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randomness, truth, and burritos

A Night in Charlotte: Howl at the Moon

So I’ve been sitting on this post for the last couple weeks trying to figure out everything I wanted to say.  To summarize it best, since moving here, Howl at the Moon has become one of my favorite default hangouts in downtown (Uptown) Charlotte.  

For those not familiar with Charlotte, the city decided to confuse everybody by naming their downtown area “Uptown”.  I’m new here, don’t ask me why.  

Anyways, in Uptown, there is a huge complex of restaurants and nightlife venues called “The Epicentre”.  I might have to save a separate review for The Epicentre as a whole, but in short I wouldn’t consider it my first go-to location for nightlife.  This isn’t to say that The Epicentre isn’t a great location with tons of things to do.  From my personal perspective, The Epicentre feels like it has a lot of show, but doesn’t have a lot of soul.  Does that make sense?  

Well that would be the case, with the exception of Howl at the Moon.  HatM is on the third floor of Epicentre, directly above Whiskey River.  For those who don’t know, Howl at the Moon is a chain of bars specializing in live music, especially “dueling pianos”, and this location does not disappoint.  The bar is shaped like a thick crescent, with a stage front and center (with two grand pianos, obviously).  There are full bars in the back right and back left corners.  You enter on the right side of the building, and at center-back there is a small patio area with tables and chairs on what would be the sidewalk if this wasn’t three stories up.  

The house-band is rather incredible.  They take requests, and I have yet to hear them cover a song poorly.  They have several tipping games to bring in some well-deserved….tips.    Beyond the two grand pianos, HatM has all of the additional instruments to fill out a standard rock band, including bass drums, and guitars.The musicians are as good as these as with the pianos, and have been able to use their setup to cover some truly surprising songs.  This is however, the one part where I feel part of the “dueling pianos” experience gets lost.  I have been to a few non-chain dueling pianos, and one of the most exciting aspects for me was watching the two pianists cover a song on just their pianos, especially when it was NEVER meant to be played on a piano.  I’ve seen two pianists cover Eminem’s “Without Me” with nothing but their pianos, a mic, and cajones the size of grapefruits, and pull it off so well the crowd was going crazy.  Don’t get me wrong, the musicians here are very talented, It’s just that a small part of me feels that if I wanted to see a standard live cover band, I could go to any number of places.  Dueling pianos is all about THE PIANOS. Despite my personal opinion on this, these musicians absolutely define the venue as a great nightlife locale.  

If you start following this blog regularly, you’ll probably hear me complain about this a lot.  I truly hate going tp a bar and not being able to hear the person next to me talking because the music is so loud. It seems like many clubs/bars think that for the music to be properly appreciated, it has to be played AT THE LOUDEST VOLUME POSSIBLE!  HatM is only slightly better than average in this regard.  I had to speak very loudly to communicate, but it was at least possible.  One nice part of HatM is the outdoor area on the “sidewalk”  this allows you to still hear the music comfortably, and engage in the conversation you may have been struggling with inside.  

The last thing I will mention about HatM seems to be very open to hosting groups and events.  I have seen several happy hour groups enjoying their venue after work, and it is a great place to relax after a long day at work.  During the later hours, I have also noticed that there seems to be an inordinate number of bachelorette parties making their way through the venue.  I will leave it to the reader to decide if this is a good or bad thing.  To be fair on that last bit, I’m so new to Charlotte, I don’t know if the bachelorette party is strictly HatM, or if it has to do with Uptown/Charlotte in general.  I will keep you all in the loop as I know more. 

In general, Howl at the Moon has been one of my favorite venues to date.  It can be very chill, but also picks up nicely later in the evening.  It does have access to the rest of Epicentre, including late-night snackage like Moe’s and Five Guys.  

MB

 

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Charlotte Nightlife: Goodbye Dharma Lounge

So this last weekend I had my first, and obviously last excursion to Dharma Lounge in Uptown Charlotte. To be completely honest, no tears will be shed from the MB that it is closing down and I will be unable to return.

I should be fair and upfront in that Dharma lounge is not inherently a bad night club, it is simply a style of nightclub that I don’t connect with. There are probably many people who enjoy a place such as this… Though I probably wouldn’t connect with those people well either…

To start, Dharma lounge is well removed from the areas I normally frequent when heading Uptown (near Epicenter). It’s too close to warrant moving your car, but too far to be a comfortable walk. Your choices are either a 20+ minute hike, waiting for the light rail, or a $10 cab ride across town. We opted for the light rail.

Upon getting there we were greeted with a $20 cover charge for each guest. Now cover charges have always annoyed me. It’s like getting auto-tipped at restaurants. It says “Were guessing you’ll find our establishment to be crappy, so we’re going to skim you for $X before you can even see what the scene is like.” As a man, I’ve learned to live with cover charges. However, I still think $20 is excessive and pretentious, even for a closing party. This ties in with my next annoyance.

Being their last night, they were emptying the cooler and we’re out of nearly everything. I didn’t pay $20 to drink Mic Ultra and one overpriced Corona.

My last official complaint before I get to the good stuff was that the patio was unbearably smokey. I don’t normally mind a little cigarette smoke, but the minute I walked out there my eyes watered up. I didn’t even realize that many people still smoked in general. It made me think that ALL of Charlotte’s smokers turned up for this event. I’m not faulting Dharma Lounge for this, but it did make it difficult to get a breath of fresh air in the only part of the club where you could reasonably hear what your friend is saying

Now that that’s off my chest, let me highlight the good things. I absolutely loved the styling both inside and outside the club. It keeps with its namesake and has a very good far-eastern/new age motif. This gives the club a great character, and is likely very appealing to its clientele.

There is space to talk to your friends out on the patio if you can survive the smoke, and the dance floor is big enough to be comfortable for the crowd. The DJ was very good, but played an underground techno-dance music I don’t personally care for (it reminded me of vampire blood-rave music). I’m much more R&B and mainstream in my styling, but even I could tell the music was well done, even if it wasn’t for me.

I can’t say I’m torn up about seeing Dharma lounge go, but it wasn’t a bad place overall. It just appears to cater to a very specific crowd. A crowd that isn’t mine. A crowd ok with $20 covers and $6 Coronas. A crowd that smokes, and that buys too much clothing from Abercrombie and Fitch.

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A night spent in: Whiskey Review

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Sometimes you finish a long week of work and realize you just don’t have it in you to go out and mingle with the crowd in a new city.  Sometimes you want to sit at home and read a good book.  Other times you may want to play a guitar, piano, or other instrument and immerse yourself in the music.  On this particular occasion, I’ll admit I felt like loading up on Battlefield 3 and winning a few Conquest Domination rounds with my trusty rocket launcher and Remington 870 Express.

But I digress….

Whatever your alone-time activity, Sometimes you need a drink to pair up with it.   On the way home from work I decided to stop by the liquor store and look for something new.  Having recently moved to Charlotte, I’ve felt a bit immersed in Southern culture (Carolina BBQ represent!).  As a whiskey drinker, I was curious what I could find on the shelf for a reasonable price.  I put my limit at $30, which is well under your standard single-malt scotch (or High-end Tequila for my FSU pals) and started browsing.  No prior research except for the price, and the description on the bottle.  

I came across the bottle of Big Bottom American Straight Bourbon Whiskey, aged and bottled in Hillsborough, OR.  Priced at $29.99 it came in right at my price cap.  I can’t say that the thick walled simple bottle, rustic label, and cork cap didn’t appeal to my inner mountain man.  

Bringing it home, i popped the seal on the bottle and took a look at what I had acquired.  At 91 proof, I was ready for something that would either put hair on my chest… or make it fall out.  Fortunately I had found a bottle that would do neither.  

The smell of the whiskey surprised me in being a lot mellower than I expected for something of this proof.  The smell alone has strong hints of Spanish Oak and cinnamon, with a cool vanilla floating in the background.  I could tell from the smell alone that I hadn’t wasted my money.  I decided to try it in several different fashions as I’ve learned that different whiskeys can appeal in different ways.  I have listed my experiences below:

Straight:  I poured a measure of Big Bottom into a brandy snifter so that I could immerse myself in the experience of trying it straight.  It definitely did not disappoint.  I will warn all my readers right now, that you should NOT shoot this whiskey for the simple reason that is a waste of a truly incredible experience.  The brandy snifter was helpful in gathering all the aromas from the bourbon as I drank.  Sipping this bourbon, the first tastes to hit me are a peppery combination of cinnamon and mint, flowing into a very light oak body, and finishing with the hint of vanilla.  For sipping a 91 proof bourbon straight there is very low whiskey-heat with Big Bottom.  In fact, I’d be hard pressed to think of another straight liquor that goes down this smoothly.  

1 to 1 on the rocks:  I’ve preferred some of the stronger whiskeys I’ve had like this and decided to give it a try.  The flavor comes across much sweeter and the vanilla is the dominant flavor, having a hint of caramel on it.  The smell reminds me of stepping outdoors on Christmas morning inhaling cold air and the hint of pine.  I would almost rate this as a “dessert bourbon”.  With this much water added it’s almost too smooth for my taste, but I think some people will find it enjoyable.

2 to 1 on the rocks:  I decided to cut back the water just a little bit and see if I could find a better balance.  The vanilla stayed the dominant scent, mixing well with the caramel flavorings.  It finished with a strong spice that reminded me of a chai latte.  The water and ice quenches what little heat there was from the straight liquor, making it something you can drink instead of just sip.  

My recommendations with this bourbon are to either sip it in a snifter like a brandy to stimulate the appetite.  It would work well before a strongly flavored meal like a steak or hamburger (just drinking this made me think of red meat).  I would also say that  the 2 to 1 ratio with a few ice cubes is more of your typical drink, and an amazing experience in its own way.

If this is available to you, i would definitely recommend you try it.  I hope it helps you enjoy your next night in as much as it helped me.

 

MB 

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