As a city that has long depended on the financial industry, Charlotte, NC, gained a reputation that ran on bankers’ hours and pretty much shut down in the city’s core after the workers went home for the evening. That situation has definitely changed of late as the Uptown district has become revitalized by a resurgence of hip hotels, bars and restaurants. Charlotte is definitely worth a visit to discover the vibrant uptown scene that has bubbled up over the past few years. Here, we have a suggested itinerary for a weekend of fun in the Queen City.
Check in at the modern new Kimpton Tryon Park as your home base for the weekend. This luxurious property has a decidedly urbane feel with modern art installations decorating the cavernous lobby, but with a staff that emphasizes a warm and personal experience reminiscent of a cozy country inn.
Even the lounges in the public spaces are decorated with stylish details that create inviting spots to enjoy a complimentary glass of wine during the early evening happy hours.
The rooms at the Kimpton are tastefully appointed with extremely comfortable beds that will make you want to sleep in late, but you’ll need to rally for the busy days of fun ahead. If you’re looking to wind down after your day of travel, there’s a yoga mat in your closet — experience some namaste in your room while gazing out over the city and the rolling hills that surround Uptown. Or, if you prefer, the Kimpton also has an outdoor exercise deck just steps from their gym. You can breathe in fresh air by yourself or take part in group yoga classes.
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For a stimulating dinner experience, make your way to Nikko, a glamorous sushi bar and lounge. Owner Joanna Nix rules the roost at Nikko, visiting from table to table wearing her trademark feather boa and cowboy hat while she encourages social interaction with pumping music from the DJ and sake bombs to loosen social inhibitions. The hip decor befits the atmosphere of a 21st-century party palace, but you can’t overlook the food, either.
The sushi chefs at Nikko display talented knife work as they create elegant rolls and sashimi dishes using fresh seafood. It’s a party on the dance floor — and in your mouth — at Nikko, and you’re liable to see athletes from any of Charlotte’s professional sports teams enjoying a night out at the bar.
Charlotte is a pretty easy city to get around in, even without a car. Multiple different services offer dockless bicycle rental, so you can just tap into an app and ride off. Neighborhoods feature wide dedicated bikes lanes, many of which run parallel to the light rail tracks, that will carry you from downtown to other centers of commerce and entertainment around the city. The Lynx light rail system is easy to use; just buy a ticket and hop on.
Board the Lynx Blue Line at the Convention Center station and take a quick 20-minute ride through the South End neighborhood to the East/West stop, where you’ll find a charming shopping destination, Atherton Mills and Market. This historic property once housed Charlotte’s first factory dating back to the 1920s. It has been converted into a community gathering spot with spaces for offices, retail and plenty of food and drink options, as well as a popular farmers market on Saturday mornings.
Stop by Not Just Coffee for an elevated caffeination experience. There, the talented baristas offer a variety of bean brewing options from pour-overs to siphon pots to precisely crafted espresso beverages.
After a fine cuppa, you can jaunt right around the corner for breakfast at Living Kitchen. Don’t let the restaurant’s specialty in organic, plant-based food and drink frighten you. There’s plenty of delicious food to choose from, even for avowed omnivores. The juicery focuses on cold-pressed vegetable and fruit juices in all colors of the rainbow. Because the ingredients are never cooked or heated, they preserve all the nutrients and antioxidants you need for a healthy energy boost or cleanse. The food menu at Living Kitchen offers healthy soups, sandwiches and a range of bowls for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Their quinoa porridge with coconut milk, fresh coconut meat, cardamom and cinnamon, topped with brazil nuts and berry compote, is a popular local favorite.
Shopping options in and around the mill range from national chains like Anthropologie to tiny boutiques and specialty shops. An especially fun stop for home cooks is the Savory Spice Shop, where you can purchase bulk spices, exotic ingredients and just about every barbecue sauce or rub you can imagine.
If you want to get out of town for the afternoon, there are lots of lovely options around Charlotte. The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is southwest of town near the South Carolina state line. Located on 380 acres of natural space on the banks of Lake Wylie, the gardens offer amazing views, spectacular fountains and landscaping, nature trails and a building dedicated to exotic tropical plants and orchids.
North of Uptown near the college town of Davidson is Lake Norman. In addition to all sorts of aquatic activities, the lake is also ringed with breweries and wineries, and the good folks at VisitLakeNorman have even been kind enough to put together a map of them for you.
Another major reason to visit Lake Norman is for the food, specifically the two restaurants operated by James Beard Award nominee Joe Kindred and his wife Katy. Their eponymous Kindred is in downtown Davidson. The chef-driven eatery features inventive cuisine that demonstrates their take on the New South.
But their latest creation is much more nautical in nature. Hello, Sailor is a lakeside restaurant that they started up in partnership with renowned chef Craig Diehl, who used to run the kitchen at Cypress in Charleston, SC. Craig used to specialize in charcuterie at Cypress, but his menu of casual seafood at Hello, Sailor shows a whole new side of his talents.
Dine outside on the patio for a sweeping view of the lake while you enjoy appetizers like oysters, crab claws or a fantastic citrus crab Louie salad with avocado and brown butter saltines.
The main courses are decidedly casual — this is a lakeside fish camp after all. Sandwiches, burgers and seafood platters are all worth your consideration, and Chef Diehl is particularly proud of his Carolina shrimp calabash, a peppery coastal Carolina style of seafood preparation. Don’t forget to save room for a serving of gourmet soft serve ice cream for dessert with flavors that change seasonally.
If you’re craving seafood but don’t want to make the half-hour drive up to Lake Norman from Uptown, you can always hit up The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, which brags to be the first place to combine the two food genres together. We’re not doubting or complaining. The high-rolling coach of the Charlotte Panthers, Ron Rivera, is a big fan and frequent customer at The Cowfish, and he even has a roll named after him. The “Riverboat Ron Roll” is made with soft shell crab, kani and cucumber topped with avocado, eel sauce and spicy mayo. It’s served with a side of poke with avocado for $17, and the restaurant is donating $2 for each roll sold through September to Rivera’s “pet” cause of animal adoption. That’s reason enough to drop in!
Head back to the Kimpton to freshen up, because you’re not going to have to leave the hotel for an evening of fun, unless you want to stray afield. The rooftop bar at the Kimpton is called Merchant & Trade, after the financial rock stars who built the city. This striking and sexy lounge offers multiple spaces for drinking and dining, from an outdoor patio with an artificial turf floor to cozy corners where you can share elevated bar snacks and bottle service with old friends (or soon-to-be new friends). With multiple bars to choose from and attentive servers, it’s never hard to get a drink at Merchant & Trade, but do remember to dress to impress. (Though they will let you wear a nice jersey if your team is playing.)
Take the elevator down 19 floors to Angeline’s, the signature restaurant of the Kimpton Tryon Park. The interior is warm and vibrant, like a proper Italian trattoria. The menu combines Italian influences with a modern American twist to create a list of options that range from openers like fresh fish crudo and traditional antipasti to novel pizzas emerging hot from a wood-fired oven. Pastas are artfully produced, but as soulful as if they were rolled out by an Italian nonna.
For main courses, choose from a range of plates like a rich pork shank osso buco, 21-day dry aged ribeye bistecca or a whole roasted branzino, that is if you don’t mind your fish dish staring back at you.
If you’re looking for a nightcap outside of the Kimpton, The Punch Room at the Ritz-Carlton a few blocks away is lauded as one of the finest cocktail bars in the region. Clubby and cozy, the couches at The Punch Room are the perfect spot to enjoy a crafty creation from one of their talented mixologists.
For a little more old-school experience, head over to Dot Dot Dot, an upscale speakeasy where you’ll need to apply for membership online in advance to get in. Don’t worry, though. It’s not like gaining admission to a secret society. All you need to do is give them your info and $10, and you’re in! This policy allows them to keep crowds small so that you can enjoy a personal and intimate cocktailing encounter with your bartender, who will present a fine drink that’s worth the effort.
Sleep in a little late on Sunday on that comfy mattress, because you only need to cross the street for brunch at one of the best new spots in town. Haymaker is the brainchild of talented chef William Dissen, who made his name cooking at his first restaurant, The Market Place in Asheville, and who cooks up what may just be one of the world’s best fried chicken sandwiches at his Billy D’s Fried Chicken shop at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.
At Haymaker, William combines fresh, seasonal fare with fine cocktails to create an elevated, yet casual environment for some darned fine vittles! Serving brunch from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. on weekends, William offers plenty of time to work your way through the menu of elevated down-home breakfast classics like cinnamon doughnut holes with bourbon raspberry sauce or Eggs Benton with poached eggs, Benton’s shaved country ham, johnny cake, wilted greens, tomato gravy and chives. Or, you can aim even higher with more refined dishes such as NC Shrimp a la Plancha made with farm and sparrow grits, manchego cheese, pickled chilies and a brown butter vinaigrette. Whatever you choose, the proper call is to pair your meal with the weekly “bartender’s choice” of a Champagne cocktail. Or more than one.
For a (slightly) lighter brunch option on the way out of town, stop by Amélie’s French Bakery and Café for a glass of wine or beer plus a dish from their casual brasserie menu. You could also save your calories for a selection of elegant authentic French pastries. They bake on-site in a large kitchen where you can watch the talented pâtissiers at work. It’s like viewing the artist at his easel.
After a weekend in Charlotte, you’ll definitely realize that Uptown is no longer an area that rolls up the sidewalks at night – but they might have to roll you on the plane after a fabulous food- and beverage-heavy weekend in the Queen City!
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