More goes into being a beloved bartender than just making an awesome drink. It also takes being an awesome and patient person. Burns has perfected that secret sauce.

Best Place to Geek Out - Potions & Pixels

Grub and a card came at Potions & Pixels (Photo courtesy of Michael Zytkow)
  • Grub and a card came at Potions & Pixels (Photo courtesy of Michael Zytkow)

Since Michael Zytkow launched the first Potions & Pixels event back in July 2016, it has only continued to expand. Starting with that original event, in which Zytkow and fellow organizers brought more than 20 televisions into Petra's and hooked them up to indie and throwback video games for the enjoyment of the CLT gaming community, P&P has grown into new venues, including a regular board game night at Carolina Beer Temple. And if you think you know about board games, you have no idea until you see this collection.

Next up is a video game night at Camp North End on Oct. 26, and then the monthly homecoming for a video and board game night at Petra's on Nov. 8. The best part about these events is that you don't have to be a gamer to have a blast. In fact, it's one of the most natural events to strike up a conversation and meet someone that we've attended in the city. Grab a controller and make a friend.

Best Fan Club - Carolina Browns Backers

We don't need to go into the depressing history here in this blurb, but most folks who know about football know that it's tough being a Cleveland Browns fan. But what makes the suffering easier? Suffering with friends. The local Browns Backers chapter has been at Flight since the closing of its previous home base at Kennedy's in Elizabeth, and attendance has been fine, but it exploded this year. Maybe it was the fact that the team started off with a tie to snap a 17-game losing streak, then broke a 19-game winless streak with a W over the Jets, on Sept. 20.

Whatever it is, people are pumped, and they're packing both the inside and patio of Flight. What makes that all the better is that it's not just a good time rooting for the underdogs, it's a good cause to help actual dogs. Each year, the club picks a charity to raise money for, and this year they're donating canned food to North Mecklenburg Dog Rescue and CMPD's Animal Care & Control. Money donations from the weekly raffles go to Heart Meter and a dog rescue to be determined later in the season.

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