The Buzz About Charlotte
Creativity abounds in the North Carolina city’s craft beverage scene
Photo: Jamey Price
Once one of the Southeast’s quieter cities, Charlotte, North Carolina, has spent the last decade on the rise—a renaissance that includes the nightlife scene. Throughout the Queen City, a growing number of cocktail joints (and restaurants with exceptional bar programs) have captured the hearts of locals and travelers alike. From hush-hush speakeasies to bustling rooftop bars, mixologists are turning a night on the town into a full sensory experience, delighting patrons with surprising touches: a flower- or herb-infused sphere of ice, say, or a kick of a guajillo pepper.
Set in a historic 1940s-era building in the Dilworth neighborhood, Dilworth Tasting Room has the look and feel of a secret garden—koi pond and all. Under a canopy of lush greenery, guests can sip a house old-fashioned, smoked table-side for added depth. Each cocktail packs a bit of drama, including the chipotle pepper–infused Where There’s Smoke and the orchid-adorned Sunkissed sipper, featuring muddled kumquats, bourbon, lemongrass, and ginger. Vino lovers will feel at home here, too, thanks to a robust, small-production-focused wine list curated by owner and sommelier Jaffer Kovic.
Just north of Uptown Charlotte, in the NoDa neighborhood, Haberdish restaurant serves seasonal, pre-Prohibition-style cocktails, created by resident drinks curator Colleen Hughes, from behind a 1950s soda fountain. One of the bar’s signature moves? Pouring drinks over spherical ice cubes with edible flowers suspended in the center. Idlewild, a cozy spot a few blocks up the road, on the other hand offers no drink menu at all. Rather than taking orders, the bartenders ask each patron about their tastes and cravings du jour, then mix up something special to fit the bill.
Also in NoDa, two-time James Beard Award semifinalist Paul Verica recently opened his new Italian restaurant, Orta. With a focus on house-made pastas and traditional Northern Italian entrées, the restaurant has also quickly become known for its masterful cocktail pairings. Behind the bar, head mixologist Amanda Britton oversees a list of sips that thrives on unexpected pairings—mezcal with fennel and blood orange, for example, or rye whiskey with pomegranate, cinnamon, and cocoa nibs. Back down in the heart of Plaza Midwood, another Charlotte signature, Grinning Mule, both features rustic yet elegant fare and, as a nonprofit, aims to bolster its community through service and second-chance hiring. Another enticing detail? Every cocktail on Grinning Mule’s extensive menu rings up at eleven dollars—even those crafted with top-shelf liquor.
For something a bit more adventurous, consider a membership to the Prohibition-style speakeasy Dot Dot Dot—if you can find it, that is. Self-described “wizard of whiskey” Stefan Huebner heads up this exclusive lounge, known for fostering a vibrant community of cocktail fanatics. The bar’s ever-evolving drinks menu features updated classics alongside singular creations—think Thai pepper Palomas, rum punches infused with miso, and the popular Lily Wants a Pony, a mix of vodka, rosemary, Riesling, and lime. And if you’re a local or a frequent visitor to the city, don’t be put off by the membership requirement—to join, the fee is just ten dollars per year.
A worthy end to any evening out? A cool sip and a rooftop view. For the best of both, cap off your bar crawl at the Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel, where Merchant & Trade overlooks Uptown from the nineteenth floor. With all the trappings of a polished city club—boozy punch, tableside mixology, and classic bottle service—the sky-high bar also features cozy booths and private sections to rent for your group. Catering to every taste, the cocktail menu offers a little bit of everything, including the popular Angel Babyface, a tropical concoction starring rum, blueberry, coconut, cinnamon, and lime, and the decadent Wake Up Call, which delivers a jolt with black coffee, bourbon, and spiked whipped cream.
Wherever your evening escapades take you, one thing is certain—Charlotte is full of surprises. For more gems of the cocktail scene, visit charlottesgotalot.com.