Friday, May 29, 2009

Ri Ra owners anxious to reopen

Less than a week after a fire caused about $1 million in damage at Ri Ra, its owners are working hard to repair the Irish pub and reopen as soon as possible.

"Fortunately nobody was hurt and once over the initial shock, we were happy to realize that the beautiful, original 19th century Victorian Dublin bar in the middle of the pub was undamaged in the fire," owner David Kelly told me Thursday.

He and his co-owner Ciaran Sheehan plan to restore the pub to exactly as it was before the accident.

They're hoping it -- along with the popular sandwich bar on Hearst Plaza -- will reopen later this summer.

For updates on the bar's grand reopening party, follow Ri Ra on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Suite unveils new look for first birthday

Suite is gearing up for its one-year anniversary bash on Friday and putting the final touches on a three-month remodeling job to freshen up the EpiCentre hotspot.

Among the changes, staff has:
  • Added new furniture inside and out.
  • Installed new carpet and a fresh coat of paint.
  • Added landscaping to the patio.
  • Applied a faux stain to the patio, making the concrete appear more like wood.
  • Added a woven metal wall treatment to the Hardwood Suite.
  • Resurfaced the main bar and installed a lucite lighting scheme.
The renovations are to ensure that the club "stays fresh and lives up to all the things people have come to expect," says Thom Perez of Full House Productions. "We're never going to let it get stale. You won't come here five or six years down the road and expect to see the same thing. It's a place that needs to constantly evolve and stay on the cutting edge."

MTV personality Brody Jenner was set to host Friday's party, but due to a filming conflict with "The Hills," he had to cancel this week. (Apparently, the cast is being sent on a trip somewhere. More proof that the reality show isn't, well, real.)

But Perez says the party was never really about Jenner: "It's about unveiling the renovations and putting on a huge great party and celebrating our first year."

The party starts at 9 p.m. Get there early to avoid long lines. Advance tickets are available at the club.

Friday, May 22, 2009

'70s club set to open in NoDa

Jeff Lowery has a simple message for partygoers wondering what his new Dammit Janet club is all about:

"We want to be the opposite of EpiCentre."

The new '70s dance club -- think more David Bowie than David Cassidy -- officially opens June 5 on North Davidson in the space once occupied by Eclipse.

Longtime Charlotteans might remember Lowery as the former owner of the Milestone, the '80s club Pterodactyl and most recently of Jeff's Bucket Shop on Montford.

He's been out of the club scene for awhile, but thought the dance club addition to the NoDa neighborhood would be a good fit.

He says he's tired of the cookie-cutter clubs uptown ("I'm not into dressing up and taking yourself so seriously"), the one-word names and the monotonous beat of techno music. ("It just sounds like you listened to same song all night.")

Instead, expect to hear a mix of '70s music from classic rock and disco to Motown and P-Funk.

And he's not ruling out throwing in some old Pterodactyl '80s playlists in there either. He kept records of songs he played at the old club on Freedom and Morehead and says, "You can walk in and hear an exact playlist from 1989."

And keeping with the '70s theme, Lowery promises '70s prices: $1.50 domestics and $2 imports all day every day.

Details: 3746 N. Davidson St. Capacity: about 500. Smoking allowed until ban takes effect. Open Tuesday-Sunday until 2 a.m.

(Update: Based on feedback, Lowery plans to make most of the club non-smoking while reserving a small area for smokers.)

NV Lounge changes ownership

Over the past few months, NV Lounge has been going through some big changes: owners Paul Yates and Robert Shelton sold the Lake Norman nightclub in January to Eric Harwood and Suzette Richards of Southern California.

Since then, Harwood and Richards have gradually been renovating the club and preparing to rename it.

As they approach the end of their remodeling work, the club will be closed next week and will reopen June 4 as Synergy Nightclub.

According to promotions manager Lindsay Ferguson, the club has added a huge chandelier to the main room, changed its color scheme, refinished the bar and dance floor, added separate VIP areas upstairs and also created a window from the main club overlooking Sidebar, the smaller lounge (formerly a sports bar-type space) in back.

Ferguson says the club will host a variety of ages with a variety of party nights:
  • Thursday night will be country night, hosted and DJed by WSOC's Big Sexy.
  • Friday night will be 18 and up Fantasy Fridays with such theme nights as Tiki Parties and Four Season parties.
  • Saturday will be 21 and up dance nights.
  • And Sunday will be the club's Service Industry Night with Pub Pong tourneys.
Former owner Yates says his main reason for selling was a desire to move back to Miami. He and Shelton are pursuing other markets as well. Shelton, along with Angela Swett, is reopening XO, a tapas restaurant and wine bar, this weekend on Bethel Church Road.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Soul melds food and music

(Photos courtesy of Balthazar Photo)
On the heels of opening a second Cosmos in Ballantyne, DJ/chef/nightlife pioneer Andy Kastanas, along with James Fedele, is tackling another new concept -- this time in Plaza-Midwood.

Soul Gastrolounge opened last week on the corner of Pecan and Central avenues. It's in the heart of P-M, but blink and you'll miss it. Subtle signage and a second-floor location keeps it relatively hidden. To that end, it could become one of the best-kept secrets in the neighborhood.

Inside, it's a cozy space with a rustic feel -- "old world pub meets Halston's penthouse," according to a press release announcing the opening.

The decor -- the vision of musician/DJ/jack-of-all-trades Scott Weaver -- includes dark hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, a wood-beamed ceiling and paintings from local artist Duy Huynh. Outdoor seating on the balcony offers a view of the skyline and the busy corner of Pecan and Central.

For Kastanas, Soul is the perfect blend of his two loves: food and music. On Wednesday night, he was back in the gastrolounge's small kitchen, helping Johnson & Wales-trained Patty Greene keep up with the dinner rush. And you'll often find him and co-owner Fedele in the DJ booth, spinning soulful house.

"I wanted to create something that satisfied both parts of me," he says. "It's not about eating and walking out and it's not a bar you come to just to get drunk."

Instead, he says, it's about social interaction. He hopes foodies and music lovers alike will sit back, relax with a cocktail and listen to the DJ while sharing sushi and small plates of Asian-inspired cuisine with their friends.

In addition to Kastanas and Fedele, such local DJs as That Guy Smitty, Scott Weaver, Jah-Sun Rising and Johnnie Davis will also be on the wheels, usually starting around 10 p.m. The music-restaurant -- as Kastanas likes to call it -- will be smoke-free until around 10 p.m. weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends.

Perhaps more than anything, Kastanas and Fedele are hoping to add to the already vibrant neighborhood.

"There's already of lot of culture and a lot of things going on here," Kastanas says of Plaza-Midwood. "We're hoping this new addition will only enhance (it)."

To see video of Soul, click here. Look for a food review in next Friday's CLT.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Martini mixer

The EpiCentre, along with Elevate and Kiss 95.1, hosted its first MartiniFest last night on its rooftop Pavilion, providing tastings of dozens of different drinks from area bars and restaurants.

For $25, partygoers were given 10 martini tickets and five beer tickets and were told at the door, "If you run out, just come back for more."

My kind of party.

I got there around 7:30 and some partygoers had already nicknamed it SloppyFest, thanks to the tiny, shot-like cups in which some of the martinis were served.

One guy had been there since 5 (even though it didn't officially start until 6) and was keeping track of his martini intake by holding on to his cups. He was seen later in the night balancing a stack of 10 Dixie cups.

But for the most part, people seemed to be enjoying good drinks and good weather without the insane crowds of Alive After Five.

My favorite drink of the night? Loft 1523's Orange and Mango concoction.

Proceeds from the event benefitted the American Cancer Society.

To see video from last night, click here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cosmos opens in Ballantyne

Ballantyne got a much-needed addition to its nightlife scene last week with the opening of Cosmos Café – a sister location to the original uptown hot spot. Suburbanites who have been looking for an alternative to Ballantyne Village's Villa Antonio or the nearby On the Roxx, now have a new place to relax with a drink and enjoy a late-night meal.

The Scene: Cosmos owners Andy Kastanas and Gus Georgoulias are well known for raising the bar for uptown nightlife – and it seems they're aiming to do the same in Ballantyne. The new Cosmos' décor – the vision of Boris Tomic, who also designed the uptown location, Forum and Alley Cat – is striking. 

In keeping with the cosmos theme, a lighted panel along the ceiling is meant to represent a comet striking a planet. An elaborate centerpiece of jutting spikes and red drapery is the resulting explosion. Take a closer look at the large circular bar – the focal point of the restaurant – and you'll notice a resemblance to the rings of Saturn. 

Rich reds and coppers also add to the fiery atmosphere – an interesting juxtaposition to the restaurant's outside appearance: a farmhouse, thanks to its location in the new development The Village at Robinson Farm.

For now, managers say, the focus will be on the food rather than the bar. Entrees such as steak au poivres and lobster crab cakes range in price from $17.95-$27.95. But lovers of the uptown location's extensive martini list won't be disappointed either – it's all intact here ($8-$12) and managers are hoping to start drink promotions soon.

The Crowd: Because of its suburban location, expect a mostly over-35 clientele. GM Ahmad Mohammad hopes it will be a nightlife destination for nearby residents who come for dinner and stay for drinks at the bar or outside on the patio.

The Music: A mix of house and pop music, with a DJ spinning Friday and Saturday nights.

The Details: Open until 2 a.m. six days a week (1 a.m. on Sundays). 8420 Rea Road. 704-544-5268.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Subaru River Jam starts tonight

The Subaru River Jam concert series kicks off tonight at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

The free weekly event, held every Thursday, runs from 7-10 p.m. through October. It's a family-friendly party (and dogs are welcome, too) held on the River's Edge patio overlooking the rapids.

Here's the schedule for the rest of the summer:


May 7 – Masonboro Boys (Rock-A-Billy/Bluegrass)
May 14 – Mick & the Ultras (Blues/Rock)
May 21 – Roadside Attraction (Rock-n-Roll)
May 28 – Ten Toes Up (Blues/Rock)


June 4 – Thom Crumpton Trio (Blues)
June 11 – Thirsty Horses (Rock/Covers)
June 18 – Truckstop Preachers (Honky-Tonk)
June 25 – Orange Crush (Alternative 80’s)


July 2 – Dub Axxess (Reggae)
July 9 – Heywire (Rock/Americana/Funk)
July 16 – Thom Crumpton Trio (Blues)
July 23 – The Holdouts (Rock-n-Roll)
July 30 – Matt & Jon Acoustic Duo (Rock-n-Roll)


Aug. 6 – The Alan Barrington Band
Aug. 13 – The New Relics (Pop/Country)
Aug. 20 – Thirsty Horses (Rock/Covers)
Aug. 27 – Orange Crush (Alternative 80’s)


Sept. 3 – Carolina Gator Gumbo (Cajun/Creole)
Sept. 10 – Gael Warning (Rock/Folk)
Sept. 17 – Green Vegas
Sept. 24 –Alan & Dave


Oct. 1 – Square Roots

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Speed Street concert lineup released

Headlining this year's Food Lion Speed Street festival (May 21-23) uptown will be Clint Black, Gavin DeGraw, Lifehouse, Jason Aldean, Rodney Atkins and Bel Biv Devoe.

Miller Lite Stage (Eighth and Brevard streets)
  • Thursday, May 21: Jason Aldean at 9:30 p.m.
  • Friday, May 22: Lifehouse at 9:15 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 23: Gavin DeGraw at 9:30 p.m.
Coca-Cola Stage (Trade and Tryon streets)
  • Thursday: Bel Biv Devoe at 9 p.m.
  • Friday: Rodney Atkins at 9:15 p.m.
  • Saturday: Clint Black at 9:15 p.m.
For a full schedule of artists performing on the two stages, click here.

Also race-related, O.A.R. will perform a FREE concert next Wednesday (May 13) to coincide with the Sprint All-Star Race. The performance is part of NASCAR Rev'd Up, a six-hour event that will feature driver appearances, show cars and interactive displays. (4-10 p.m. Third and Mint streets).

Rain delay

Tonight's Piedmont Town Center After Five has been canceled because of the weather.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Magic Margaritas

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I'm sharing an old Aarthun family recipe for margaritas. We call them magic because it only takes one to get that warm and fuzzy feeling -- they've helped get us through many a family reunion.

Aunt Debi's Magic Margaritas

In a two glass shaker (16 – 24 oz size)

1. Fill half of shaker with ice
2. Pour 2 shots of Silver Patron Tequila into shaker
3. Pour 2 shots of Cointreau (citrus liqueur) into shaker
4. Finish off the shaker with Pre-mixed Lasco Lime Mix and Water (if you cannot find Lasco Lime Mix -- found in liquor supply stores -- use Bacardi Lime-aide frozen and add water). With both lime mixes you may want to add a bit of sugar or sweetener to take the bite of tartness out of the drink.
5. Salt the rim of drinking glasses (optional) with lime.
6. Add 1-2 pieces of lime to glasses.
7. Shake up and pour over ice.

*You can also add Grand Marnier for a bit of a kick. Also, a great summer twist is to leave the shaker with room to add 1 inch of Cranberry juice. The Magic Margs become Cosmoritas (no need to salt the rim for those).

Grand openings galore

After a quiet winter, spring is bringing out some new spots to party.
  • Soul Gastrolounge, the much-anticipated Plaza-Midwood hangout, officially opens to the public tomorrow at 5 p.m. The music- and food-focused lounge is the brainchild of Charlotte nightlife pioneer Andy Kastanas and James Fedele. Don't miss the views of uptown from the upstairs balcony.
  • Cosmos Cafe (also part of the Kastanas brand) is opening a second location in Ballantyne tomorrow at 8420 Rea Road. I'm stopping in for its Friends & Family party tonight and will post a review tomorrow.
  • Uptown's Therapy Cafe is set to reopen late this month after undergoing a significant expansion. I'll keep you updated on the grand reopening party details.
  • Brazwell's on Montford Drive (aka the old Press Box) opened last week.
  • If you've been to Alive After Five at EpiCentre, you've already seen the new open-air rooftop bar, Penthouse. The casual hangout, in conjunction with the Pavilion, will host such upcoming events as Martini Fest (May 12), SpeedCentre later this month and a Fourth of July celebration.
  • Crave Dessert Bar opened uptown (behind Cans) in late March and now that it has all the kinks worked out, it's celebrating with a grand opening party Friday starting at 6 p.m.
  • D'Vine Wine Cafe opened last month in Ballantyne Village. Highlights include a full service cafe, private tasting room and retail wine shop.
Also on the horizon:
  • Luna Lounge (from the people who brought you Sunset Club and KISS Lounge) in the old Coyote Ugly spot on College Street. Opening TBA.
  • Enso, an upscale Asian bistro and sushi bar, at the EpiCentre. Opening TBA.
  • N.C. Music Factory is gearing up for a big spring/summer concert season with the opening of its boutique outdoor amphitheater and its Fillmore music venue.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Tyber celebrates 10 years (win tickets!)

From the Observer vault: Tommy Timmins works behind the bar at Tyber Creek circa 2001.

Local bar owner Tommy Timmins is a rare success story in the fickle nightlife market of Charlotte. As flashy new bars and clubs come and go, his neighborhood pubs, in good times and in bad, continue to draw a steady crowd of regulars.

Tommy's first Charlotte venture, Tyber Creek Pub, is celebrating a milestone this weekend -- 10 years in SouthEnd in a location where four other places had previously failed.

Now Tyber is thriving, and with the subsequent openings of Connolly's, Madison's and The Attic, Tommy and his partners have become the kings of Fifth Street.

He credits Tyber's success to its neighborhood-pub theme. 

"We pride ourselves on having a good solid foundation and just being something for everybody," he says. "It's not always going to be the trendiest, it's not always going to be new and shiny, but you always know what you're going to get."

Fans of Tyber Creek can celebrate with Tommy tomorrow starting at noon with live music, cornhole and great drink specials. The Jerry Garcia Band will close out the night. I have a bunch of tickets to give away to lucky readers. Five pairs will go to the first five people to e-mail me the story behind how Tommy and his partners came up with the name Tyber Creek. Get 'em in by 4:30 today.

Update: Tickets gone. The correct answer: One of Tommy's original partners used to work as a police officer in the Irish community of Washington, D.C., known as Tiber Creek. Tommy and his partners (all New York-area natives) wanted to get away from the traditional Irish pub-sounding names so prevalent in their hometowns.

You can read my full profile of Tommy and Tyber in tomorrow's Observer.