Friday, February 29, 2008

Tempo turns up the heat

About a block from Tempo on Friday, I could already smell the fried fish.

Cars filled every inch of space within a two-block radius. Police officers were writing tickets to a line of about 50 cars that were parked along Boyer Street.

I managed to squeeze into a makeshift lot and made my way up the hill to the nightclub in west Charlotte for the Tanglewood Crew’s annual Fish Fry Friday.

"You’re lucky," I was told by one of 30 people in line. Last year, the line snaked around the building before the party even started, she said.

Once inside, it was easy to forget it was still just a Friday afternoon. People jammed the dimly lit hallway outside the main part of the club. And the dance floor? Packed.

Even out in the hallway, you could feel the body heat generated by the hundreds of people dancing to old and new school hip-hop.

If I didn’t just walk in from the broad daylight, I would have thought it was 1 a.m. on a Saturday night.

I decided to skip the dance floor and get to the good stuff – the fried food being served out on the patio. By 4:30 p.m., it was practically gone.

I met people from Chicago, D.C., Maryland – and a bunch of folks told me they were playing hooky to be at the week’s biggest day party.

"Cough, cough. See? I have a cold," one (anonymous, of course) woman said as she explained she wasn’t supposed to be there.

On my way out, I caught Tempo owner Jumaane Torrence, looking tired at the door.

"It’s crazy in there," I said.

He shook his head and told me, "It’ll be even crazier tomorrow."

See you there.

I've never seen Forum so packed

If you missed the Alpha Kappa Alphas' Pink Groove 3 party on Thursday, you missed one of the biggest CIAA parties of the week.

I stopped in around midnight after hitting a couple of earlier events and found myself waiting in the cold since the club was to capacity and operating on a one in, one out basis.

Once I made it in, there weren't too many places to move. The dance floor was a wall-to-wall mass of people swaying (there wasn't much room for anything more) to old school hip-hop and R&B -- with of course some Flo Rida mixed in.

The ladies were dressed to kill in sparkly cocktail dresses and sleek up-dos, while the guys didn't look too shabby either in suits, shades and fedoras.

Last year, this was THE Thursday night party to go to and it looks like that was the case for another year.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Partying HBCU style

It didn't take long to figure out that this week is not so much about the CIAA as it is about one big alumni reunion for historically black colleges and universities.

That's HBCU to you, Jack.

My first stop Thursday was the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority's Golden Pleasure Day Party where I met more MEAC alums than CIAA folks.

The lone CIAA representative? Sequoyah Jones, a 2003 grad of Johnson C. Smith. She's letting her husband be the stay-at-home dad this week with their 5-month-old daughter while she parties with sorority sisters and other HBCU alums. She says it's not about the CIAA, but the experience of the week.

At the Celebrity Power Magazine party at Tilt, I met sisters Christal and Charlese Chapman who literally grew up with the CIAA. Charlese took in her first tournament when she was 4 months old.

"Our grandfather went to Smith, so it's always been part of our lives," Christal said.

In fact, their grandfather Eugene Dunn officiated CIAA games for more than 20 years.

The reunion continued at Blue Restaurant where Talk of the Town was just getting set up for the Heaven@Blue party while partygoers streamed in to get an early spot at the bar. Tonya Abbott, one of the party's organizers, expected about 400 people.

Also at Blue, a huge group of Kappa Alpha Psi brothers from as far away as Indianapolis, San Francisco and Seattle. They were bubbling over as they rattled off their alma maters -- Winston Salem State, N.C. Central -- but wait a minute guys, those aren't CIAA schools.

They were quick to tell me they used to be, and they still come out to support the conference and see their fraternity brothers.

After all, it's one big family reunion.

HBCU style.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fur coats and pomegranate martinis

I braved Wednesday night's frigid temperatures to hit a couple of early CIAA hot spots: the cocktail party at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse uptown and the Pop Life party at Prevue in NoDa.

It might as well have been the Saturday night of tournament week the way these places packed them in.

At Ruth's Chris, it was a maze of young professionals to get to the bar where pomegranate martinis were being served as fast as the bartenders could make them.

I met Paula Cropper, a Philadelphia native who has lived in Charlotte for 10 years, while fighting my way through the crowd. Cropper is a self-proclaimed party fanatic whose list of parties to hit this week rivaled my own. If I ever need to take a weekend off, I know who can fill in for me.

Cropper, an internal auditor at Wachovia, is so serious about CIAA parties and nightlife in general that she wears a solid gold party whistle whenever she's out.

Over at Pop Life at Prevue, I ran into Creative Loafing editor Carlton Hargro, who co-hosts the event with the Sol Kitchen's Mike Kitchen.

Pop Life was a NoDa staple last year before the guys decided to end it while it was still the go-to Wednesday night spot.

The guys brought it back this week for one night only during the tournament. It's a cool event. Artwork from God City decorated the walls, and DJs DR, Kitchen and Johnnie Davis spun Erykah Badu, Pete Rock -- everything but Top 40.

It was less of a banking crowd at Prevue and fur coats were the hot accessory. My favorite partyers of the night? Two guys in snow-white fur coats. I had my photo taken with them and the guy who took it called me a "snow bunny between two snow bunnies."

Sounds about right.

Check out my party pix here.

Pauly Shore offends everyone, including himself

As expected, Pauly Shore was offensive, crude and, yes, funny, too.

I checked out his act at the Lake Norman Comedy Zone and genuinely enjoyed his humor, aside from the lewd language and hand gestures.

He didn't leave anyone out to be offended, whether it was women, whites, blacks, the physically disabled or Mike Huckabee.

He referred to Lake Norman as "the place where cougars live," and he wasn't talking about the wild cat.

And he was self-deprecating, too, making the bad "Son in Law" and "Encino Man" jokes before the audience could.

Well done, Pauly.

After his set, he made an appearance at Tilt on Trade uptown. The last time I saw him, he was surrounded by a pack of young girls in the VIP section the club rigged up for him. Pays to be 40 and famous, right Pauly?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'll wash my own hands, thank you

I found myself walking into a club bathroom over the weekend and immediately broke out into a cold sweat. I asked myself, "Do I have any $1 bills?" "Will she give me a dirty look if I don't?" "Should I reach for the soap myself?" and finally, "Why do I have to go through all this?"

It's a question I've been pondering for a few years: What is the point of bathroom attendants?
At what point did bar/club owners decide that we as a society have become incapable of washing our own hands without assistance?

Is it a marketing ploy to give bars a more upscale appearance? (In which case, I'm not buying it Grand Central.) Is it a more sanitary way of doing things? (In which case, that's what faucet/paper-towel dispenser sensors are for.)

Most of the time, I just feel guilty for not tipping them. And I usually have to bite my tongue, when what I want to say is "I'll get it myself!"

I'm interested to hear what everyone thinks, especially the guys. Are restroom attendants necessary? Useful? A waste of space? Post your comments below.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Wanna hang out tonight?

Come BoWIIing with me and the ladies of Eye at Cans tonight starting at 7.

Come on, what else do you have to do on a Monday night?

Registration is only $10 per two-person team and Eye is giving away some cool prizes.

I'll also be wearing my Eye T-shirt, so look for me and say hi.

And yes, you should fear my Wii Bowling skills.

DJ Spinderella ... er ... spins

DJ Spinderella of Salt-n-Pepa came to NV Lounge in Cornelius on Saturday for a special guest appearance.

Before her set, Spinderella met with VIP guests upstairs.

My only complaint: she was supposed to start spinning at 10:30. By 11:45, she still hadn't gone on.

If you missed her, Spinderella will be back in Charlotte on Saturday for the Alphas and Deltas "Best of Both Worlds" CIAA party at Spirit Square from 9 p.m.-2 a.m.

Did anyone catch her set? What did you think?

Mixing it up

Vintage Music Group held its first Metropolitan Mixer on Thursday and I went to check it out.

Willis Peters, the organizer, is working to bring fashion designers, artists and musicians together with the monthly event.

Prevue in NoDa was this month's spot, and the event drew a diverse crowd of people from makeup artists, poets, and fashionistas to those who just are fans of art/fashion/music in general.

And then there was Nancy Boru, a toffee maker, and Don Rosenberg, a professional networker and organic gardener who is out mingling and passing out his card more often than me.

Both kinda random for the event, but very nice (and the toffee was good, too).

The next mixer is March 20. For more info, e-mail Willis at

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dale Jr.'s EpiCentre adventure

The EpiCentre uptown may still just look like a big construction site, but one of its venues is set to open in less than a month.

I tip-toed around the fences and through the rubble Wednesday to get a sneak peek at Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Whisky River, named after the country-western town he built on his land.

But honky-tonk dive bar this is not. Think subtle touches such as a bar trimmed in belt buckles (below), rust-colored walls and splashes of dark wood paneling, then contrast that with exposed ceilings, sleek aluminum columns, track lighting, giant lava lamps and a main bar accented by tiny twinkling lights.

Managing partner Chris Epstein describes the look as "somewhat of a western style, but with a modern feel and a rock 'n' roll edge." Or, as general contracter Scott Lucas of Harp Renovation calls it: " 'Blade Runner meets 'Bonanza.' " Ha. (It should be noted that Epstein shooed Lucas away at this point in the tour.)

There are three full-service bars throughout the 10,000 square-foot space, a mechanical bull and a stage that can be used for live music acts, dancing or more seating. Junior will have his own VIP booth at the bar, which can be enclosed for privacy by a steel mesh curtain that is illuminated with LED lights.

Epstein says Whisky River is tentatively scheduled to open March 19. He's planning Junior's VIP party to be held shortly thereafter, and says the guest list could include some of the biggest names in country and rock.

Skip this SouthPark spot

After my fabulous experience at M5 last week, I ventured back out to the SouthPark area to see if I could make it two in a row.

Sadly, I did not.

This time, I stopped in for an after-work cocktail and snack at Bricktops, a restaurant in the Specialty Shops on the Park that opened in May. Bricktops also has locations in Nashville, Atlanta and Naples, Florida.

The restaurant is pretty with low lighting, red walls, dark wood seating and mirrors hanging over the bar that allow you to sneak peeks at other patrons. The bar area has glass garage doors that open to the patio in the spring and summer.

  • The service was just okay. We waited too long to get our menus and too long to have our order taken.
  • The food was underwhelming. Our smoked salmon flatbread was lukewarm at best and the spinach and artichoke dip was too rich.
  • The crowd was what you would expect to find in SouthPark -- old, white and dressed in khakis and boat shoes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The party of the year

If you didn't go to the Bartender's Ball on Sunday, you truly missed out on the party of the year.

As a first-timer, I had no idea what to expect.

Nearly 2,000 people showed up, all in the 25-35 age range and dressed to kill. Six DJs rotated between two booths and had the dance floor rocking. In the VIP area, girls gyrated on a raised platform behind the DJ booth. The Men's Club catered the party and the line snaked through the ballroom and out in the hall (that was probably my only complaint for the night. If you wanted food, you had to be in line at 7 if you didn't want to wait 30-40 minutes). And while it was open bar with premium liquor, no one got out of control. It was all happy drunks.

About 30 bars from around Charlotte took over the ballroom at the Blake Hotel and turned it into TV Land. I got to judge the bars' booths before the party started and some places got really into the decor.

My favorites:

  • Brick & Barrel's "Price is Right" theme, complete with Drinko (a play off the famed Plinko game) and a Drew Carey lookalike:

  • Tempo's "Soul Train" booth, strictly because of the bartender's outfits -- I want to know where she found high-waisted, bright blue spandex pants (and she worked them, too):

  • And Cans' "Gilligan's Island," whose bar was a replica boat in the tropics with Gilligan, Ginger and Mary Ann:

A winner hasn't been announced yet, but my money's on Cans. I gave them the highest score for the night.

(Update: Cans ended up taking first place. In second: Brick & Barrel's "Price is Right," and in third, McKoy's and Vinnie's joint entry of "The Dating Game.")

Bartender's Ball lived up to all the hype, and I definitely plan to be back next year.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dressed to impress

Some of Charlotte's most eligible bachelors and bachelorettes put on their smartest suits and sassiest dresses on Saturday to strut their stuff for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The annual Guys and Dolls auction was held at the Hilton Center City and drew about 700 people who bid on their favorite bachelor or bachelorette to raise money for the foundation. One of the highest bids went to the CFF's own Sabrina Watt at $1,750. Her extensive date package included a coveted pair of UNC-Duke tickets.

Sadly, Rod Smart of the Carolina Panthers was the only bachelor to remove his shirt.

But all fun aside, the night was really about the fundraising for children with CF.

At the beginning of the night, auctioneers Brotha' Fred and Morgan Fogarty of Fox News Edge announced that more than $100,000 had already been raised. About 90 cents of every dollar goes toward research to find a cure for the disease.

Simmons Trapp, a 17-year-old senior at Myers Park High School who has CF, gave an inspiring speech about her and her younger sister's daily struggles with the disease, which earned her a standing ovation.

Watt told me that after door sales, the money from the silent auction and bids were tallied, she was projecting the final total for the fundraiser to reach $150,000.

Look for pictures from the auction on Friday in my Party Pix slideshow.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The SouthPark scene

I ended up choosing the SouthPark area for my Wednesday night adventure outside of the uptown area after hearing about hot spot restaurant M5 a few times over the past two weeks.

The restaurant -- part of the Harpers chain -- has been open since June and everything I've heard about it proved true. It is definitely not your typical Charlotte restaurant.

Instead, it feels like a place you would go to in New York or Miami (except with far fewer model/actress types).

My friend and I sat at the bar for a glass of wine and the prosciutto de parma flatbread, a perfect snack to split. It was a pretty crowded for 9 on a Wednesday night. Average age was about 40, but the age skews lower on Friday and Saturday nights. It's also a favorite of NASCAR drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Bobcats players (even MJ has stopped in) and Panthers players during the season.

Bartender Lou-Anne (a Harpers veteran of 16 years) was perfectly attentive and even managed to graciously fake a laugh or two at a couple of patrons who had long overstayed their welcome at the bar. And no, I'm not referring to me and my friend.

When the weather gets warmer, I'll be going back to check out the patio -- filled with tables and couches -- which I hear was packed this summer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Monday night hotspots

Looking for somewhere to nurse your case of the Mondays?

I hit a couple of uptown spots this week to see what the crowd was like at the beginning of the week.

First up: BoWIIing (Wii Bowling) League at Cans. I couldn't let my friends at Eye sponsor a party without me so I stopped in to try out the Wii craze for the first time (and yes, I am now hooked). Cans took a break from Wii during the football season, but they're back in the game, and this time Eye is participating. Monday was the first night, so it was slow -- but then again we didn't have to wait for a screen to open up and it was more casual than an official league night. Starting next week, two-person teams can enter for $10.

I had a thought while I was sipping my beer and waiting my turn to bowl -- if more bars start to do this (and it's quickly catching on), will traditional bowling alleys be put out of business? Is this our technological future? Luckily, the pins reset a lot faster on Wii than in real life, so I didn't have too long to get all existential on my fellow partygoers.

From Cans I went to Alley Cat for its first Service Industry Night (S.I.N.). It was also Crash Matt's (aka DJ Matt Bolick's) birthday -- which has turned into an annual bash eight years running. Great crowd for a Monday night, including all of your favorite bartenders and club owners from around town. Matt got the crowd going later in the night by joining band CrashBox on stage for Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues.

Starting next Monday, Alley Cat will also get in on the Wii sports trend. Just sign up when you get there and play on the 200-inch megascreen for free.

Now on to Wednesday. I'm taking nominations for where I should hang out (outside of uptown). Where's a great Wednesday night party that I'm missing? Any hidden gems out there?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Moustachioed men and me

Growing facial hair has never been so popular and I got in on the trend Friday.

The Charlotte chapter of Mustaches for Kids held its final 'Stache Bash to celebrate the end of the guys' 30-day growing period. Over the past month, about 80 men around Charlotte have been recruiting 'stache sponsors and soliciting donations to benefit, a nonprofit that provides funding for teacher-submitted projects to improve North Carolina public schools.

I had the honor of judging the best and worst mustaches during the party at Madison's uptown.

These guys went all out. The costumes were hilarious, the guys were able to laugh at themselves and it was all for a good cause. Some of my favorites: the guy who dressed like Goose from "Top Gun," an Erroll Flynn lookalike and, of course, Magnum P.I.

But there could only be one sweetest 'stache, and that honor went to Rd Covington, who -- in a point of contention -- bent the rules of corner-to-corner conformity and grew his whiskers down the sides of his mouth. Appropriately, he was dressed as Ben Stiller's character from "Dodgeball."

There was also a prize for the less hairy guys: worst mustache, won by Josh Waters. His was so faint that it was hard to see from more than a foot away. He worked it, though, by dressing as a prepubescent child.

What was most impressive was the amount of money raised in such a short time. The original goal was $25,000. That was then upped to $30,000. The final tally? $51,000. It should also be noted that the new Charlotte chapter's first foray into fundraising has pushed it to No. 1 in the national organization. Way to go, guys.

Rd Covington (left) and Josh Waters, best- and worst-stache winners.

Michael Szarowicz (aka Borat) raised the most money of all the guys -- more than $7,000.

Kevin Croke won for best costume as Lt. Jim Dangle from "Reno 911."

My fellow judges.

Women rock the Milestone

The Charlotte Music Awards hosted a Women in Rock showcase at the Milestone on Saturday.

My friend and I got there in time to catch two of the five bands performing: The Vernaculars and the Lights, Fluorescent.

The Vernaculars, from Catawba College in Salisbury, played a mix of original alternative and rock songs.

The Lights, Fluorescent is a Charlotte-based indie rock band. They put on a great show and I was impressed to see lead singer Erika Blatnik (below) power through the band's set after suffering from a bout of the stomach flu earlier in the day.

A note about the Milestone: I get that it's an underground music club and the graffiti that covers every open spot on the walls and ceilings is part of the club's schtick, but ... shocking, I know ... it's just not my type of place.

Between the cigarette smoke that lingers in the air beneath the low ceilings and the amps turned up to the max, that place takes years off my life every time I go. My ears are still ringing 24 hours later. Does that make me an old fuddy duddy?

However, the Milestone is the first bar I've heard of to serve a drink that tastes exactly like a tootsie roll (chocolate vodka and sprite). Yummy.

My favorite live-music venue in Charlotte is the Visulite. What are some of your favorite places?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sean Kingston live (and free) at Cans

A rising star came to Charlotte and I couldn't pass up the chance to see him perform -- for free no less.

Yes, Cans has been hosting Scene Thursday parties for a while now, but this was no D-List actor (ahem, Efren Ramirez) or washed-up guitarist (ahem, Dave Navarro).

No, this time Cans and 96.1 The Beat hosted reggae singer/rapper Sean Kingston Thursday night. He's only 18 and already you can't avoid his songs on the radio. (If I hear "Beautiful Girls" one more time I'm going to take a hammer to my radio.)

Heather Seiler, 24, of Gastonia, was the lucky winner of The Beat's online contest for VIP access to Kingston. I walked in to find Seiler, her cousin and three of their friends lounging with Kingston on a couch downstairs in a roped-off area with beefy security guys guarding it.

Seiler and friends got to ride with Kingston in his stretch limo from the Hilton uptown to Cans. She told me he also invited them back to the hotel for the afterparty.

After mingling with the VIPs, having a snack (that boy can eat!) and looking cool in his shades and bling, Kingston signed autographs for everyone waiting behind the velvet ropes and posed for pictures. I wouldn't say he did it with much enthusiasm. He seemed rather bored by it all and eager to be done with it.

However, he turned into a completely different person when he got on stage upstairs -- energetic, engaging and entertaining as he performed "Me Love" and "Take You There" before finishing with ... anyone? anyone?

You guessed it: "Beautiful Girls."

I came home to an e-mail from a reader (thanks, Curt) saying he saw Kingston eating dinner with a large group of people at Carrabbas on South Boulevard before the show. The waitstaff brought out a piece of cake to celebrate his birthday (he turned 18 on Sunday).

Check out my photos from Cans here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Playing it cool on Mardi Gras

The Queen City kept it pretty tame last night for Mardi Gras. I guess all those bankers don't get too wild on a Tuesday.

I hit a few parties, including Dixie's Tavern, Tilt on Trade and The Pub at Gateway.

The rowdiest crowd of the night were the Mardi Crawl bar crawlers. I ran into organizer Mike Kaesik at The Pub, where his group was wearing joker's hats and matching T-shirts.

Tilt probably had the biggest party of the night. By 12:15, the place was packed and you could hardly get to the dance floor.

Below, some of my favorite photos from the night:

Yes, that guy in the middle is actually asleep.

What did YOU guys do for Mardi Gras?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Are you talkin' to me, Michael Imperioli?

I started my weekend off Friday night with the "Sopranos" party at Forum.

The special guest for the evening was Emmy award-winning "Sopranos" actor Michael Imperioli. He played Chrissy on the hit HBO show. (Steve Schirripa was scheduled to attend but couldn't make it because of an illness.)

Imperioli arrived to the party around midnight and hung out in the VIP areas of the club with local A-listers, including NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin, before leaving in a stretch limo for the afterparty.

Imperioli looked virtually unrecognizable with a shaggy haircut, big sunglasses (yes, inside and at night) and a scarf. He looked like someone who would haughtily say "I am an ac-tor" with a British accent. He told me he was headed to New Zealand to work on a project with Peter Jackson. I couldn't help snapping a pic.

Saturday night got off to an early start with the Box Car Bar Crawl, which started with shots at 6 p.m. Had a blast riding the Lynx train with fellow crawlers (about 20 of us in all).

We started at RiRa uptown, then headed south, making stops at Morehead Street Tavern, Tyber Creek Pub and Tutto Mondo. A small group of us made an unscheduled detour to Dilworth Billiards as well and I fell in love with the place, especially the courtyard. It's the kind of place that regulars have been going to for 20+ years and you don't have to shout over the music to be heard. Things finally wrapped up around 2 a.m.

My only quibble about the twice-monthly crawl: When people start drinking so early, it gets disorganized and disjointed very quickly, and we were left behind at a couple of places.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Ric Flair and Panthers and Bulls, oh my!

I triple-booked my Thursday night and lived to tell about it.

I started off my evening at the taping of "SportsNight" (Time Warner Cable Channel 18) at Woods on South.

The featured guests for the evening: Ken Walter, a Checkers player, Steve Beuerlein, Ric Flair and Skipper Beck.

Ric Flair (I've never heard the word "woo" so many times in one night. And that's counting my college days) was a lot shorter than I imagined him. But yes, his skin really is that tan and his hair really is that blond. He graciously posed for pictures and autographs with fans throughout the night.

I also ran into some of the now infamous Charlotte Roller Girls just a few days after their first bout of the season. They go by Big Sexy and Sybil Action (below middle and left) and "SportsNight" is hoping to get the ladies and some of their fellow roller girls out for the next taping in March. Big Sexy and Sybil were very sweet in person, but I have no doubt they would crush me in a second out on that roller rink.

My next stop was the season-ending blue-tie party for Panthers tailgating club SBGTMS (Super Bowl Goes Through Morehead Street) at Loft 1523. Okay, so the Panthers didn't get anywhere NEAR the Super Bowl, but it didn't matter to these guys who are all about getting people together for a good time. The club -- in its third year -- has about 130 members, up from single digits in its first year. You might recognize their T-shirts with the paws on the sleeves signifying how many years each person has been a member. The guys who formed the group were so enthusiastic and such unabashed fans of the Panthers, I'm thinking about becoming a member next season. Also spotted at the party: the legendary Catman looking almost unrecognizable without his trademark blue wig and black cape.

My last stop for the night: the mechanical bull at Bar Charlotte (Disclaimer: It's for an upcoming piece the Observer is doing about the rodeo coming to town). Next week, you'll be able to see video of me lasting about 1.5 seconds before biting it onto the air mattress. Truly humiliating, but fun.

This weekend, I'll be hoping to catch a glimpse of Michael Imperioli at The Sopranos party Friday at Forum, and on Saturday, I'll be participating in my first Box Car Bar Crawl on the Lynx train. Hope to see you all out.

CIAA parties 2008

The CIAA party list is up. Check it out here.

I'll be updating it every week leading up to the tournament.

Let me know if you don't see your event on there.