Back in February, as our editorial team sat around our conference table to plan this Nightlife issue, all heads turned to me: the resident youth, age 27. The plan? Go out on a weekend night to hang and down a potent shot of Charlotte nightlife.
I’m new to Charlotte, so I texted folks in town to gauge where to go.
A decade ago, they would’ve suggested uptown, then in its heyday as the buzzing nucleus of the city’s nightlife. But the decline of the Epicentre helped push revelers across I-277 to South End, where new bars, breweries, and apartment buildings blossomed.
The responses were unanimous: South End was the place to go. I selected a smattering of neighboring bars I assumed would draw vastly different crowds and vibes: a traditional brewery, a barcade, a Korean-fusion restaurant and bar with karaoke rooms, a brewery with weekend DJs, and a nightclub.
My former college roommates, Elise and Addie, would join me on my mission. We’ve been in the trenches together before. Hangovers started to hit different about three years ago, so in the week prior, I stocked up on electrolyte drinks and aspirin with the diligence of an apocalypse prepper.
This was my night as a veritable (and less respectable) George Plimpton of Charlotte nightlife.
Friday, March 18
(1 day before go time)
Elise: I was legit chatting strategy for this with my co-worker today. Like, what do we do—alternate drinks and water? … Should I bring purse snacks?
Addie: So this is what it’s like to go out in the second half of your twenties, huh?
E: Apparently we’re supposed to make sure we have vitamins B and C …
A: I think there are vitamins in Liquid I.V. …
We Amazon Prime a pack of passion fruit-flavored Liquid I.V.
Saturday, March 19
MY HOUSE, WINDSOR PARK
The first “cheers” of the night takes place in my kitchen over the dull clink of plastic cups filled with a very roughly estimated 16 ounces of water and gritty, not fully dissolved Liquid I.V. It’s been a while since we’ve been out like this, but we’re grown, college-educated ladies who are smart enough to hydrate beforehand.
HOPFLY BREWING COMPANY
Our Uber drops us off at HopFly, where we meet my colleague Allison and her sister, Lindsey. Introductions are made. We each grab a pint and gather around a six-top table by the open garage doors to chat. Throughout the taproom, folks sit in clusters and casually sip pints. This level of chill, from ourselves and our peers, will not be seen again for the rest of the night.
Charlotte FC fans descend suddenly on the peaceful brewery. High on the soccer team’s first-ever win, they pour steadily out of Bank of America Stadium, trailing booze and music. We haven’t tracked the score, but a red-faced man in a blue soccer scarf lets us know, about as thunderously as the stadium fireworks at the end of the match.
The taproom fills with chants: “Char-lotte F-C! Char-lotte F-C!” HopFly turns the music up. We have to practically scream across the table to one another.
SLINGSHOT SOCIAL GAME CLUB
With the level of security here, you’d think Slingshot was the Federal Reserve. The line to get in snakes into the parking lot, and once you make it to the front, you still have to clear two bouncers and an aggressive dude with a metal-detector wand.
This is no barcade full of nerds. In one room, there’s a laser show, DJ, and dance floor packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a rave I feel vastly underprepared for with only one beer in my system. In another, people cluster around skeeball and duckpin bowling lanes and arcade hoops. Not many actual games are being played; the bar is the most popular form of entertainment at this venue.
We haven’t had dinner, so after we grab drinks at a pop-up bar between the rooms (priorities), we elbow our way to a self-order tablet as our feet slosh stickily through spilt beer. My white tennis shoes are white no longer. I ask four girls gathered around a tablet if they’re using it. They’re not, but one of them gives me a stink face before they relocate.
We order shareable apps. While the rest of the crew holds down our primo high-top table by skeeball lane No. 2, Addie and I weave through the crowd to pick up our food from the counter outside the kitchen.
One of the two cooks hands us our apps. The passing of the mozzarella sticks goes awry, and they thunk onto the metal counter. He laughs in a way that says, “I dare you to ask for a replacement.” Addie scoops them off the counter and tosses them back on the tray. If we haven’t gotten sick from the crowd, we will now.
The apps come in glorious hues of tan and brown: fries, mozzarella sticks, and chicken tenders that, we discover, taste oddly like stale pretzels. On our way back, a random guy asks Addie for a high-five. Her hands are full, so he flat-palms her forehead, shoulda-had-a-V8 style.
Next to us, a table of inebriated Gen Xers would have blended into the crowd of millennials and Gen Zers had they not demanded that our photographer, Andy, take their photo. When he doesn’t oblige, one of the men asks Addie to “kick the photographer in the dick.”
Unable to go without attention for more than six minutes, the Gen Xers ask us to watch their 70-year-old dad as he jumps around and fist-pumps to Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
We enthusiastically depart Slingshot to make our 11 o’clock karaoke reservation across the street at Seoul Food Meat Company.
SEOUL FOOD MEAT COMPANY
The host informs us that our reservation is actually at 11:30. I blame the multiple drinks I’ve had for this blunder. She points down a hallway and recommends we check out the back bar in the meantime.
The back bar’s crowded, so I take orders from my group—we’ve heard soju, a clear rice liquor, is the thing to try here—and throw elbows to secure a spot in front of a bartender. Despite my prime real estate, it takes a while for the bartender to even look at me. (Perhaps if she was a man …) While I wait for our six soju, I scan the crowd.
A girl to my left has LinkedIn open on her iPhone, brandishing another girl’s profile to her friend. I can’t hear the conversation exactly, but I’m guessing LinkedIn girl has somehow wronged bar girl.
To my right, a bartender hands a guy and girl their joint bill. Immediately, they begin to fight for the privilege of paying the bill, hitting each other’s card-wielding hands and forcing the server to choose whose card to take.
Before the bartender can react, the girl says, “It’s his birthday!”
As she signs the receipt, the guy and I make eye contact. “Happy birthday!” I say to quell the awkwardness.
The girl closes the check presenter, turns to me, and says, “It’s not actually his birthday.” Her eyes roll almost out of her head. “That’s just what we say.”
The bartender places six cocktail shakers, two by two, in front of me. Were they animals boarding a big-ass boat, I would be less stunned. What idiot would just assume soju comes in single-serving portions? This one, evidently.
The bartender and I lock gazes. I find no pity or solace in her eyes. She sets six plastic shot glasses on the bar next to the shakers and asks for my card.
We head to the patio, where it’s less crowded. Approximately 72 ounces of lemon, peach, and yogurt-flavored soju must be consumed before karaoke. We take varying approaches—double-fisting, drinking straight from the shakers—with the common goal of efficiency.
At this point in our lives, when our girls nights are increasingly rare, the night requires a selfie for commemoration. We smoosh together on a bench in front of a faux greenery-covered partition that separates two booth areas. As we pose, our selfie backdrop tips backward onto some Charlotte FC fans on the other side.
Soju made us do it.
We’re taken into a hip-hop-themed karaoke room and given a quick lesson on the equipment. The remote is the size of a standard iPad and has 94 buttons—all in Korean. The employee assures us we’ll need to remember only three. He takes drink orders (I tell him everything can go on one tab; we’ll divvy it up later), turns on ambient lighting, and leaves us to the sound of our own voices.
As soon as he leaves, we realize Lindsey is MIA.
Allison returns from a successful search for Lindsey just as a server brings our drinks into the room. Lindsey has acquired a dude who says his name is Nikolas. With a “K.” Nikolas orders several items from the server. I slip out the door to catch the server and ask him to please not put Nikolas’ drinks on my bill.
Drinks are had. Songs are sung. Among them: “Islands in the Stream,” “You’re Still the One,” “Thong Song,” “Hot in Herre,” and “Ignition” (sadly, not the remix). Addie takes a puff of her albuterol inhaler in the middle of her performance of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” I spill part of a beer on my foot. (My white tennis shoes are definitely not white anymore.) Allison kicks back on a bench to rest after a spirited rendition of Dido’s “White Flag.” I’ve never thought I’d enjoy being in a tiny room with people watching me sing—and maybe it’s the soju—but damn, it’s a whole vibe.
Sunday, March 20
As we exit Seoul Food, we find ourselves in a flood of booze-soaked 20-somethings, roving from bar to bar, not unlike zombies in search of lifeblood. Each joint around us spills out onto the sidewalks and parking lots that connect them, and I can’t distinguish one bar’s patrons from the next.
RESIDENT CULTURE SOUTH END
The crowd is so dense, we can only stare longingly at the bartenders from a distance. Thanks to a DJ, the area by the bar has become a dance floor. People are feelin’ the tunes, so I’m guessing the music was bumpin’, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you. Nearby, a couple of girls bounce and sway, drinks sloshing, rarely bothering to open their eyes. I’ve been here during the week; this is a shockingly different experience.
We head straight for the back room. As Elise leads us through the edges of the crowd—it takes a little gentle shoving to break through—a guy looks at her before he turns to his friend and declares, “I hate tall bitches.” (Elise is 5-foot-10, and she’s wearing flats.)
We find a table, and the tall bitch orders another cocktail.
Addie, Elise, and I queue up in a long line for the women’s bathroom—our second of the night. (Would’ve been the third, but Slingshot has only port-a-potties, and we all would’ve rather peed ourselves.) Fortunately, this bathroom has a disco ball. And real walls.
The girl in front of us wears a green plastic four-leaf clover necklace. Being the excellent reporter I am, even toasted at 1 a.m., I ask her if she’s out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, hoping to strike up further conversation.
She looks me dead in the eye and says, with zero inflection, “No, this is how I dress every day.”
As we make our way from Resident Culture to Lost & Found, we pass a Greek food truck that caters to sloshed late-night snackers. I haven’t noticed that Addie has fallen behind until she runs toward us, arms outstretched like Rafiki showing off an aluminum foil-covered cub at Pride Rock.
“I got a free gyro!” she shouts with more excitement than I’ve ever heard in a voice.
She can’t take it into Lost & Found, though, so she tries to give it away. (She’s just excited she got it to begin with.)
“Take a bite out of each section to prove it’s not poisoned,” one guy tells her.
They still don’t take the gyro.
LOST & FOUND
Elise and I struggle to the bar, like drunk salmon swimming upstream, and order drinks. If we didn’t catch something from the mozzarella sticks earlier, we catch it now from one of the hundreds of girls in crop tops. You could tell me this is the same crowd from the dance floor at Resident Culture or Slingshot, and I’d believe you.
The bartender gives us tequila shots and vodka crans. Don’t know if this is what we ordered, but at this point in the night, who the hell cares?
Addie turns to face a muscled guy in his early 30s, clearly feeling confident in his black Dri-FIT polo.
“I just know you’re an art teacher.”
I am suddenly aware that Allison and Lindsey have disappeared.
In the parking lot, I find Allison holding Lindsey’s hair as she reacquaints herself with her vodka cran.
Lindsey and Allison secure an Uber, so I head back to find the rest of my group
on the patio at Lost & Found.
A guy in his late 20s dances up to Addie. (We know she’s a catch, but come on.)
“How’s that?” he asks of his dancing. He’s sweating profusely, and a Marlboro hangs from his lips.
“I’m 14,” Addie says in an attempt to get rid of him.
“Well then, when you’re 18 …” he says with a wink.
Dogs are allowed at Lost & Found until 9 p.m. on weekends. Apparently after 9, too.
A bouncer comes by to tell us the bar’s closing.
Elise tries to climb over the patio rail to beat the crowd out. Tall bitches be crazy. We’re dumped out onto the street with every other person in South End waiting for an Uber.
I kick off my shoes by the front door, where they’ll stay for a week before I clean them.
I am not getting out of bed.