Friday, September 27, 2013

PASS Summiteers Guide to Charlotte, Part 3: Uptown After Hours

One of the first things to know about Charlotte's city center is that it's not "downtown", it's "uptown". If you'd like the details behind why, check out this article. A milestone date was in 1987 when The Charlotte Observer started using "uptown" exclusively, "as a way to help civic leaders promote the upbeat, positive attitude of the Queen City." Bottom line is that if you refer to it as "downtown", you will immediately identify yourself as "not from around here" ;-) That's not bad though, since you'll find Charlotte people and establishments to be warm and welcoming to visitors.

Even in 1987, there honestly wasn't much going on uptown. Charlotte has always been a big banking town (it's the 2nd largest banking center in the US after New York), and when the bankers went home at 5pm, everything shut down. I moved here in 1981, and I clearly remember uptown being a ghost town at night and on weekends... the streets were empty, literally.

Romare Bearden ParkWhen I walk down Trade Street now, I can't help but marvel at the transformation. Pretty much any time of day or night it is bustling and vibrant, from one end to the other. Some of the changes may have started in the late 80's, but if you had to attribute it to one specific event, it would be the arrival of the Carolina Panthers football team in the mid-90's. Putting the stadium uptown changed everything. It led to dramatically increased investment in dining, museums, performance arts, and residential development in and around uptown, and it continues to this day.

SQL Sentry is providing free trolleys after hours (see Part 1) to take Summit attendees to venues around and just outside of uptown, so that you can easily see more of Charlotte if you so desire. If you don't feel like venturing out, you'll find that uptown alone has a lot going on... at least as much, if not more than any previous Summit location, and waaaay too much to try and cover in a couple of posts. Read on for some of the highlights...

The EpiCentre

The EpiCentre complex will likely be one of the first areas you experience uptown. It's hard to miss, since as its name implies, it is central to just about everything, including the Summit hotels and the Charlotte Convention Center. It is home to some great dining and various other nightlife options, but it will be easy enough for you to explore them on your own, so I won't go through them here. I will mention a couple of unique attractions though:

Studio Movie Grill
An awesome movie theater, one of the best places in Charlotte to take in a flick... and have a nice dinner! This video covers it better than I ever could.

StrikeCity Bowling
A very unique and high tech bowling alley. We've had the SQL Sentry Holiday Party here the past 2 years, that's how cool this place is!

Top Bars & Pubs

Connolly's on Fifth
Our friends from the UK should feel right at home here. This is as close to an authentic English pub as you will find in Charlotte, from the beers to the bartenders.

RiRa Irish Pub
Likewise, our friends from Ireland should be comfortable here, as much of the interior was imported from Ireland. You may have seen a RiRa in other cities, but this is the original.

Prohibition
This is a neat place. It's on the same block as RiRa's, and right above Town Tavern. They have a long bar with many local craft beer options, and a dark, underground tavern feel, in keeping with the theme.

Alexander Michael's Restaurant and Tavern
Located in historic Fourth Ward, since the 80's this has been the perennial "Best Neighborhood Bar" in Charlotte. It's a short walk from uptown center (5-10 minutes), but well worth the trip. Great atmosphere, food, and drink. Highly recommended.

The Carolina Ale House
I have a feeling this will be one of the most popular hangouts at the Summit, as it's uptown Charlotte's version of Seattle's Tap House Grill, or rather the closest thing you will find to it here. Although it sounds like a local spot, it's actually a chain... they even have locations in Florida!? Still, it's a cool place, and they have a great outdoor patio, something Tap House doesn't. Extensive beer selection with many local brews, and a prime spot near the Convention Center and most hotels. The food is a big step above most similar establishments – the wings are terrific!

Urban Sip Wine Bar
If you like nice wine, but don't like spending $200 for a bottle, this is your place. I've never seen a by-the-glass list quite like this one – many high end wines that you won't see anywhere else (Opus One, Caymus, Silver Oak, etc.). It's hidden away on the 15th floor of The Ritz-Carlton, and has fantastic views of uptown.

Top Restaurants

Dandelion Market
Great food, atmosphere, and service, and lots of craft brews on tap. Highly recommended.

Halcyon: Flavors of the Earth
Located on the 2nd floor of the Levine Center for the Arts, overlooking The Green, the scenic park across from the Convention Center. The atmosphere is on the reserved side, but it's a great all around dining experience, especially if the weather is nice and you're able to grab a seat on the patio.

e2 emeril's eatery
Yes, that Emeril. Also in the Levine Center, right around the corner from Halcyon, but a bit more relaxed environment. Excellent food and friendly, professional service.

Rooster's Kitchen
One of the more unique dining experiences uptown, Rooster's is the brainchild of well-known chef Jim Noble. This place is right on College St., past BLT Steak @ The Ritz, but if you blink you'll miss it. I'm not going to attempt to describe it, just go!

Bentley's on 27
Located on the 27th floor of the Charlotte Plaza building on College St, this place has probably the best restaurant view of uptown. Pricey but if you are looking for a unique fine dining experience, you can't go wrong here.

Queen City Q
The best BBQ uptown, maybe in all of Charlotte. Great craft brew selection as well, and not one, but two bars!

The Arts

Tarzan: The Stage Musical
This is the latest from the Charlotte Children's Theater at ImaginOn, an incredible organization and venue. (SQL Sentry is proud to be a corporate sponsor!) Not to worry, these are not kid's shows – they rival any main stage production anywhere, and Tarzan is no exception (I saw it last week). There are shows on the weekends before and after the Summit.

POTTED POTTER – The Unauthorized Harry Experience
I haven't been, but Potter fans have been raving about this show. It's playing all week of the Summit, but if you want to attend, I'd get your tickets now as they are going fast.

Levine Center for the Arts
Located a block over from the Convention Center, this is one of the best places to get your art fix uptown. Even if you don't like art, hopefully you'll appreciate the architecture of the complex, which is quite impressive IMO. It's also home to some great dining (see above).

IMAX: The Charlotte Observer IMAX Dome Theatre
This is Charlotte's only dome theater and is part of the Discovery Place complex on Trade St., a short walk from anywhere uptown. Note that most of the shows are during the day, so this may be best as a before/after Summit experience. If you go, the best seats are towards the top, in the middle.

Additional Resources

Check out CharlotteCenterCity.org for comprehensive info on all things uptown, and CharlottesGotAlot.com (mobile site) for coverage of the entire city, and some great maps. There is also an uptown map app for IOS.

There are shared bike stations located all over uptown, so if you want to get around quickly this is a fun way to do so and burn a few calories in the process. This is obviously not exclusively an after hours thing. If you return a bike to another station within 30 minutes, there are no usage charges.

There are many more things to do uptown that I haven't covered, so I encourage you to explore. Charlotte is a very safe city at night, but as with most big cities, it's best not to walk around alone if you don't know the area.

And remember, although uptown is awesome, there is much more to Charlotte and the surrounding area. So be sure to take advantage of the SQL Sentry Shuttle, and check out my Top 10 Things to Do Before and After the Summit post.

Friday, September 20, 2013

PASS Summiteers Guide to Charlotte, Part 2: Top 10 Things to Do Before and After

It's hard to believe that it's been over two years since PASS announced that the Summit would be coming to Charlotte (I blogged about it here), and in a few short weeks 5,000 of you will be converging on our fair city! As a SQL Server ISV based in Charlotte, we feel a special responsibility to ensure that everyone feels welcome and makes the most of their time here, both in and out of the conference sessions. We've been working on various initiatives towards this end for many months. In Part 1 I covered one of those, the SQL Sentry Shuttle, which will be whisking people to exciting places in and around downtown (aka, "uptown") during the Summit.

Many of you are arriving the weekend before or departing the weekend after the Summit, and have been asking about fun things to do in the area, so in Part 2 I wanted to share some local knowledge. If you are still finalizing your travel dates, be sure to leave room on either end, as there is certainly no shortage of interesting and unique activities to be found here.

Here are my Top 10 things to do before and after the Summit:

1) The US National Whitewater Center
riverjam-670x325The world's largest man-made whitewater river is located only a few miles outside of uptown, not far from the airport. This is where the Olympic athletes train, and it is a sight to behold. Aside from numerous water activities including kayaking and rafting, there is rock climbing, zip lining, and miles of trails. Or, if you just want to kick back and relax, there is a fantastic restaurant and patio from which to and take in all of the action. Craft beer fans will not be disappointed, with 20 brews on tap!

2) The Carolina Renaissance Festival – Huntersville – Saturdays & Sundays
This is one of my favorite things to do each year. About 20 minutes north of Charlotte (barring traffic), it's one of the largest festivals of its kind in the country. It's quite unique in that it's not out in a field like many similar festivals – it's an authentic, permanent village in the middle of rolling woods, so it has that medieval feel in spades. There are countless live shows and activities for all ages, as well as shops, food, and craft beer. You can't go wrong with this one... just get there early, as close to opening as possible!

3) Wine Country
Yes, North Carolina has a wine country! It is a certified AVA called the Yadkin Valley. There are over 100 wineries, most within an hour or two of Charlotte, and many rival the best estate wineries in the world. Here are my top 7, in route map order:

  1. Childress Vineyards
  2. RayLen Vineyards
  3. Sanders Ridge Winery & Restaurant (and Zip Line!)
  4. Shelton Vineyards
  5. Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery
  6. Shadow Springs Vineyard
  7. Daveste Vineyards

There are many wineries I am skipping, as you can only see so many in a day... but I believe these to have the best combination of an impressive setting and good wine. You could easily shorten or otherwise modify this route to hit some of the others on the map. Regardless of which you choose, you will not be disappointed, as they all have their own special character. All are open on weekends, but the hours vary, so be sure to check before you head out.

Since this is harvest season, there are two festivals where you can try wines from several area wineries:

4) NASCAR: Bank of America 500 – Charlotte Motor Speedway – Saturday, October 12th
Although Charlotte is the official home of NASCAR, and I'm a long-time Charlottean, I honestly know next to nothing about the sport. I do, however, know that this is one of the biggest races of the year – all of my NASCAR friends get super excited for it, so it seems like a golden opportunity for those interested!

5) Scarowinds Halloween Haunt – Carowinds Amusement Park – Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays
About 15 minutes south of uptown, Carowinds is the "Thrill Capital of the Southeast", with countless rides, coasters and other attractions. This time of the year the park opens at night and "transforms into a horror-filled nightmare" called Scarowinds. If you are a fan of Halloween, or just want see what it's like to ride a coaster in pitch darkness, this is not to be missed.

6) NFL Football: Carolina Panthers vs. St. Louis Rams – Bank of America Stadium – Sunday, October 20th
Ok, so the Panthers haven't exactly been on a roll of late... but if you are from outside of the US, and want to see what American football is all about, here is a great chance to do so. The stadium is only a short walk from all of the uptown hotels.

7) The Amaizing Maize Maze – Huntersville – Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays
This is one of those huge corn mazes that you think is going to be super easy. I tried it one year (it changes every year – here is 2012), and what I remember most was trying not to look completely lost after ending up in some part of the maze that had never been explored. Definitely a fun way to spend a couple of hours if you're ok with leaving your pride at the door. It's at historic Rural Hill Farm, which is not far from the Renaissance Festival (#2), so you might consider bundling the two in a day trip.

8) AHL Hockey: The Charlotte Checkers, Time Warner Cable Arena – Sat & Sun, Oct 19th & 20th
Hockey fans, the Checkers play a double-header against the Iowa Wild this weekend. TWC arena is conveniently located in the middle of uptown, right across from the EPICENTRE.

9) SouthPark Mall
This upscale mall is the largest in the Carolinas, and about 15 minutes south of uptown. Located in the exclusive "Southeast Charlotte" area, it is where many go to see and be seen. Nordstrom, Nieman Marcus, Crate & Barrel – they are all here.

10) Concord Mills Mall
Not quite as upscale and slightly smaller than SouthPark, this is still a massive mall. It's claim to fame is that it's the largest tourist attraction in North Carolina in terms of total visitors – over 17 million per year – due in no small part to its location down the street from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. That said, if you aren't interested in NASCAR, you would do well to avoid this area the weekend of the BofA 500 (#4)!


11) SQL Sentry
If you can't find anything in the top 10 that strikes your fancy, you are always welcome to visit our offices! (during business hours, please) We're in the Newell-Rubbermaid business park in Huntersville, about 15 minutes north of uptown. Our new office in the next building over will be well underway by the Summit, and we'll be glad to give you a tour. And if that isn't exciting enough, Birkdale Village is only a short walk away ;-)

Friday, September 6, 2013

PASS Summiteers Guide to Charlotte, Part 1: The SQL Sentry Shuttle!

I'm extremely excited to announce a first for this, or any, PASS Summit:

SQL Sentry is providing a fleet of trolleys to take Summit attendees
to popular destinations in and around downtown Charlotte!

trolley

Why are we doing this?

  • If it's your first visit to Charlotte, you may not know where to go or what to do after the conference ends each day. We don't think you should have to worry about such things after a long day of technical sessions. Just hop on the SQL Sentry Shuttle, and we'll take care of the rest!
  • Even if you do know where you are going, you still have to get there. Charlotte is a little different than Seattle and other cities in that some of the best areas are only a mile or two outside of downtown (aka, "uptown"), but not walkable. We wanted to make getting there as easy and as enjoyable as possible. Plus you'll save a few bucks on cab fare!

Rest assured, we are not doing this because there just isn't enough to do in downtown Charlotte. Quite the contrary, IMO there is plenty to keep one busy for the week, and I'll cover this in an upcoming post. However, downtown is only one aspect of Charlotte. We want you to experience more of what our hometown has to offer, with hopes that you'll depart with nothing but happy thoughts ;-)

The Details

The trolleys will be running in a continuous circuit each evening to two three of the most popular nearby destinations: The NC Music Factory, Historic Brevard Court, and the NoDa (North Davidson) area.

UPDATE: The circuit is now a "figure 8" versus a straight loop, which will enable you to get to NoDa quicker if desired, versus having to go by EpiCentre and Music Factory first. There will be trolley stops on both sides of Martin Luther King Blvd. adjacent to the Convention Center. To visit the Music Factory first, simply board on the east side of the street. To visit NoDa first, board on the west side. Since all trolleys follow the same route, it's no problem if you board the wrong one, it just may take a little longer to get to your desired destination ;-) There will also be signs and people directing.

More Info

You'll be hearing more about the SQL Sentry Shuttle on the Summit website, in the Guidebook App, and in other conference materials. I'll also be going into more detail about each destination area in some upcoming posts, so stay tuned!