Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hotel bar gaining a following

Step inside the candy-colored lobby of the new aloft hotel at the EpiCentre and you may just feel as though you've been transported to a boutique hotel in Europe. The hotel, part of the W chain, opened in January, and its sleek w xyz bar is quickly establishing itself as a pre-party destination.

The Scene: Bright yellows, blues and greens stripe across the back of the bar and light up the liquor bottles, creating a cool effect, especially at night. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer great views of Time Warner Cable Arena and the craziness that is the EpiCentre on a Saturday night. High-backed modern chairs and sofas are grouped around giant cushioned ottomans, providing plenty of seating in an otherwise small space. Graphic art reminiscent of Andy Warhol completes the modern look.

The Music: The first time I popped in to the bar in February, there was a sad mix of early 2000s hits (I don't know about you guys, but “I Like the Way You Move” makes me want to rip my ears off). Since then, the hotel seems to have stepped up its taste. For its official grand opening last Thursday, the music selection was much more current thanks to the popular (and gorgeous) DJ Mia, visiting from Los Angeles. And the hotel plans to host “Diva DJ” nights featuring female spinners like Mia.

The Crowd: A combination of business executives, hotel guests and local EpiCentre partyers stopping in for a quick drink before heading to an event at the arena or going dancing at Suite.

The Drinks: Specialty cocktails start at $9. I'd recommend staying away from the Chipotle Margarita. I couldn't stomach more than two sips of the lukewarm, spicy drink. And at last check, they didn't carry Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka – something every visitor to the south should experience. Stick to the basics (mixed drinks are $7) and you'll be OK.

For a video of my most recent visit to w xyz, click here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Final Purgatory set for April

After seven years, Purgatory is ending. The last fetish-filled music and performance-art show will be held April 18 at Amos' Southend.

The decision to retire the show came down to conflicting projects that inhibit organizers from continuing a bimonthly event with such a high level of pre-production, according to Torch, owner of Single Cell Productions which puts on Purgatory.

"I decided to end it on top after seven years rather than monkey around with it or change times," Torch said.

There are no plans to bring it back as a yearly event.

"I have no desire to rekindle it after putting it to bed," Torch says. "The three years of fetish shows leading up to it and seven years of the event itself constitute a decade of my life and I think that's quite enough time for an event that was originally designed to last about six months."

Single Cell will continue doing other music and art events, as well as theme parties twice a year in Charlotte.

And, Torch promises the last Purgatory will be the most intense ever. Tickets are $20 at the door. VIP all-access tickets are $25 in advance.

For the complete lineup of shocking and erotic performances, click here.

Alive After Five schedule released

Here's the 2009 lineup for the all new Alive After Five at EpiCentre:

April 16
Liquid Pleasure
(This special thank-you celebration will be held at Wachovia Plaza before it moves permanently to the EpiCentre the following Thursday.)

April 23
Celebration Club

April 30
Voltage Brothers

May 7
Simply Irresistible

May 14
Satisfaction (Rolling Stones tribute band)

May 21 (Speed Street)
Tuesday's Gone (Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band)

May 28
Frontiers (Journey tribute band)

June 4
Breakfast Club

June 11
Dave Matthews Tribute Band

June 18
Girlz Girlz Girlz

June 25
Vertigo (U2 tribute band)

July 2
Shane O'Dazier & The SOB's

July 9
Who's Bad (Michael Jackson tribute band)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Update on Hom

Hom's reopening has been pushed back a week, according to one of the managers at Charlotte's newest upscale urban club.

The party starts back up again next Friday.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pay less to party

In a world where Pink Slip Parties are a new nightlife trend, high covers and $15 martinis won't be tolerated. Luckily, some bars and promoters are catching on.

By popular demand, I'm compiling a list of great deals around town. Know of more? Post them in comments or send me an e-mail. I'll list the best deals (ongoing or otherwise) each week.

  • The Attic is ZSpot on Thursdays, starting at 5:30 p.m. First 100 beers are on the house, so come early. Other specials include $2 Bud Lights and $5 Red Bull and vodkas all night.
  • The Plaza Midwood Krawl on Saturday (7-11 p.m.) is free. Meander through the neighborhood's funky shops and sip on free wine.
  • Every Friday is 50-cent draft night at The Pub at Gateway. Bud Light pints are 50 cents all day and all night.
  • Dixie's Tavern offers a $2 beer of the month every day. This month it's Bud Select and Michelob Ultra. On Thirsty Thursdays, enjoy $1.50 Coors Light bottles and drafts.
  • At Club Red's Sirens & Shields first-responders auction this Saturday, Michelob Ultras are free from 7-8:30 p.m. Nice way to warm up the bidding crowd. ($10 donation benefits the Red Cross.)
  • Take a break from the bar scene and check out the monthly Cult Movie Mondays at Actor's Theatre. The theater will show "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" on Monday at 8 p.m. Admission is free and so is the popcorn. $2 Miller Lights, Yuenglings and Coors Lights.
  • Cans has a special offer on Friday for March Madness: $1 domestic cans all day while you watch the games.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Win tickets to Rehab

The band Rehab -- most popular for the "Bartender Song" -- will perform at Amos' Southend on Friday. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door.

I've got two free tickets to the show, plus a T-shirt (size medium) for whoever e-mails me the best "guy walks into a bar" joke by 5 p.m. today.

T-shirt front

T-shirt back

Charlotte goes vintage

It was throwback weekend in Charlotte with Retrofest at the Grady Cole Center and a vintage fashion show at Alley Cat on Saturday.

This year marked the first Retrofest for Charlotte, a '70s disco dance party inspired by a similar event in Spartanburg. Saturday's party raised money for Girls on the Run and The eWomen Foundation, two great organizations that help local women and children.

A few suggestions for next year:
  • It would have been nice if the band played more songs from the '70s. I don't think anyone who frequented Studio 54 ever boogied to "Don't Stop Believin' " or "Tainted Love."
  • The sparse turnout may have been attributed to the steep ticket prices ($40 for general admission and $75 for VIP, which included food and drinks). No one wants to pay that much right now, especially if it's not an established event where people know what to expect.
  • What's a disco party without a disco ball to liven up the dance floor? The lights were so low it looked like the place was closed to passersby.
With that said, those who came dressed to dance looked like they were having a great time despite the low turnout and organizers were optimistic for next year as word spreads about the event.

Over at Alley Cat, I heard more retro tunes than I heard at Retrofest, thanks to cheesy cover band Hot Sauce (the members all dressed like LL Cool J circa 1989, then later changed into full on nerd attire reminiscent of Pee-Wee Herman). The band played hits from the '70s, '80s and '90s -- and threw in guaranteed hip-shakers like Flo Rida's "Low."

The crowd was a mix of the usual uptown players along with Plaza Midwood regulars thanks to the fashion show by PM's own Hong King Vintage and Bang Bang Salon. (And speaking of Plaza Midwood, the neighborhood is hosting a gallery crawl Saturday. Check out details here.)

Hong Kong provided disco-era duds (I saw quite a few jumpsuits, which also seem to be making a comeback) and even a Charlotte Hornets retro T-shirt.

All in all, a fun time at a cheap price (it was an Economic Stimulus party hosted by LazyDay) -- but next time I could do without the ringing ears from the loud band and stuffy nose from all the cigarette smoke.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hom set to reopen

Two months after closing, Hom is set to reopen next Friday -- with a different theme.

The nightclub will be an upscale urban R&B/hip-hop club -- but building owner Stefan Latorre tells me the new focus is only temporary until he finds a permanent tenant for the multilevel space.

The club was interviewing potential bartenders, waitresses, hostesses and bathroom attendants this week. (If you're interested, they'll be meeting applicants until 8 p.m. today.)

Hom's reopening comes on the heels of several other new clubs geared toward the urban crowd:
  • Decor 1202 had its soft opening last night. The smoke-free restaurant-lounge will serve lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Live entertainment Wednesday-Sunday, including comedy acts on Wednesday. (1202 Charlottetowne Center Drive.)
  • Club 935 is the brainchild of promoter Adolph Shiver. The large upscale hip-hop club opened in December and has brought in such celebrities as John Legend and Nelly. Tonight, J. Holiday hosts his CD release party at the club. (935 S. Summit Ave.)
  • Venue 301 hosted several celebrity-filled CIAA parties last month, but I haven't heard a peep about it since then. What do you guys know? (301 E. Ninth St.)
  • Club Ice replaced the former Crush on Stonewall Street.
  • Amnesia replaced the former V Lounge on Fourth Street.

25 TVs? 3 screens? It's madness!

Looking for a place to watch the madness this month? Head up north to Lake Norman Sports Grille. The Cornelius sports bar opened in October, and unlike other similarly named venues, it stays focused on the sports and leaves the dancing to the nightclubs.

The Scene: The bar-restaurant has the feel of a rustic lodge, with stone accents and weathered leather furniture – some of it left over from Solace, an upscale restaurant that previously occupied the space. The large granite bar (with purse hooks for the ladies) fits up to 20 people, in addition to seating at high-tops and regular tables in the dining room. A covered patio is popular in the warmer months.

But the focus is clearly on the TVs: 25 of them to be exact, plus three 120-inch HD projection screens. And if that isn't enough for the most avid sports fans, a ticker tape updates regularly with the latest scores, standings and race lineups.

The menu offers standard bar fare: half-pound burgers, blackened chicken sandwiches, wings and so on, along with a few surprises like fried pickles (which give The Penguin's a run for its money) and chicken and waffles. Appetizers range from $4.50-$12; entrees $11-$21.

Draft beers include Stella Artois, Blue Moon and Sweetwater and average about $4. The bar also has an extensive wine list – 22 by the glass ($7-$13) – in an effort to make women feel welcome, too.

The Crowd: Co-owner Dean Paul tells me turnout is driven by the big games. Tuesday night's NIT game between Davidson and South Carolina attracted alumni from both schools, ranging in age from 25 to 40. Wednesday night, the Lake Norman Junior Leaguers held a wine and cheese party in “The Den,” a private room that feels like a home theater, with surround sound, recliners and loveseats.

During football season, the bar draws fans of all teams; Paul and his partners jokingly refer to the place as a “nondenominational football bar.” And, being in the Lake Norman area, you can expect to see NASCAR drivers and their crews on a regular basis. Kasey Kahne stopped in last weekend to catch the ACC games.

The Music: If a big game is on, that's what you can expect to hear. If it's a quiet sports night, staff will switch to all-ages-friendly R&B, usually after 9 p.m. This weekend, it's all basketball all the time.

If You Go: Check out the Wings and Wii Wednesday promotion. Wings are just 50 cents and you can play Wii bowling in The Den.

Where are you guys catching the madness this month?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Alive After Five moving to EpiCentre

After eight years at Wachovia Plaza, Alive After Five is merging with the year-old EpiCentre at 5 after-work party.

The new event -- Alive After Five at EpiCentre -- will kick off April 16 one last time at Wachovia Plaza before moving permanently to the EpiCentre on April 23.

"We wanted to have a farewell party (at Wachovia) as a way of saying thank you for eight wonderful years of a great event," said Larry Farber of East Coast Entertainment. "One of our best bands, Liquid Pleasure, will perform."

The decision to merge the two events came after Alive After Five's East Coast Entertainment and EpiCentre's BMG realized that having two similar parties on the same night (Thursday, for those of you who are new to Charlotte) divided partygoers and was, in the end, less profitable for both businesses.

"We were competitors and now we're happy partners," Farber says. "We've combined our resources. We can help bring in the big talent that they weren't as able to get and it's a great location. We really expect it to be a monster year."

This year, the event won't be limited to the Pavilion rooftop patio. Instead, it will encompass the entire complex with smaller acoustic acts early in the evening in the downstairs courtyard and the bigger bands starting around 7 p.m. on the rooftop stage.

Farber says it will run from 5-9:30 p.m.

Also new this year: an after-work Wednesday party in SouthPark.

Farber is spearheading the new Piedmont Town Center after Five. The event will be similar to the uptown party, but music will be geared toward an older crowd.

"It's more like an Alive after 35 crowd," Farber says. Music acts will include beach band The Embers.

The first PTC after Five will be held on a Friday -- May 1 -- as an alternative to those who will miss the annual golf championship Block Party at Phillips Place, which is taking this year off.

It will then resume its traditional schedule the following Wednesday (5-9 p.m.)

And speaking of after-work parties: the spring patio season officially kicks off Friday with the first of the monthly Mint After 5 parties. Enjoy the newly warm (and dry) weather on the rooftop of the Mint Museum of Craft + Design uptown. The patio offers great views of the Charlotte skyline – and networking opportunities with other young professionals. (6-9 p.m.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Green beer and green bikinis

Charlotte's Guinness supply is in severe depletion after a weekend of St. Patrick's Day festivities.

Photos by Wendy Yang -- wyang@charlotteobserver.com

It all started with Rich and Bennett's 9th Annual St. Patrick's Day Pub Crawl on Saturday, when chilly temperatures and a steady rain didn't deter thousands from turning out. In fact, the guys smashed last year's record number of crawlers. More than 4,900 people participated this year -- turning uptown into a sea of orange T-shirts -- compared to a little more than 3,500 last year. (See pics here.) The bar crawl, which was filmed by the Travel Channel this year, is quickly making Charlotte a go-to destination for St. Pat's.

And the parties continued last night:

Galway Hooker
The line to get into the Lake Norman Irish pub held steady all day and well into the night. The owner told me the place was at capacity starting as early as 10 a.m. and stayed that way throughout the day. Outside in the tented Leprechaun Lounge, revelers took on a greenish tint thanks to green lights and the plethora of green Bud Light bottles scattered among the tables and on the ground.

Inside, Kenny Floyd held the crowd's attention by being his own one-man band, playing a mix that included "Hotel California" and "What Is Love." My friends and I also discovered what men really wear under those kilts (fast-forward to the end of "Braveheart" for the answer). Downgrade: The "VIP" party upstairs cost $50 and wasn't nearly as fun as the festivities below -- even if there was a buffet.

Fox & Hound
The uptown sports bar traded its giant projection screen for something much smaller -- the Teeny Weeny Green Bikini contest -- and got a bigger crowd than usual.

Not sure what tiny bikinis have to do with St. Patrick's Day, but the drooling men in the audience weren't complaining.

Over at RiRa, I was eagerly expecting to hear some authentic Irish music, being that it's, you know, an Irish pub. No such luck. Instead, a cover band played generic rock songs at an ear-piercing decibel level in a room that felt (and smelled) like the Dowd YMCA at 6 p.m. on a Monday.

In fact, I didn't hear any traditional Irish tunes at any of the bars I stopped into Tuesday. (When I walked by Connolly's later in the night, the tent was shaking to the sounds of Nelly.) I understand that it's probably not what most people want to hear, but it'd be festive to at least mix in a tune or two every hour or so.

And while I'm griping: What's up with bars charging $5 or $10 covers on St. Patrick's Day? It's as though they get greedy with the thought of a booming Tuesday night, and rather than be content with the increase in business and alcohol sales, they charge partygoers even more. Is it greed or smart business?

Speaking of not-so-smart business, my friends and I were disappointed that our late-night food cravings couldn't be satisfied with a trip to Pita Pit or Fuel -- both were closed. Seriously? On St. Patrick's Day?

I'll be posting more party pix on Thursday, and you can check out video of my night out here.

Where did you guys party this weekend? Best/worst St. Pat's party?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Schedule a PlayDate

The latest trend in nightlife doesn't involve specialty cocktails, LED-lighted bars or VIP bottle service. Instead, a new monthly event is focusing on the simpler times in our lives, when a fun party consisted of musical chairs, Twister and Connect 4.

It's called PlayDate and it starts next month in Charlotte.

PlayDate started in Atlanta in 2005 and has since spread to 14 cities nationwide, including Austin, Seattle and Nashville, attracting as many as 800 partygoers each month.

Charlotte organizers Shenan Robinson and Latrina Harris are hoping that success translates here as well.

How it works: A mix of games is set up around the venue (Robinson and Harris are looking at area hotels and spaces like The Big Chill for their first event), including throwbacks like Operation and Monopoly and more modern games like Wii bowling. If there's a line for a game, those waiting hold on to a sign that says “I got next.”

After partygoers have warmed up with low-key games of Uno, Jenga and Sorry, the hula hoops, limbo poles and Twister mats are brought out around 11 p.m.

Harris says the added element of fun makes for great icebreakers among the singles crowd and allows more opportunities to connect than the typical bar scene.

“A lot of people have outgrown the club scene,” she says. “We want to draw those people back out.”

The Crowd: Harris and Robinson are seeking a crowd of diverse ages, races and income levels. Harris says it's not just for singles looking to mingle either. Plenty of married couples attend events in sister cities after retiring from the 20-something nightlife scene. “You're likely to see a little bit of everyone,” Harris says.

The Details: $10 cover. Cash bar. Harris expects to announce the exact date of Charlotte's first PlayDate soon, but look for it late next month.

Other places to channel your inner-child:
  • SoulBowl Lounge: A monthly event where partygoers can bowl, play card games, shoot pool and dance to live music and a DJ. Next event: March 28 at AMF Carolina Lanes in Matthews. www.soulbowllounge.com.

  • Skee-Ball: There aren't any plastic prizes to win (a la Chuck E. Cheese), but the skee-ball machines at Murphy's Tavern are just as fun. 131 E. Woodlawn Road.

  • Ping Pong: When the weather's warm, lines form for the two ping pong tables outside Plaza Midwood's Thomas Street Tavern. No cost to play – just your reputation as partygoers watch the action. 1228 Thomas Ave.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Travel Channel filming bar crawl

Charlotte party gurus Rich and Bennett are gearing up for their famous St. Patrick's Day Pub Crawl this Saturday -- and word about the massive uptown party has reached cable television.

Film crews from the Travel Channel's new "Extreme" series will be on hand to capture the chaos -- now in its ninth year -- as thousands of crawlers party the night away at 19 bars.

The crawl will be featured in an episode about extreme nightlife.

Up to 4,000 people from as nearby as Charlotte to as far away as San Francisco and even the United Kingdom are expected to attend. (Last year's attendance of 3,508 was a record and the guys expect to break it this year.)

Want to go? A prepay event will be held Thursday at Cans from 6-8 p.m. Tickets are just $20 at the prepay event, $25 online or $30 day of. Check-in starts at Dixie's at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Tell me about your wildest St. Paddy's Day experience and I'll enter you for a chance to win two free tickets to the crawl. E-mail me by 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Uptown bar closed for remodeling

I reported back in October that Therapy Marketplace & Cafe (401 N. Tryon St.) was planning to expand into an empty space next door. That expansion has grown even more ambitious with the recent closing of Lola's on the corner of Eighth and Tryon streets a little more than a month ago.

Therapy co-owner Jason Stone says the martini bar closed a couple of weeks ago to prepare to take over the block of storefronts in the Transamerica Building on Tryon Street. When the remodeled location reopens (target date: beginning of May), it will have transitioned to a full restaurant serving organic eats from Stone's farm in Lincoln County and traditional American fare ($10-$18 entrees).

But don't worry, Stone says: The popular martini menu (and half-price Wednesdays) will be intact. The restaurant will be equipped with a full kitchen, (using the kitchen left by Lola's departure), a main dining room, a large main bar and a private room available for business meetings, private parties or rehearsal dinners.

When the renovation is complete, Therapy will have grown from 1,000 square feet to 5,000 with a capacity of 250 people and an additional patio. Stone says the restaurant-bar will be open until midnight Monday-Thursday, and until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday with live music and a late-night food menu available.

Stone says he and his partner Tim Low – native Charlotteans – hope uptown regulars won't forget some of the Charlotte-owned businesses as more national chains (Hooters, Wild Wing, PJ's) move in.

“It's hard to get a lease these days if you're local,” he says. “These national chains come in and pay their yearlong leases upfront, which the landlords really like.

“We've been in this location for six years. We've got a great following, and we hope they come back when we reopen.”

Sunday, March 1, 2009

CIAA finale parties live up to hype

Despite the rain and biting wind on Saturday, CIAA fans gathered en masse for one final day of celebration.

Nearly 100 parties were held on Saturday alone, from as far north as Utopia in University City down to Kiss Lounge in south Charlotte.

But it wasn't all that different from a regular weekend in Charlotte -- the place to be was at the EpiCentre, which hired extra security for the weekend in anticipation of the larger crowds.

Hundreds filled the upstairs terraces at the entertainment complex with people lining up four deep to pick up tickets and make their way inside to parties like Inner Circle's Main Event (the promoters took over Suite, Whisky River and Pavilion) and the DJ Jazzy Jeff party at Mez.

I asked a few women where they had been earlier in the night and they said, "We were at the Omni, which was a nice crowd, but this is where it's at."

If the crowd outside the venues was impressive, inside was a sea of wall-to-wall people -- but rather than get caught up in the chaos of the crowds swarming the doors, I hit the Digital Divas' Reunion party at Blue where an older, largely out-of-town crowd (it was a 30+ party) grooved to old school hip-hop and R&B. 

The $40 cover charge at the door may have helped keep the younger people away. "It gets more expensive as it gets later," said the doorman at midnight, which seemed to be a theme of the weekend. 

Over the course of the week, I saw outrageous prices (as well as creative ways around them from partygoers looking for a deal) including $20 parking Wednesday at Jillian's ("It's CIAA, you know how it is," the attendant said.) and a $5 Bud Light at Chima where the bartender gleefully told me there were no drink specials, despite the $30 cover charges people were paying to get in. I also saw people recycling wristbands with a piece of creatively used gum. And I heard more than a few people say that some of the parties were thrown by promoters with no experience who created a promotion company to make a quick buck during CIAA week.

The smartest promoters of the week were the ones who offered ticket prices or covers under $20, made sure the bar offered drink specials and offered a discount with game stubs. This was the year to help CIAA fans out, not hurt them.

What'd you guys think of this year's tournament? Favorite memory? Best/worst party?