Under the hustle and bustle of North Tryon Street, just beneath the glitz and buzz of 180 practically seizure-inducing flat-screen TVs, lies one of Charlotte's best-kept secrets (okay, okay, it's not so secret anymore). Descend the stairs to unlock a whole new side of Duckworth's, one that radiates a relaxed speakeasy vibe on the other side of the sliding door.
The underground space, which was built in 1912, oozes low-key sophistication compared to her upstairs sister sports' bar counterpart. Gone are the bright lights, the endless tap choices, the flat screens and the cheering fans; replaced with dim lighting, a carefully curated cocktail and small-bites menu and a cellar chock full of the rarest brews.
Without a TV in sight, you'll think you've been transported back to the prohibition era as you sip on something strong served by staff dressed in 1920s garb. I highly recommend starting with one of their hand-crafted, signature cocktails: my favorites include the Redrum (sweet raspberry, vanilla and rosemary balanced with just the right amount of lime), the Cellar Smash (ginger and herbal flavors paired with citrus and elderflower) and the Smoked Whiskey Sour (the Cellar's house smoked version of the classic cocktail, complete with real, fire scorched and smoked wood chips).
Whether you go to The Cellar for dinner or late night, go hungry. The Cellar at Duckworth's creative menu is gastro pub inspired, with an emphasis on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients.
My approach to conquering The Cellar at Duckworth's menu is all about sharing, with an emphasis on splitting several small plates; after all, every time I visit I have a great internal debate about what to order so through sharing I get to order and enjoy more things.
Everything that I've eaten here is delicious; the Brussels sprouts have the right amount of crunch, the mac n cheese is super creamy, the smoked salmon flatbread was something fun and different, I can never say no to oysters, and you really can't go wrong with the truffle fries (with a healthy helping of parmesean).
I've stayed away from the cheese and charcuterie (nothing in Charlotte compares to Craft Tasting Room's cheese and meat boards in selection and price) and while the house-made waffle cones with tuna, shrimp and Sriracha chicken sound enticing, they aren't great for sharing in practice.
By far, my favorite thing I've eaten is the tuna tartare; with guacamole, chili oil and a wanton crisp, it was the perfect bite to satisfy my senses with the right amount of flavor, texture, crunch and spice. (I ordered the tartare on my third visit solely based on our waiter's recommendation and I've ordered it every time since. I'm forever indebted to him).
While I've never tried a "main," I hear the Tomahawk Bone-In Ribeye is basically to die for and I'm lusting after the butter basted scallops.
The best spot in the house is on a barstool, where you can spend your time sipping and snacking while chatting with the bartenders and watching them work. This is my favorite place to perch; it's fascinating and fun to watch the bartenders mix up the signature drinks, especially to see the different steps and ingredients involved in craft-cocktail making. We're talking more than just liquor and a mixer; there are flames, fresh fruit and herbs and a whole lotta shakin' going on.
As Charlotte's not-so best-kept secret, The Cellar at Duckworth's is quite popular so you have to be prepared to wait (and they definitely lose a point in my book for not taking reservations after 7 p.m.). Head there later in the evening when the wait times start to dwindle. Even if you have to put your name on the list, waiting isn't so terrible with a cold beer and a basketball game that you can feign interest in until your phone buzzes with excitement to tell you a Smoked Whiskey Sour and tuna tartare await.
Chrissie Nelson is a public defender by day and a food blogger by night. Read about her foodventures, restaurant reviews and other Charlotte musings at offtheeatenpathblog.com.