Michael Kitchen has his hand in damn near everything. He's a promoter. He's involved in fashion. He was behind the Charlotte Urban Film Series. Now he wants to shake up Charlotte nightlife.
At 6 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, Kitchen was planted on a barstool at Zink American Kitchen on Tryon Street, waiting to see who would show for the first Once U Go Black night. He and some friends had sent an e-mail to 101 people hoping that African-Americans would converge on the restaurant for a weeknight happy hour.
The idea, he explained later, is multifold: Get people to explore new places, show the power of the black dollar and integrate local nightlife. "We are all professional, earn a decent living, know how to act and want more out of the scene, so we are just gonna go in and take over a spot and have fun -- drink, eat and be merry," Kitchen says. "Hopefully this will be successful; if not, I tried. Let's just bum rush some things and see what happens. Even though a lot of things here are separate, we don't intend to let that be a factor on us having a good time."
A promoter who's lived and partied in several cities, Kitchen is particularly sensitive to what he sees as an oddly segregated local nightlife. "This is like the only up-and-coming city I know of, right off the bag, where people still party separately," he says.
He's hoping to have Once U Go Black night twice monthly at various locations after work. "Once people get in their cars and start heading home, the more likely they won't come out."
Kitchen patterned the idea after Take Over Friday, the popular events that bring gays, lesbians and straight allies together at different local spots. Started about two years ago, Take Over Friday e-mails go to about 1,900 different addresses, says Dan Mauney, who founded Takeover Friday with Rodney Tucker and Rodney Hines. They go to restaurants, theaters -- even the Uptown Cabaret.
"We don't care if you're gay or not," Mauney adds, "as long as you're fun ... It also flexes the gay dollar a little bit in Charlotte."
Kitchen had mixed feelings about the turnout. Still, the crowd in attendance was more diverse than Walter Patterson and his wife, Monica, saw on a previous night at the restaurant. "We're here because of this," Patterson said. "I'd like more businesses to realize that our dollar is just as powerful as anybody else's dollar."
Maybe Kitchen shouldn't worry. Only five people showed at the first Takeover gathering. A recent evening at the Westin attracted 800 people.
"I'll do the next one," Kitchen says, "and see what happens."