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Plenty to do in uptown Charlotte, day or night

By Théoden Janes
Pop Culture Writer

Despite the economic downturn, Charlotte's uptown area has exploded over the past few years. Here are a variety of day and nighttime options - many of which didn't exist the last time a Democratic National Convention was held.

DAYTIME ACTIVITIES

Bechtler Museum of Modern Art: Marvel at works by Miró, Giacometti, Picasso, Warhol and many others. The 17-foot "Firebird" sculpture that greets visitors on the outdoor plaza has become arguably the city's most popular photo opportunity. www.bechtler.org.

Discovery Place: The science and technology museum (targeted at ages 8 to 14) ranks in the top 10 in attendance among science centers nationally. A recent renovation added several new exhibits, three interactive labs, and a 3-D theater. www.discoveryplace.org.

Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture: Named for the city's first black mayor, the museum's centerpiece is the John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African-American Art, featuring 58 works by 20 renowned artists. www.ganttcenter.org.

ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center: Fun and education intertwine at this children's library, which boasts books, DVDs, and activities for kids from birth through fifth grade; a teen-specific area; a large theater and a smaller playhouse. www.imaginon.org.

Levine Museum of the New South: Home to the permanent award-winning exhibition "Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers," which illustrates the huge changes in the South since the Civil War using interactive "environments." www.museumofthenewsouth.org.

Mint Museum Uptown: The five-story museum showcases American, European and contemporary works of art as well as a beautiful craft and design collection. Its multi-story atrium is dramatic both from the floor and the uppermost balcony. www.mintmuseum.org.

NASCAR Hall of Fame: Interactivity rules at this 390,000-square-foot mecca for stock car racing fans. Make the "Start your engines" call in the TV studio, work a NASCAR pit stop, or strap yourself inside the amazing race car simulator. www.nascarhall.com.

Ray's Splash Planet: Rain or shine, this indoor water park offers a three-story slide, a lazy river, and a "Saturation Station" (a water-play area with a tumble bucket). Moms and dads can get a day pass to the gym if they need a real workout. www.rayssplashplanet.com.

NIGHTTIME FUN

EpiCentre: Uptown's primary entertainment hub offers something for almost everyone, from a neighborhood pub (Mortimer's) to more-refined bowling (Strike City) to a rollicking piano bar (Howl at the Moon). There's also Mez, a movie theater/restaurant/lounge; Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Whisky River; upscale nightclub Suite; hip w xyz bar inside the Aloft Hotel; and more. www.epicentrenc.com.

N.C. Music Factory: This nightlife mecca on the northern tip of uptown also runs the gamut from casual (Wet Willie's) to high-class (Butter), while its 5,000-capacity Road Runner Mobile Amphitheatre and The Fillmore Charlotte live-music club regularly host national touring acts. In 2011, the Factory plans to add a country/Western bar, a beer garden, and a Comedy Zone. www.ncmusicfactory.com.

Bar Charlotte: It often gets a bad rap for attracting a college-heavy, superficial crowd, but if you're looking for a place with a club atmosphere, pulsating music, that encourages dancing on the bar and has a mechanical bull, this is your spot. www.barcharlotte.com.

Connolly's on Fifth: This Irish bar is a great place to grab one last drink before calling it a night: dimly lit but full of very casual, very fun-loving young professionals; fast, friendly service but otherwise no frills (there's no kitchen). www.connollysirishpub.com.

Crave Dessert Bar: The perfect place for anyone who wants to pair their cocktail with a decadent dessert, from $6 for a variety of sorbets to $12 for a s'mores platter that comes with all the ingredients plus skewers and a mini fire pit. www.cravedessertbar.com.

Cutter's Cigar Bar at the Marriott City Center: One of a very limited number of lounges in Charlotte exempt from the statewide smoking ban, Cutter's features legal pre-Castro cigars and more than 35 scotches. 704-358-6556 or CuttersCigarBar@Marriott.com.

Dixie's Tavern: Casual atmosphere (it's just a notch above dive-bar status), with a lively crowd and a great lineup of nightly specials, including $1 pints and $1 hot dogs on Thursdays, and $2 beers and $3 shots on Fridays and Saturdays. www.dixiescharlotte.com.

Ri Ra Irish Pub & Restaurant: Center City has not one but two great Irish pubs, although it's easier to make a night of it at this one, since it has a full menu (with entrees like Emigrant's Corned Beef & Cabbage and Beef & Guinness Stew, both $13). www.rira.com.

Urban Sip at the Ritz-Carlton: Another super-upscale joint, this 15th-floor nightspot offers 90 wines and 35 single-malt scotches by the glass, including Dom Perignon and Macallan 25 Year scotch. Wines by the glass run $9-$39. www.ritzcarlton.com/charlotte.

Théoden Janes: tjanes@charlotteobserver.com.
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