Thursday, January 31, 2008

Unlock your inner wino

The Wine Vault at the Shoppes at University Place has long been a spring and summer destination for couples and friends sharing a bottle of wine on the outdoor patio overlooking the lake.

Now, the University City area spot can be a winter destination, thanks to an indoor lounge that opened last weekend.

I stopped in Wednesday night for my first venture into Charlotte's northern suburb (aside from regular visits to the dog park at Reedy Creek Park).

The new lounge is warm and inviting, with throw rugs scattered about the hardwoods, wicker furniture, leather armchairs and soft lighting.

My friend and I got there too late for their regular Wednesday night wine tasting ($5), but for the next couple of weeks you can help choose the vault's wines by the glass for the year.

My choice: a glass of Malbec Mendoza. Perfect for warming up on a winter night.

Average age of the crowd: 40 (and a bit tipsy from the wine tasting).

Who else has been to The Wine Vault? What's a Friday or Saturday night like there? Post your comments below.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Yes, it's really called The Thirsty Beaver

Coming from one direction, Plaza-Midwood's newest watering hole looks like anything but. It's a nondescript, cement building with bars on the windows. But if you happen to spot it from Central Avenue going toward uptown, it's probably the big, buck-toothed, cowboy-hat-wearing beaver on the side of the orange building that caught your eye.

The Thirsty Beaver Saloon opened the weekend of Jan. 18 and was already pulling in a decent-sized crowd when I stopped in Friday night.

Brothers Brian (who owns The Rat's Nest in NoDa) and Mark Wilson decided to open the bar on a whim despite no service-industry experience when the space opened three months ago.
Since then, they've gotten a crash-course in bartending and brightened up what used to be The Rose Garden.

(Brian and Mark Wilson)

Kinks are still being worked out:

  • The door is locked (based on some apparent shady business practices of the previous tenants) and you have to be buzzed in. My friend and I were thrown off by that, especially when (jokingly) asked to say the secret password upon entering.
  • It's obvious the guys are pretty green behind the bar. If you go, don't order anything too fancy.
  • It's also a little too bright, but that might be because they have so many beer signs that light up.
But the place has character, thanks to the brothers' collectibles that adorn the walls and polyurethane-topped bar (it's so new, it's sticky) including a record from The Monkees, Tom Petty tickets and an Elvis Presley album cover. It's also smoke-free.

Brian Wilson tells me he hopes to bring in some country music bands when the weather gets warmer. He says he's always wanted to open a honky tonk bar in Charlotte.

Good luck to you guys.

Have a favorite dive bar in Charlotte? Post a comment below.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Feeling Blu

After a low-key cocktail party at On the Roxx on Thursday, I headed over to a decidedly different atmosphere uptown.

Play, the dance club inside James Funderburk's Hom uptown, hosted the launch party for Blu Magazine, a new publication focusing on fashion, art and street culture in Charlotte. The quarterly magazine is a joint venture for Colombian sister and brother team Camila and Nico Amortegui (below).

The release party drew an eclectic mix of young hipsters in their mid-20s all looking like they just stepped out of a fashion magazine.



This was not your typical Cans crowd and was great people-watching.

Two things about Play: It was my first time back since the club's soft opening in October. They still need to work on the sound system (too muffled) and the dance floor is way too small.

My stilettos got a workout

I started off my Thursday night with a much-needed after-work cocktail at On the Roxx in Ballantyne. Bellverie Ross of Streamers Events & Promotions threw a "Martinis & Heels" party at the martini bar that drew a crowd of mostly women. Partygoers had the chance to get behind the bar and make their own martini. I, however, left my drinks up to the professionals. On the Roxx part-owner Sam Carlson made me a fruit-infused pineapple martini and an apple-tini. Both were equally delicious.

On the Roxx, a smoke-free bar, has been open about five months, according to Carlson. (If the name sounds familiar, there's a second location in Cornelius.) It's a smaller place with intimate lighting, couches to lounge on and walls painted a rich red.

I'll definitely be going back on a Wednesday night when martinis are half-price. But I also really enjoyed the atmosphere. Bellverie brought together a diverse group of professional women of all ages (mostly in the 35-45 range) who were so friendly and welcoming that they reinstilled my belief in Southern charm.

Bless their hearts.

Bellverie (above left) and Terri of Streamers Events.

Later: The scene at Play for the launch party of Blu Magazine.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Are you lust worthy?

Creative Loafing had a casting call Wednesday night at Madison's uptown for its 2008 Lust List.
I showed up expecting the place to be packed full of hotties, but the open call was off to a slow start until the Bobcats game let out. CL's Brittney Cason interviewed potential lust-worthy guys and girls, and even Brotha' Fred showed up with a Fox News Edge camera crew to to talk to editor Carlton Hargro.

My guess for a shoo-in on the list? Forum bartender Rolando. Yum.

Also Wednesday, I managed to venture out of my uptown bubble and down to The Arboretum in south Charlotte. Shocking, I know.

The band MOB performs hard rock at Phil and Tony's every Wednesday. They played everything from Johnny Cash to The Ramones to Tool while I was there. Sounded great, but my only complaint -- turn down those amps. I couldn't even carry on a conversation with the people across the table from me without standing up and shouting into their ears. It's not a large-capacity arena, people.

Phil and Tony's came under new ownership in October. With it came new carpeting. Gone is the leopard print of years past. New owner Rateb Rabie and his manager-daughter Reem hope to continue the restaurant's neighborhood feel, and it seems like the regulars are sticking so far. Several patrons told me they have been going to the bar on a regular basis for as many as seven years.

Can't get much more loyal than that.

Next up: the Martinis & Heels party at On the Roxx in Ballantyne and the launch party for Blu Magazine at Play.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Tuesday in Plaza-Midwood

Two years ago, one of my regular haunts was Thomas Street Tavern in Plaza-Midwood. I don't remember why I phased it out of my regular routine, but I went back for the first time in more than a year Tuesday on a cold and rainy night -- really, it's the best time to go to the cozy neighborhood bar. I stopped in long enough to have one beer, but in that short amount of time, I remembered why I loved it so much in the first place.

  • An eclectic mix of people of all ages. If you want to get away from the cleavage-baring tops and predictable button-down shirts of the crowd uptown, Thomas Street (and probably any bar in the Plaza-Midwood area) should be your first stop. Ladies, you can walk in with a messy ponytail and baggy sweater and not feel out of place.
  • If you feel like you're merely putting in "face time" at Cans or Forum, Thomas Street is where you can grab a table with friends and talk all night (without shouting over the music coming from the jukebox).
  • The bartenders are always friendly and attentive, no matter how big the crowd.
Also Tuesday night, I checked out the (relatively) new Intermezzo Pizzeria & Cafe in Plaza-Midwood after hearing about 10 different people mention it in the past week alone. I'll have more about my experience there in my Paid to Party column in the Observer's E&T section on Friday. Until then, I leave you with a few pics to keep you curious.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Back in town

I'm headed back to Charlotte after a crazy weekend in the Miami area on a long-planned vacation. (Side note: When I'm not in Charlotte, you can find me partying in Miami, D.C. or Atlanta.)

Hope everyone enjoyed their extra night of fun over the long weekend.

I'll be back on the Charlotte party scene Tuesday night.

In the meantime, I'm looking for cool Super Bowl parties in the QC. Know of a great Giants or Patriots bar? A place with killer TVs or juicy burgers? E-mail me or post a comment below.

Look for more party posts and pictures later this week, and don't forget to check out my first Paid to Party column online and in the Observer's E&T section Friday.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bartender's Ball 2008

As of today, it's exactly one month until one of the biggest parties of the year -- the Bartender's Ball.

I stopped by a meeting Wednesday night at Brick & Barrel to get an early peek at who's going to be there and what's new for the seventh annual party slated for the Sunday during Presidents Day Weekend.

This year's theme is "TV Land," so the different bars will be decorating their 12-by-12-foot areas to look like old TV shows. Cans is doing "Gilligan's Island," McKoy's and Vinnie's will be going head-to-head with booths created to look like the set of "The Dating Game." Brick & Barrel (which won for best booth last year) is doing "The Price Is Right."

One change this year is there will be no live music. Instead, six DJs (among them: Mike B, Supa Skip and Jazzy Jimmy) will rotate between two booths.

The party starts at the Blake Hotel uptown at 7 p.m., and attire is semi-formal. (I love any excuse to put on a cocktail dress.)

If you're planning on going, get your tickets now while they're still at $60. Starting Feb. 1, they'll go up to $70. Another reason to buy early? Tickets will not be available at the door. The best part about going? Proceeds benefit Kids First of the Carolinas.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tuesday at Tilt

I checked out Tilt on Trade Tuesday night for the first time, despite the fact that it's been open about a year.

First-timers be warned: Tuesday is college night for the uptown bar. However, great drink specials ($2 Miller Lites, plus Miller Lite girls handing out free beer and T-shirts) drew a diverse crowd this week that ranged from baby-faced 18-year-olds to young BofA bankers.

I met regular Tilt DJ Rowshay and his friend Jiggy (top photo below), jamming at the bar as DJ-about-town Supa Skip spun Top 40 tunes for the (largely empty) dance floor.

I'm interested to see what a Saturday night looks like for the bar. Maybe I'll feel less old at the ripe age of 26.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

As seen on TV

I eased into my new party lifestyle with an overpriced but tasty burger and a beer at Monday night's Bobcats game against the Nuggets.

You can always count on a few things at the arena:

  • Attorney Bill Diehl will be sitting courtside with his long blond locks easily spottable from the upper bowl.
  • That guy who seems to have an orange jacket for every day of the week will be going crazy in the fourth quarter near center court.
  • Cute kids having the time of their life. If you don't laugh at that unabashed look of joy those kids have on their faces when they get on the jumbotron, there's something wrong with you.
  • Well-heeled women. My friends and I spotted the telltale red soles of a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes from 16 rows up. And Matt Carroll's wife, Melanie, blew past us in a pair of killer stilletto boots on Fifth Street trying to catch the start of her hubby's game.
I did not, however, expect the wonder that is Rubber Boy.

Rubber Boy has been on "Oprah," "The Tonight Show," "Ripley's Believe It or Not," and now the coveted Charlotte Bobcats halftime show.

I have to say, the crowd was really into it. Most people stayed and watched the freakshow (audibly gasping and shielding their eyes) instead of going to load up on more snacks.

Also in attendance Monday night (but really, how can you top Rubber Boy?): NBA legend Dominique Wilkins and former Carolina Panther/current Chicago Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad. Both got big cheers from the crowd.

Oh yeah, the game. The Bobcats won, 119-116.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I'm the new girl

Hey, everybody. As of today, I’m your new Paid to Party girl.

Some of you may already know me from the Dishing It Out column I write for the Observer’s ‘A’ List. And while I will continue to dish on local and national celebrities, I’m psyched about this new gig – if only because for the past three years I’ve worked the night shift on a Tuesday through Saturday schedule. A Sunday-Monday weekend is worse than you could ever imagine.

I know I have big shoes to fill left by Tonya Jameson and I hope to continue her legacy of filling you guys in on the hottest events, parties and shows.

Bear with me as I get my feet wet in this new venture and adjust to a “normal” schedule.

And, if you see me out, don’t be shy.

Just a few of my favorite spots:

I love Cans on a Thursday night, dancing at Forum on Saturdays and Loft 1523 when I’m in the mood to chill with good friends.

Look for my first Paid to Party column online and in the Observer’s E&T section on Jan. 25.