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7 reasons you should dash up to Winston-Salem for a weekend

Around here, “Twin City” doesn’t refer to Minneapolis/St. Paul. (Anyway, those would be referred to as Twin Cities. Plural.) It refers to Winston-Salem, a city formed when the towns of Winston and Salem merged in 1913; a city that loves history, art and tobacco.

The city, just 90 minutes north of Charlotte, is also called “The Dash.” That’s in honor of the punctuation uniting Winston and Salem. Notice that both are cigarette brands? Tobacco helped build the Twin City. Then again, Winston gave us the iconic Krispy Kreme doughnut. So let’s overlook the cigarette thing.

When Charlotteans think of a weekend getaway, Asheville and Charleston likely come to mind. But here’s why you should consider dashing up I-40.

(1) History lessons.

Uptown Charlotte looks like it was first settled in 1972. You may wish city leaders of yore hadn’t imploded our history when you see Winston’s historic downtown.

Charlotte, you might say, has “had work done.” Repeatedly. Winston decided to age gracefully, knowing smile lines show character.

(2) It’s caszh.

If uptown Charlotte’s nightlife style is “dress to impress,” Winston’s is “come as you are.” It’s not quite as Birkenstock-y as Asheville, but it’s not as high heel-y as uptown Charlotte.

(3) Chic lodging.

One of the most creative hotel brands – Kimpton – chose Winston for its first foray into North Carolina. (Get ready! It’s coming to Charlotte in 2017.) Kimptons are known for turning old buildings into chic, colorful (and pet-friendly!) destinations. In Winston, an Art Deco gem – the former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company headquarters – has been given a hip makeover.

Rendering-King Guest Room

With friendly – but not ritzy (or Ritz-y) – service and a sense of humor, the new Kimpton — called The Cardinal, after the state bird — has touches like a “Good Luck” sticker on the toilet paper. So much cheekier than the rosette often tied at the end of the TP roll in hotels that are a little too precious.

Arrive by 5 p.m. for the wine and hors d’oeuvres happy hour. (It’s free.) So are the hotel’s loaner bikes that allow you to explore downtown Winston without hoofing it.

You may not want to ever leave the hotel, though. An adult rec room offers a bowling alley, basketball, foosball, table tennis, pool table, poker tables and an adult-sized twisty slide.

Cardinal Hotel Rec Room-21
Cardinal Hotel Rec Room-128

(4) The arts crowd.

Just like SCAD makes moss-draped Savannah a little edgy, the UNC School of the Arts lends Winston a hipster vibe. Mary-Louise Parker, Jada Pinkett Smith and Danny McBride are alums. It’s got cred. And a sense of humor; the Fighting Pickle is the school’s mascot.

– See living history at Old Salem; it’s closer than Williamsburg.

– For something decidedly more modern, check out the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art – SECCA (say: SEEK-uh), for short. SECCA doesn’t shy away from controversial art. Shortly after I graduated from Wake Forest (Go, Deacs!), the late Republican N.C. Sen. Jesse Helms led the fight to defund the National Endowment for the Arts after SECCA exhibited an Andres Serrano photograph provocatively titled “Piss Christ.” Two decades on, the work is still controversial.

– Reynolda House, near Wake Forest’s campus, was once home to the Reynolds family of RJR Tobacco fame. Now a museum of American art, it offers treasures by Georgia O’Keeffe, Mary Cassatt, Grant Wood and more. Ansel Adams: Eloquent Light is on view through July 17.

(5) True indie film.

a/perture cinema (a couple of blocks from the Cardinal Hotel) is the locally owned arthouse theater indie film fans wish Charlotte had. (I love the Manor. But since Regal bought the Myers Park theater, it’s gone a little mainstream.)

WS – aperture cinema

Even the concession stand is filled with local brands. Besides popcorn and craft beer (and PBR in a can), there’s Wolfies Frozen Custard, Chad’s Carolina Corn and candy from the Mast General Store.

In addition to current arthouse fare (“A Bigger Splash,” “The Man Who Knew Infinity”), catch modern classics like Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night.” (It’s playing June 4 at 9:30 a.m.)

(6) Yum.

The hottest new restaurant in town is, not surprisingly, affiliated with the Kimpton. The French-inspired Katharine Brasserie offers a beautiful raw bar. But you can happily make a meal of apps with stand-outs like seared sea scallops with black truffle and pea risotto, baked escargots and pommes frites.

A mile or so beyond downtown, down a dead-end street, is the most unexpected gastronomic pleasure. The Porch Kitchen & Cantina (840 Mill Works St.) is a little hidden, but worth seeking out for insanely delish Tex-Mex.

WS – The Porch cocktails

It’s open for lunch and dinner, but brunch when the make-your-own Bloody Mary bar is front and center. (I loaded mine with bacon, lime, Tabasco, horseradish, pickled okra and spicy barbecue chips. I’m loco.)

“The Breakfast of Champions” is just the thing for those who overindulged the night before. I’m not saying I did, but the deep-fried tater tots lining the bottom of a mixing bowl (!) smothered in queso, scrambled eggs and bacon, guac and sour cream tasted like salvation.

WS – The Porch Breakfast of Champions

(7) The cure for what ales you.

Foothills Brewing’s Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout was born in the town that’s home to the state’s first microbrewery – Single Brother’s House in Old Salem. And there are plenty more breweries serving up cold ones.

Next time you need a quick getaway, go up the road – and back in time – to a city that honors its past while still pushing boundaries.

Photos: Mark Moschell/Flickr (feature photo); Courtesy of Maria Hayworth; Page Leggett

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