Charlotte, every day, is a different city than it was the day before. Old favorites give way to new condos almost as quickly as one can spell IPA. With this rapid development comes a new demographic, in the name of bankers, technologists, and the otherwise upwardly mobile who, true, especially on social media, look about as diverse as Wonder Bread. But to the people who live here (and the IPA drinkers who love them), the Queen City is brimming with diversity, sometimes unsung, sometimes overshadowed by the new kids in town, but which has nevertheless been here, thriving, all along. Therefore, any list of the best bars in Charlotte, should be as eclectic as the population of Charlotte, circa now. These are the bright spots in town, the neighborhood watering holes, the chic first date spots; the places that create community.Read More
8 Standout Bars in Charlotte, North Carolina
Find everything from alluring cocktails to plastic cups of PBR
Argon is many things. It is a club that welcomes non-club types. It is a karaoke bar for people who can’t sing. It is also a place for members of the LGBTQ community to gather and watch RuPaul’s Drag Race with their friends and allies. There is no one type or demographic for which Argon solely exists. Most days, long after the DJ stops spinning and the video monitors go black, patrons (some dressed to the nines and others dressed for the gym) trickle out into the parking lot, still buzzing on Absolut and sodas (or Smirnoff Blueberry and tonics, for the discerning), as they board their Ubers, laughing and dancing through what is left of the night. Argon, a multi-colored oasis all the way down on South Boulevard, exists for everyone who can or cannot follow a beat, and well, that’s just fabulous.
Lincoln Street Kitchen & Cocktails
Everything special about Lincoln Street Kitchen & Cocktails in South End can be summed up in two words: Amanda Britton. Formerly of Bardo, Vana, and the erstwhile Orto, Charlotte’s preeminent mixologist here has created an appealing cocktail program that caters to all while not sacrificing any of her trademark intellect and wit. Very Peri, for example, inspired by Pantone’s 2022 Color of the Year, turns rum, creme de violette, white wine, and lime into an unexpectedly spritzy and refreshing beverage, perfect for humid summer nights when the sky at dusk is the exact same shade of periwinkle. As an added bonus in uncertain economic times, Lincoln Street Kitchen features one of the best happy hour deals in town: hearty, grilled $11 hamburgers to be washed down with $8 classic cocktails, but only on Wednesdays.
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The Cotton Room
The Cotton Room in Uptown was once a space for farmers to store and dry their cotton before bringing it downstairs, where vendors set up stalls along the street in a makeshift market. The pubs that line the street now bring a different, boisterous, and sports-hungry crowd, which is why the Cotton Room — whose entrance can be easily missed in the chaos — is such a welcome respite; it has a quiet, speakeasy vibe, without requiring a password or secret handshake. Much of the Cotton Room’s interior is as it was during Charlotte’s textile heyday – the floors, exposed brick walls are all original — but the diverse crowd it draws is very much 2022. The drink menu features tried and true classic cocktails, often with modern twists: the Campfire Old Fashioned, a concession to the social media crowd, is a standard Old Fashioned that switches out Angostura for mole bitters and features an Insta-worthy marshmallow set aflame, while Final Draw, a clever take on the Last Word, comes with a moonshine-soaked cherry that will set throats aflame.
Super Abari Game Bar
The original, beloved Abari Game Bar was both an early victim to the pandemic and an early sacrifice to the aggressive redevelopment in its NoDa-adjacent neighborhood between Optimist Park and Villa Heights. Reopening was far from a sure thing, but finding its new location — a nondescript white block of a building in Belmont, just south of its original home — was, for owner Zach Pulliam, like happening upon a rare golden coin. What better way to decorate the significantly larger digs than with a house-sized Game Boy that is fully operational, and not as hard to play as it might look? The lower floor draws crowds from the entire demographic spectrum: disparate strangers trading punches over Street Fighter II, laughing at the game’s retro look (or shedding tears of nostalgia), and retired couples calling over their new Gen Z neighbors to play pinball while drinking PBR from plastic cups. The vibe alone confirms that Super Abari is a sequel that, just like the name suggests, surpasses the original in every way.
The Bar at Refuge
The bar inside the lobby of the Refuge — a boutique hotel in Plaza Midwood with only five rooms — may be newer to the scene, but, the cocktail list (the whimsical creation of longtime Charlotte beverage industry giant Larry Suggs) already rivals those at more established venues. The Golden Age, for example, mixes tequila with a turmeric cordial, whose unexpectedly tropical and savory notes might instantly transport drinkers to Bali at sunset. Elsewhere on the menu, the Devil is in the Details is an enchanting take on the classic Corpse Reviver, switching out Cointreau and vermouth for Ramune, a Japanese soda, here spruced up with matcha, that normally tastes of bubblegum — a devilish detail that elevates the original into a drink with surprising depth and tantalizing hints of molasses.
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The Bar at Supperland
Looking in from the outside, a few moments before service, the Bar at Supperland — set apart from the former church that the restaurant proper calls home — might appear like a vintage dollhouse. Once the doors open, though, and once well-heeled customers rush inside to claim one of a handful of plush purple stools that line the bar, kitschy first impressions quickly give way to the realization that Southern charm doubles as a design aesthetic. Anchored by Colleen Hughes’ playful, confident beverage program, the Bar at Supperland in Plaza Midwood is the rare place to be seen (and for the lucky few who snag a ticket to the speakeasy in the basement, a place to impress) that isn’t also a scene. A limited menu of food from the restaurant is available at the Bar, including sausage gravy croquettes that are the talk of the town.
Everything is on the table at Idlewild in NoDa. With no set menu to speak of, mixologists instead ask customers to let their imaginations run wild. For those unsure of how to describe their favorite spirits and flavors, improvisation works just fine. For example, pointing to a lonely bottle of Pedro Ximenez sherry hidden on the bar might lead to a riveting take on an Old Fashioned that is as dark and chic as the bar itself. Or even referencing an enemy on Star Trek, something that depending on the mixologist, could result in a green, glowing drink that is boozy, Fernet-forward, and other worldly. Idlewild is widely praised as the bright, shining jewel in the Queen City’s cocktail crown, and with good reason.
Hattie's Tap & Tavern
As a dive bar, Hattie’s in Plaza Shamrock is prototypical. Sticky floors glow from a projection TV screen in the back; dots of white Christmas lights sparkle through red and purple mood lighting along the walls; Van Halen rocks through the speakers, followed by classic Madonna; and unidentifiable odors trickle out from the toilets. But as a neighborhood watering hole, it is so much more. To step foot into Hattie’s is to walk into a big bear hug, where Charlotte natives and newbies meet to toast their good luck at finding a bar that feels like home. And there’s pure joy in the lack of pretense here: food is limited to bags of potato chips, which can easily be shared with new friends while throwing back Jameson and pickle back shots in paper Dixie cups.