Chris Dixon, travel writer for the New York Times recently spent a day and a half in Charlotte. He wrote about his experience, and it seems he couldn't stay away from the great things and great people in the 28205!
- August 31, 2014.
In 1755, the Pennsylvania homesteader Thomas Polk settled at the intersection of two trading paths used by North Carolina’s Catawba Indians. Thirteen years later, the settlement that sprang up was named for Charlotte Sophia, the wife of England’s King George III. But it wasn’t until 1799 that Charlotte’s emergence as a financial center began, with the discovery of a 17-pound gold nugget in the northern woods, sparking the nation’s first gold rush. In the years since, Charlotte has endured war, poverty, racial strife and financial crisis on its way to becoming a global banking powerhouse. Today, Polk’s original crossroads lies in the shadow of the Bank of America tower in the heart of an eminently walkable downtown, which Charlotteans call Uptown. In the last decade, escapees from jobs in the corporate world have revitalized nearby enclaves like Dilworth, NoDa and Plaza Midwood, leaving galleries, breweries and farm-to-table enterprises in their wake — all increasingly linked by greenway, bike route and light rail. The “Queen City” is smaller and easier to navigate than, say, Atlanta, and is an excellent place to soak up the new Old South.
1. Market to Museum | 3 p.m.
Entrepreneurial cooks and purveyors share ideas and peddle wares at Seventh Street Public Market in the heart of Uptown. Lin McKay and Mike Shafer, former math professors, preside at barChocolate, selling candy creations including bee pollen praline, and ghost chile sea salt caramel ($2.50 for each, a half dozen for $14). At Orrman’s Cheese Shop, try a Calvander from nearby Chapel Hill Creamery. Just outside the market, the Levine Museum of the New South juxtaposes Charlotte’s bright future with its turbulent past, from the hardscrabble life of sharecroppers and millworkers to a “sit in” lunch counter — with astonishing political leaflets and the suit worn by the Ku Klux Klan grand dragon Robert Scoggins.
2. The Art of Dining | 7 p.m.
Credit Andy McMillan for The New York Times When the restaurateur Alejandro Torio and his partners commissioned the Charlotte artist Jon Norris to paint the ceiling tiles of their new restaurant 5Church two years ago, he amazed them by reproducing all 40,000 words of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.” But if the ceiling is the centerpiece of this dark, atmospheric restaurant, Jamie Lynch’s menu is no less inspired. The “60 Second” New York strip ($35) is his signature cut, seared on one side, rare on the other and served with a Gorgonzola fondue. Pair it with a G’Night Moon, made with Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon moonshine, Sprite, muddled mint and lime ($10), and finish with a Smores Trifle ($8).
3. Evening Musing | 9:30 p.m.
A few miles from Uptown lies a former textile mill community. Twenty-five years ago, with most of the jobs gone, turn-of-the-century homes were boarded up and the company store and mill buildings were shuttered. That began to change when a group of artists turned several buildings into galleries, and the term NoDa (North Davidson arts district) was born. In 2001, a local musician, Joe Kuhlmann, opened Evening Muse. This intimate space is a place to catch emerging acts like Shovels and Rope before they follow fellow Evening Muse alumni the Avett Brothers, Sugarland and the Civil Wars, and outgrow walls that can only hold 120 fans.
4. Raw Breakfast | 9 a.m.
Grab a Lynx light rail train from Uptown ($2.20) to the East West station. You’re a short walk from Luna’s Living Kitchen, where Juliana Luna offers a creative menu chock full of raw foods. A raw bagel ($7) is a delicious concoction of hummus, almond pulp, rosemary, olives, zucchini, flaxseeds and olive oil served with sour cream, basil leaves and tomato. Her Living Burrito ($12) holds sunflower seeds, refried beans, cauliflower rice, pico de gallo and guacamole, all wrapped in a collard leaf.
5. Adventure on Two Wheels | 10:30 a.m.
The East-West station has a kiosk for one of the largest bike-share programs in the South. Grab a Charlotte B-cycle ($8 for your pass, first half-hour is free, $4 per half-hour afterward) and spin through Dilworth — created at the dawn of the 20th century as a streetcar neighborhood (the streetcar lines were ripped up in 1938). A three-mile route runs down East Boulevard to Dilworth Road, passing Queen Anne, colonial revival and Victorian homes, through Latta Park and back to the station. For more calorie burn, take East Boulevard to the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, where concrete and pipes have been yanked up to reveal a stream where soft-shell turtles, ducks and blue herons thrive.
6. French Indulgence | 12:30 p.m.
Return to NoDa by way of Amelie’s French Bakery. Lynn St. Laurent’s eclectic bistro never skimps on the butter or fresh ingredients that grace her quiches ($4.99) or her grandmother’s spinach, asparagus and leek soup (3.99). Save room for a salted caramel brownie ($2.29). Nearby Pura Vida Worldly Art sources toys, clothing and art, like a singing bowl cast by exiled Tibetan monks ($39 to $200), from fair trade vendors across the world. Ruby’s Gift carries works from over 100 local artisans, including Queen City streetscapes by the painter David French. Tucked down 36th street lies the Rat’s Nest, a vintage shop where a working Atari “Pong” video game ($45) was recently spotted.
7. Built for Speed | 3:30 p.m.
Race fan or not, you’ll find Uptown’s Nascar Hall of Fame fascinating. Opened in 2010, the museum traces Nascar’s roots from Appalachian moonshine running to competitions along the sands of Daytona Beach with cars that could be raced only if they were “stock” (sold exactly as they left the dealer’s lot) to the billion-dollar spectacle of today. Most fascinating are 1950s and ‘60s exhibits that showcase the dangerous rides of pioneer garage mechanic racers like Marshall Teague’s original 1952 Hudson Hornet, immortalized in the film “Cars.” The “Race Week” exhibition gives a hands-on understanding of how brakes, shocks and big block V-8 engines work, and a chance to see how quickly you can “pit stop” a car. (Entrance, $19.95)
8. ‘Cue & Brew | 7 p.m.
Charlotte has never been known as a big barbecue town, but Midwood Smokehouse’s pitmaster and executive chef, Matt Barry, seeks to change that with this noisy, popular restaurant. Mr. Barry cooks his chicken, pork and turkey over North Carolina hickory in a computer-controlled smoker. His hand-pulled, chopped pork is lightly covered with a vinegar-based sauce. The chicken is tossed with a delicious house or mustard sauce. Texas-style brisket is smoked for 12 to 14 hours, and is delicious dry or slathered in sauce (barbecue plates run $8 to $15). Pair with collards and baked beans and chase with a Red Ale from NoDa Brewing Company ($5).
9. Juke Joints and Blues | 8:30 p.m.
Brian and Mark Wilson’s Thirsty Beaver Saloon is a cinder-block juke joint with a modest stage, two pool tables, photos of Burt Reynolds and Charlotte’s longtime cartoon show host “Cowboy Fred” Kirby on the walls, and a chandelier from Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s “PTL Club.” (The show was once based in Charlotte, though what became the vast PTL empire was in Fort Mill, S.C.) The owners’ band, the Loose Lugnuts, play old-school country and often welcome regional country and bluegrass acts. A few miles south, the Double Door Inn has been dishing out rock and blues (alumni include Eric Clapton, Junior Brown and Stevie Ray Vaughn) inside an old house since 1973. For comfy chairs and a speakeasy vibe, take a quick walk to Soul Gastrolounge, where the D.J. starts spinning at 10.
10. Walkabout | 9 a.m.
Soak up last night’s libations at Zada Jane’s Corner Cafe in Plaza Midwood. This cheerful little joint offers vegetarian fare and fruit pancakes ($7.50) alongside omelets stuffed with veggies and local sausage ($4.50 to $10). Arrive early or expect to play shuffleboard for a while out front. Afterward, stroll down Thomas Street to Belvedere Avenue and Plaza Boulevard through a neighborhood of oaks and Craftsman cottages before returning to Central Avenue. Its miniature Haight-Ashbury district includes shops like Fifteen Ten Antiques and Boris and Natasha, where Hope Nicholls, the siren behind the local bands Fetchin’ Bones and Sugarsmack, sells locally made jewelry and leather goods, among other things. (Note: Both shops open at 1 p.m.)
11. Artistic Riches | 2 p.m.
The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture’s permanent collection includes an incredible body of African-American art collected over 50 years by John Hewitt and his wife, Vivian Davidson Hewitt, whose career as a librarian extends from the New York Public Library to the Rockefeller Center to the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. Works include lithographs, woodcuts and paintings from J. Eugene Grisby Jr., Ernest Crichlow, Charles Alston, Virginia Evans Smit and Charlotte-born Romare Bearden. Current exhibitions include “Selected Works of J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr.: Returning to Where the Artistic Seed Was Planted.”
1. Seventh Street Public Market, 224 East Seventh Street; 7thstreetpublicmarket.com. The Levine Museum of the New South, 200 East Seventh Street; museumofthenewsouth.org.
2. 5Church, 127 North Tryon Street; 5church.com.
3. The Evening Muse, 3227 North Davidson Street; eveningmuse.com.
4. Luna’s Living Kitchen, 2102 South Boulevard; lunaslivingkitchen.com.
5. Charlotte B-cycle, charlotte.bcycle.com. Little Sugar Creek Greenway.
6. Amelie’s French Bakery, 2424 North Davidson Street; ameliesfrenchbakery.com. Pura Vida Worldly Art, 3202a North Davidson Street; puravidaart.com. Ruby’s Gift, 3204 North Davidson Street. The Rat’s Nest, 442 East 36th Street.
7. Nascar Hall of Fame, 400 East Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard; nascarhall.com.
8. Midwood Smokehouse, 1401 Central Avenue; midwoodsmokehouse.com.
9. The Thirsty Beaver, 1225 Central Avenue. The Double Door Inn, 1218 Charlottetowne Avenue; doubledoorinn.com. Soul Gastrolounge, 1500 Central Avenue; soulgastrolounge.com.
10. Zada Jane’s Corner Café, 1601 Central Avenue; zadajanes.com. Fifteen Ten Antiques, 1510 Central Avenue; 1510-antiques.com. Boris and Natasha, 1214 Thomas Avenue.
11. The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture, 551 South Tryon Street; ganttcenter.org.
A version of this article appears in print on August 31, 2014, on page TR4 of the New York edition with the headline: Charlotte, N.C.