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Like any city, Charlotte's bars are varied. Here, neighborhoods often dictate the clientele, drinks served, and general vibe. While uptown has become a hot spot for bars and nightlife in the last decade, some of the best watering holes in the city can actually be found in its outlying enclaves. If you're looking for late nights, loud music, crowds, and plenty of fun on tap, you can always venture into one of the chains in uptown's Epicentre development. But for a true taste of Charlotte, here are a few spots to pull up a stool the next time you're out on the town.
Ok, this actually a restaurant—and one with some seriously good food at that. But its see-and-be-seen bar scene may be one of its most impressive features. Several of the guys behind the spot have experience in swanky clubs and designed the sleek, two-story space with the idea of late nights out. The decor alone is worth venturing in to 5 Church—from ethereal, white feather chandeliers to the ceiling hand painted with the entire text of The Art of War. Cocktails reign at the bar with sweet options like the Bourberry, a pink drink made with Jim Bean, raspberry liqueur, and muddled raspberries, or the spicy Viper made with Patron, orange liqueur, cucumber water and cayenne pepper. This is the kind of spot where you'll want to dress to impress and plan on lingering to see the crowds.
Located in a small corner space in the funky Plaza Midwood neighborhood, this spot is part lounge, part art gallery. Its motto is "Art, booze, music, schmooze" and most nights you'll find an eclectic crowd lingering over craft beers and wine as they peruse the one-room gallery walls. The art changes frequently, which means there's always something new to see, but it's the convivial crowds and cozy space that seem to draw trendy types here for pre-dinner drinks most nights.
Duckworth's Grill and Taphouse
This popular restaurant and bar has three Charlotte locations, but its spot on Park Road just off the always-busy Montford Drive is a must-visit for beer lovers. With more than sixty craft beers on tap—including many from North Carolina breweries—you'll find brews here that you're unlikely to see anywhere else in town. On Thursdays, when drafts are $3, it can get crowded around the bar. But most nights this is a family-friendly kind of place where you can be certain you'll find a great beer and laid back company.
Yes, those with a penchant for whiskey may be lured here by the name. But the real draw of this Plaza Midwood bar and restaurant should be its second-story deck's skyline views. With bars on both the first level and the deck, Whiskey Warehouse fills up fast on weekend nights and during happy hours with a young professional crowd enjoying its full bar's daily drink specials. On weekend nights a DJ spins top 40 tunes downstairs and the crowds are often so thick that squeezing up to the bar offers a challenge. But the best time to visit this spot is on a sunny weekend afternoon when the deck fills with friends looking to soak up the sun, take in the view, and enjoy a cold drink.
Choosing a bar among the many scattered throughout uptown Charlotte can be a challenge. But if you're looking for a 20-something crowd of those hoping to dance until the spot closes down, Prohibition is a good bet. Located on the second floor at the corner of 5th and Tryon Streets, the bar plays off its name with Moonshine offerings and reclaimed wood walls covered in Prohibition-era quotes. But that's not really the point. It also offers DJs, drink specials, and a large space, including a patio, always packed with trendy party-goers looking for a fun evening out. Plan on paying cover here—and at most bars uptown—but if this is the scene you're seeking, it's worth the money.
Depending on what area of town you’re in, there are a few bars you’ll want to visit for a cocktail. Here are three top bars in Charlotte.
The Lobby Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton Charlotte
Visit the Forbes Four Star property’s Lobby Lounge on any given night and you’ll find some of the city’s most successful and well-known power brokers sipping on classic cocktails or noshing on some of Executive Chef Jon Farace’s small plate creations that incorporate fresh, local products. The dimly-lit, modern lounge area is adjacent to the outstanding BLT Steak so diners come here for pre- and after-dinner drinks such as the specialty cocktail the Triple B—jalapeno-infused Don Eduardo tequila is the base of this spicy libation—and to people watch as local celebrities like Carolina Panther Steve Smith come here to relax.
Gallery Bar at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge
Much of this Forbes Four Star hotel is traditional in décor, but take one step into Gallery Bar and you’ll be transported to a hip, modern New York-style hotel bar. The dark wood paneling, floors, and coffered ceiling give way to a backlit bar and sleek club chairs and leather barstools. The Scotch, whisky, bourbon, and cognac selections are the best in the city while the specialty cocktails (try the Ballantyne Martini—pearl pomegranate vodka, Malibu coconut rum, pomegranate juice, Chambord, and muddled raspberries) are hugely popular with regulars. But if you plan to dine in, a must is the Gallery burger—a rich coupling of Baucom’s Best Farms beef layered with Guinness-soaked gruyere, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, sautéed onions, and served with either hush puppies or sweet potato fries, Want to make it more decadent? Add foie gras.
This hip, urban restaurant and bar in Uptown has quickly become one of the hottest bars in Charlotte. The décor—headed up by co-partner/designer Mills Howell—is modern and fresh. Exposed black ceilings hand painted with white text from The Art of War complement the bar area’s oversize, 18-seat community tables hand made from Himalayan oak, and the sleek concrete floors. Couple the hip, modern aesthetic with some really fantastic specialty cocktails such as the Viper—a spicy concoction of Patron, orange liqueur, cucumber water and cayenne pepper—and outstanding small plate appetizers such as the black bean hummus with house-made flatbread—and it’s clear why Charlotteans flock here.