Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reinventing nightlife, one bar at a time

Even in the recession, some brave entrepreneurs are taking chances, leasing failed bars and clubs and turning them into new concepts. In fact, two local men are making a business out of bar reinvention.

Alan Beal and Jose Morales own Bar Concepts Incorporated, a company dedicated to helping struggling nightlife venues boost marketing, update their spaces and get partygoers in the door.

“There are so many places that are stressed by the economy right now,” Beal says. “Sometimes all they need is a second pair of eyes.”

Within 24 hours of launching BCI’s Web site this spring, Beal says he had two new clients.

Beal and Morales’ latest project is at the Indochine Grill in the EpiCentre. It started out as a Vietnamese restaurant with Japanese and French influences. But the owners quickly realized that without a bar component, EpiCentre visitors were bypassing it.

Beal says BCI is helping add a bar, update the interior and turn it into an Asian fusion restaurant with tapas and a lounge-like feel.

“The d├ęcor looked too much like a standard Chinese buffet chain,” he says.

After a soft opening on Wednesday, Indochine is set to officially reopen next week.

Also on Beal’s project list this month: the old Hom nightclub multilevel complex. Plans include opening a Fiji Sushi Bar & Lounge (in the old Feast space) and Kashmere, an upscale “progressive nightclub” downstairs (where Liv used to be).

He expects to open both venues in August and sees a new entertainment district brewing along Fifth Street between Church and Tryon streets.

"With Basil open, Fiji and Kashmere coming, and the development going on at Ivey's, there are going to be a lot of choices for destination spots," he says. "You'll have the EpiCentre, the N.C. Music Factory and now the Fifth Street corridor."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This week's Party Picks


Nightlife crawl

Registration starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Corner Pub, 335 N. Graham St. $10.

Elevate Lifestyle’s monthly bar crawl will stop at five bars off the beaten track (read: they’re not at the EpiCentre). Stops include the Corner Pub, Stool Pigeon’s, Jackalope Jack’s, Loft 1523 and Halo.


Big Mamma’s House of Burlesque

8 p.m. Visulite Theatre, 1615 Elizabeth Ave. $12 in advance; $15 after 9 p.m.

Big Mamma and her troupe of dancers are back and under the big top for this month’s circus-themed burlesque show. Hannibal the Magician will open the show. Don’t miss the pogo dancer or the hula hoop girl.

Concert for a Cause

8 p.m. The Alley Cat, 314 N. College St. $10.

The Guys with Ties are teaming up with Classroom Central to give back to teachers at low-income schools. Concert for a Cause will feature The Sometime Favorites. Proceeds benefit Classroom Central, which provides much-needed school supplies to teachers.

Bags for Wags

2 p.m. 1225 Central Ave. $40 per team. E-mail to register.

The Thirsty Beaver hosts a cornhole tournament in honor of our four-legged friends. Grab a teammate and register for this Humane Society fundraiser. Beer specials and BBQ will be offered and custom cornhole boards will be up for auction.

Lucky 1,800 see Mraz unplugged

Concertgoers who attended the Jason Mraz show at the Uptown Amphitheatre are still drying out this morning after being caught in the epic thunderstorms that rumbled through Charlotte last night.

(Bet Live Nation is wishing they built a roof over the stage now.)

An early afternoon rain shower and an odd no-blanket rule at the amphitheater tipped off some to the crazy night that was about to ensue.

Instead of a laid back summer concert under the stars, fans were running for shelter to their cars and under tents and concessions stands as the skies opened up around 7:30, cutting opener K'naan's set short.

The mood was light though -- fans huddled together and sang some of Mraz's songs to keep spirits up, according to concertgoers.

Around 8:30, crews started packing up equipment from the stage and curious fans wondered what was going on.

People using Twitter exchanged rapid fire messages throughout the night about what to do -- and the lucky ones following @Jason_Mraz and @ncmusicfactory got the scoop first.

Mraz tweeted: "Acoustic set will happen inside. Our full stage set-up got soaked. Is inoperable for now. I don't think everyone will fit in though."

Genevieve Jooste, who follows the N.C. Music Factory on Twitter, heard directly from the complex via the social networking site saying the concert was moving inside to the smaller venue, The Fillmore. She was last in line to get in when the rain came pouring down again, causing everyone to run for the door.

Jooste, who originally held lawn tickets, says the two-hour acoustic set Mraz played was well worth the long night spent in soaked clothes.

"I have to give (Live Nation and the Music Factory) huge props because they put the stage together so quickly," she said this morning. "It was unbelievable. We were five feet from the stage. It was one of the best concerts I've been to."

Others were not so lucky. Only 1,800 people were allowed into the Fillmore and 5,000 originally had tickets.

One concertgoer e-mailed this morning, "So the person on the lawn that paid $15 for his or her seat got a front-row seat to see Jason Mraz while the person that had center stage three rows back went home because he can't run as fast. (A refund) doesn't make up for (Live Nation's) poor judgment and terrible decision to move a sold-out show of 5,000 people into a venue that holds 2,000 with no thought or planning."

Live Nation announced this morning that Mraz will return to Charlotte on Sept. 10 due to last night's storms. For those unable to attend the rescheduled show, refunds will be offered. See details here.

I have a few questions in to the local Live Nation spokeswoman about the decision. I'll update when I hear back from her.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Looking for a happy hour?

A new website aims to make your social calendar search a little easier. Its motto? "Eat Cheap. Drink Cheap. Be Happy."

On Charlotte Happy Hour, partygoers can filter by date and neighborhood to find various bars and restaurants offering specials on the cheap.

Among the neighborhoods listed: South Park, UNCC, Elizabeth/Midwood, NoDa, Ballantyne, South End, Huntersville, Dilworth and Lake Norman.

Don't see your favorite special or bar on the list? There's a button to add them.

Happy hunting!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Mojitos and Stilettos" starts tonight

Ladies, add this new Wednesday after-work party to your calendars.

Carolina Nightlife, along with Bacardi and, is throwing a weekly event series at Chima's sleek upstairs lounge.

"Mojitos and Stilettos" will feature $6 mojitos, half-price South American wines and $1.95 appetizers.

Added bonus for shoe addicts: will be giving away each week a gift certificate for a high-end pair of stilettos to one lucky lady.

Stop by Chima tonight from 5-9:30 p.m.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Charlotte party hits the Travel Channel

For those of you who participated in Rich and Bennett's St. Patrick's Day Pub Crawl in March, this week could be your moment in the spotlight.

Film crews from the Travel Channel's "Extreme" series captured the annual raucous party in March and crawl organizer Rich Saner just received word that the episode about extreme wild parties will air at 8 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, July 22).

See the full list of parties being featured here.

Don't forget to set your DVR.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cosmos bartender among country's best

The gin was flowing last night at Loft 1523 as Bombay Sapphire and GQ Magazine stopped in Charlotte on their search to find the country's Most Inspired Bartender.

Charlotte is one of 40 cities on the search, and 11 handpicked bartenders from local watering holes competed in last night's most-inspired martini contest.

I had the lucky job of judging, along with Bombay Sapphire's global brand ambassador Merlin Griffiths (who proved to be an encyclopedia of information about the history of gin, the latest trends in cocktails and his favorite places to party), Cantina 1511's mixologist Nicole Sharpe and fellow nightlife columnist Brittney Cason from Creative Loafing.

One thing that set this bartending competition apart from others I've judged: a trip to Las Vegas and a mention in GQ was on the line. 

The guys (sadly, no female bartenders) really brought out all the tricks including edible flowers, Brazilian sugar cane sticks, rose water, fried basil, elderberry, crystallized ginger and fresh kiwis. Some of the bartenders had been preparing ingredients as early as two weeks before the competition.

Contestants David Eddings (from left), Stefan Huebner, Brandon Rood, Chris Peavy and Jason Astephen

Considering that my only previous experience with gin was a requisite gin and tonic here and there, tasting last night's concoctions was like an explosion of flavors. Only 11 points separated first and last place, giving you an idea of how hard the guys worked.

But Stefan Huebner's "The Queen Charlotte" was so tasty that it prompted an expletive from Griffiths ("That was &*%$ing fantastic") and equally effusive praise from the rest of the judges. 

Merlin Griffiths (from left), Nicole Sharpe, Me, Stefan Huebner and Brittney Cason

His winning cocktail consisted of Bombay Sapphire, Campari, Prosecco, peach bitters, simple syrup, orange juice and a candied sugar twist for garnish. He called it a new twist on a classic '40s cocktail called the French 75.

Huebner's winning cocktail: The Queen Charlotte

Huebner will go on to compete against his fellow Top 40 in Las Vegas over Labor Day weekend and will be featured in the "Man of the Year" issue of GQ magazine, on newsstands in December.

His first thought when he won? "There goes all my gambling money."

He praised his competitors Wednesday as he nursed his celebratory hangover: "I was really excited to win because everybody brought it last night. Everybody's cocktails looked great."

You can find Huebner and his yummy cocktails (his cantaloupe martini won at Bar Wars 2008) at the new Cosmos in Ballantyne.

Congrats, and good luck in Vegas!

Tilted Kilt is another revealing restaurant

Good news, guys! Your options for breast-aurants just grew (pun intended).

Tilted Kilt, a sports pub, opened this week in the Steele Creek area. And, judging from the name, I'm sure you've guessed the female servers wait tables dressed in skimpy plaid kilts, matching push-up bras and crop tops. As a male co-worker said, "Is this a dream?"

It's the first of five such pubs opening in the Charlotte area in the next two years thanks to Ben Thorman, who bought the franchise rights for the Charlotte market after visiting a Tilted Kilt in Green Bay, Wis. He's looking at the Lake Wylie, Lake Norman, Matthews and University City areas for his other locations.

And while the girls must be able to fit the suggestive costume in the initial interview, Thorman insists personality is just as important as showing some skin.

"The costume is just a gimmick to get people in the door," he says. "After your second visit, the costume will be secondary and it'll feel like any other restaurant."

With 24 beers on tap and 30 flat-panel TVs located throughout the big, open space, people will be likely to stay for the sports and guy-friendly atmosphere.

Decor is pretty pub standard: lots of wood, green walls, a pool table and arcade games, and Irish-, Scottish-, British-friendly knick-knacks from bagpipes to soccer jerseys.

"We are a tongue-in-cheek, poke-fun-at-everyone, Irish, Scottish, English, American pub," Thorman says. "We don't try to be authentic, but we want that local watering hole feel."

That fun atmosphere is displayed in the limericks painted on the walls ("Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more") and in the menu (sample item: Fat Bastard Meatloaf). Entrees range from $8.99-$14.99.

Tilted Kilt is open for lunch and dinner daily. 13230 Carowinds Blvd.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Check out these new parties tonight

A couple of new after-work parties start tonight:

  • Madison's bar kicks off Fundraising Fridays, a weekly event dedicated to benefitting local nonprofits hurt by budget cuts. The after-work socials, which will run for eight weeks, will offer $2 Bud Light and $4 wine specials. Tonight's party will benefit Community Health Services, which provides preventative health care to children and adults with limited means. Other organizations will include King's Kitchen (July 17), Opera Carolina (July 24) and Mecklenburg County Boy Scouts of America (July 31). Nonprofits who would like to be considered for one of the August spots should contact Peter Gilchrist by e-mailing him here. 6-9 p.m. 115 E. Fifth St. $10 donation.
  • Uptown Magazine is also starting its own Friday social this week called the Uptown Cooldown. The bi-monthly party will travel the second and fourth Fridays of the month to different hotspots around town. Tonight, partygoers can slurp up Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka sno-cones at Apostrophe Lounge. Next one will be July 24 at LaVecchia's. Tonight's party starts at 5 p.m. 1440 S. Tryon St. Free.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Do you play Bunco?

I'm looking for women in the University City area who attend regular Bunco parties. 

I'm working on a story about the tradition -- and what really goes on at these kid-free gatherings -- for University City magazine.

Interested in being interviewed? E-mail me here or call 704-358-5207.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Names they are a-changing

There's more shakeup in nightlife news this week with a couple of uptown venues changing ownership and names.

Rustic Martini (a cute spot, but in nowheresville on North Tryon) has been sold to Jason Roy. New name is Club Urban Affair. Grand opening: July 18. 

In an e-mail to patrons last week, Rustic Martini owner Carlos Combs wrote, "It brings me great pleasure to have met many friends and hosted so many great events for you here in Charlotte. I thank you for always keeping it 'grown and sexy' and wish you and the future establishment as much success and happiness I have been blessed with."

He went on to add that he'll be opening another venue in 2010.

And Amnesia (otherwise known as V Lounge, V on 4th, etc.) has changed names yet again. It's now Bentley's RSVP, on the corner of Fourth and Poplar streets.

Thriller Thursday at EpiCentre

I've got more details about tomorrow's Alive After Five: The Michael Jackson edition.

Fresh off the heels of Tuesday's memorial, the folks over at AA5 are turning this Thursday's party into a massive tribute to the King of Pop.

Who's Bad, the Michael Jackson tribute band, will perform and they've also compiled a video dedicated to Jackson that will be aired on a big screen behind the main Bud Light stage upstairs. The music from Who's Bad will be piped through speakers all over the EpiCentre, including the courtyard. And in between sets, a DJ will be spinning all of the MJ favorites.

Staff members will be dressed in Jackson attire. The girls will be wearing fedoras, white tank tops, black suspenders, black shorts and a glove. The guys will wear black pants and red dress shirts.

And for the first time at AA5, you can purchase all-inclusive tickets that grant you access to a VIP viewing area, refreshments and free admission to EpiCentre bars and clubs. To buy tickets, click here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Another uptown bar closing its doors

At 2 p.m. today, Brick & Barrel opened its doors for the last time. The tiny speakeasy on North Tryon will close tonight after six years.

On its Facebook page today, the bar posted this message:

"Today is our last day open. We are gonna miss you guys. Come say bye to the staff you love. We need you guys to come drink the bar dry. Cheers to you, Brick & the amazing family it has created. See you soon!!"

Rumors of the bar's closing have swirled since the EpiCentre's first nightlife venue, Whisky River, opened over a year ago, but partner Larry Parks says the reasons behind the closing have nothing to do with the EpiCentre or the economy.

"We can't come to terms with our landlord on a new lease," Parks says. "He (Garry Bhojwani of Binaco Investments) wants $15,000 a month and I'm not willing to pay that."

Parks says the bar has paid $10,000 a month the past six years on the small space. The upstairs bar is about 1,400 square feet.

"We'll resurface and reopen somewhere," he says. "We'll sit the bad economy out and decide what to do."

In the meantime, Parks says Bhojwani has been contacted by a number of different bars looking to strike a deal on the newly vacant space.

Live Nation offers all-inclusive lawn tickets

After a slew of successful "No Service Fee Wednesdays," Live Nation is expanding its popular ticket promotion this week.

"Over the last five Wednesdays, music fans have saved millions of dollars on concert tickets at," Live Nation president Michael Rapino said in a news release. "Now fans have asked that we take it one step further and give a truly all-in price."

Starting at 12:01 tonight, concertgoers can buy lawn tickets at a flat rate to such shows as Blink 182, Crue Fest, Incubus, Alan Jackson and Def Leppard. Also included in the $29.99 ticket: parking and other fees, as well as a hot dog and soda.

The offer, which is good on all lawn seats at Live Nation-ticketed amphitheaters, will run for 24 hours.

For tickets, click here.