There‘s a realization that hits most men, usually right after college: It’s time for a respite from the elbow to elbow sports bar scene with cold deep-fried wings, servers in shorts and flip-flops, and house-brand-only scotch.
As guys mature, one lesson worth learning is how to find a different type of watering hole, a bar that doesn’t resemble anything from their awkward youth. One where the term “martini” means only one thing: an icy inverted pyramid on crystal stemware, the very best gin, the driest vermouth and the perfect Spanish olive.
Thankfully there is good news for Charlotte guys who seek the next level in lounges and bars that make them feel like they are a member of a very special club. The new breed of watering hole is one with a clubby, intimate and upscale feel.
We’ve scouted out four local watering holes that are redefining what it means to belly up to the bar. Of course the gals are welcome to enjoy these establishments, too – Why let the boys have all the fun?
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Our first stop is Ballantyne, where guys in the know are regulars at Gallery Bar at the Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge. The bar sports dark mahogany walls, rustic hand-scraped, stained-oak hardwood flooring, plenty of space between tables and a very attentive yet unobtrusive staff. Slabs of backlit white onyx serve as a glowing background for bottles and glasses, creating the bar’s stunning focal point.
Gallery is home to one of the Carolinas’ largest and most celebrated scotch collections with close to 60 different scotches, including one of only 250 bottles distributed of the very special Johnnie Walker 250th anniversary edition. Though visiting A-listers (the hotel frequently hosts NBA visiting teams, Wells Fargo Championship golfers, touring musicians and Hollywood types) are often spotted talking with their agents, this watering hole is a favorite among business professionals and other locals. “As much as 70 percent of our clientele is local,” says Heather Tapper, assistant director of food and beverage at the hotel. “Golfers love to come in and relax after a round on our course, and many nearby business professionals have come to know us for our innovative menu and upscale yet casual feel and a level of service that is second to none.”
Gallery has built a loyal following through special programs such as their monthly Scotch Society gatherings. Tapper pairs three separate scotches with specially created menu items which are served as complements to the scotch offered. The gatherings routinely sell out (group sizes are kept small to encourage discussion) at $35 and require reservations.
Working our way north, SouthPark’s venerable Palm restaurant is up next. Here, the bar is almost 100 feet long and the vibe is casual, conjuring up the feeling of familiarity, even if it is your first visit. If the fictional “Cheers” bar of television sitcom fame had an older, more refined brother, one that was classy yet comfy at the same time, it would be the Palm – if they don’t know your name when you walk in, they will by the time you’re ready to leave.
General manager Joey Profeta stands guard over the Palm reputation where the main order of the day is making everyone feel like a VIP. “It means everything to us that our guests feel like the Palm is like being entertained in their home,” says Profeta, who knows his clientele and their preferences inside and out. Whether it’s their favorite table and server at last minute’s notice or a special dietary request, Profeta and his staff let you know through their actions this is no ordinary dining establishment or an ordinary bar.
Expensive? Yes, but a value all the same as not many watering holes in town serve 9-ounce martinis or offer “Bar Bites” weekday specials that include prime steakburger sliders and crab cakes for $5.50.
Still, the Palm is all about being pampered. Their 837 Club (named for the original 837 Second Avenue address of the original New York City Palm) is a loyalty rewards program that has over 5,000 local members, according to Profeta. You’ll see many 837 members and locals adorning the walls in caricature. Each Palm (the SouthPark establishment is one of 30 coast to coast) features local celebs and regulars on the walls. Here you’ll find a NASCAR wall, a Panthers corner and plenty of local scions with recognizable names like Lewis, Belk and Harris.
Heading uptown, two other establishments round out our list. Cutter’s at Charlotte’s City Center Marriott is the city’s ultimate man cave. Conceived and designed by Marriott director of hotel operations, Gary Oikemus, Cutter’s is at once a throwback to the good old-fashioned true cigar bar and a contemporary marvel with a state-of-the-art HVAC system that changes out all the air in the entire lounge every four minutes.
Set off the main hotel lobby, the welcoming bar is one of the few remaining smoking lounges in our region. Special statutes allow for smoking based upon Cutter’s cigar bar status – more than 25 percent of their revenue comes from cigar sales.
With nearly 60 premium cigars on sale, guys can enjoy smokes from Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic. Want to puff a real Cuban? Thanks to Cutter’s stash of pre-embargo 1962 Romeo y Julieta box-pressed cigars, you can do just that, provided you come up with the $350 tariff.
Guys can also select from their vast scotch and bourbon offerings and a manly snack menu that includes lobster quesadillas and Cuban nachos.
The crowd, a mix of local big boys and business travelers, find rich burgundy leather wing chairs, an authentic brass ceiling, British Axminster carpets and Honduran mahogany walls adorning the three rooms that comprise the bar.
The main area, with its heavy granite bar, is flanked on one entire wall with private cigar lockers in their own temperature-controlled humidors. With over half already taken up, you might want to secure one for yourself soon. The billiard room has a regulation table that gets so much play, Oikemus replaces the felt every three months. The cozy library features a boardroom-style table and can be closed off for private meetings/celebrations.
The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte’s Urban Sip completes our selection, offering guys grand city views, an expansive choice of wine by the glass and a luxe environs perched 15 floors above College Street.
Initially destined to be a concierge area on the hotel’s 15th floor, the stylish lounge was converted to public space that caters to the uptown pre- and post-theater, basketball, symphony and event crowd as well as in-the-know urbanites. “We operate a bit under the radar,” says Jon Farace, executive assistant manager of food and beverage for The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte. “What we wanted to create was a unique wine and scotch experience in an elegant and comfortable setting. We haven’t put a lot of marketing heft behind it, and many folks don’t even know we are here. We are truly a hidden gem.”
For the lucky guys (and gals) who forgo the hotel’s lobby bar and head upstairs, the rewards are ample. Stunning city views greet the visitor with an entire wall of east facing windows overlooking the bustling EpiCentre. Urban Sip’s special Enomatic wine serving systems allows for temperature control and nitrogen gas displacement preserving open bottles up to three weeks. This allows for completely fresh pours of more than 90 wines by the glass. The wine menu features primarily American wines. To encourage tasting, Urban Sip offers flights and both 2.5- and 6-ounce pours. They have a full bar with an extensive scotch and bourbon offering as well.
It is the staff that truly sets the Urban Sip experience apart. “Training is a huge component and how we help our guests enjoy their visit,” says Farace. “Our servers taste each wine and are able to help guests pair them with food or try something that is unique and special for them.”
For Charlotte guys looking for the extraordinary watering hole experience, these four Charlotte lounges are at the top of their game.
From Gallery Bar at The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge
The Ballantyne 1 ounce Pearl Pomegranate Vodka
1 ounce Malibu coconut rum
3 ounces pomegranate juice
1 ounce muddled raspberries
Shake vigorously and serve in a martini glass.
From Urban Sip at The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte
Honey Mint Sour
1 ounce honey
3 mint leaves
1/2 ounce pasteurized egg whites
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1.5 ounces brandy
Orange, cherry and mint sprigs for garnish
In a mixing glass, muddle the honey and mint leaves. Add ice, egg whites, lemon juice, simple syrup and brandy. Shake and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with orange moon, cherry and mint sprig.
From Gallery Restaurant
Seared Sea Scallops with wheat berry, corn and jicama
For the mint seed:
1 tablespoon black mint seed
1 cup water
1 pinch saffron threads
1 sprig fresh mint
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Add all ingredients to a small sauce pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Chill and reserve for later use.
For the wheat berry:
2 tablespoons red wheat berry
2 cups water
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chiffonade parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
Boil the wheat berries until tender, then strain off any additional water and chill completely. Season the wheat berries with lemon, oil and parsley. Reserve chilled for later use.
For the jicama:
3-4 pieces of jicama shaved thin and cut to 1-by-1-inch squares
1 teaspoon basil oil
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Season the jicama and reserve chilled for later use.
For the corn:
1/4 cup sweet yellow corn off the cob
2 tablespoons thyme compound butter
Kosher salt and white pepper to taste
Sauté corn in thyme compound butter and season
2 tablespoons micro mustard greens
2 teaspoons extra virgin white sesame oil
1 tablespoon ground Tom Yum peanut dust
Puffed corn noodles and prawn chips
2 sea scallops
2 tablespoons thyme compound butter
Two large sea scallops are first seared and basted with additional thyme butter. The corn is sautéed to warm it through and seasoned. The wheat berry, mustard greens and poached mint seed are placed on the plate, followed by the scallops, corn and jicama. The garnish tops everything off with the puffed noodle and prawn chip being drizzled with the sesame oil and dusted with the peanut powder.
From Cutter’s Marriott City Center
6 ounces lobster meat, poached and finished in whole butter
2 12-inch flour tortillas
1 cup grated sharp aged cheddar cheese
1/2 cup jack cheese
1/4 cup diced Roma tomato
1/4 cup finely diced green onion
Butter one side of the tortilla and place on a sauté pan or griddle, butter side down. On one half of each tortilla, scatter half the cheddar, jack, tomato and green onion. Cook until golden brown. Warm lobster up with whole butter, being careful not to brown the butter. Add lobster to melted cheese and fold over, cut and serve.
Want to go?
The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge
10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway
Sun.-Thurs.: 11-1 a.m.
Fri.-Sat.: 11-2 a.m.
6705-B Phillips Place Court
Lunch served Mon.-Fri.: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dinner served Mon.-Thurs.: 3-10 p.m.
Fri.: 3-11 p.m.
Sat.: 5-11 p.m.
Sun.: 5-9 p.m.
Marriott City Center Charlotte
100 West Trade St.
Mon.-Sat.: 4 p.m.-1 a.m.
The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte
201 East Trade St.
Tues.-Thurs.: 5-11 p.m.
Fri. and Sat.: 5 p.m.-midnight