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.
When 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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.