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From EpiCentre to G&G, the best new hot spots

It's been an eventful first year as Paid to Party columnist. I survived the nonstop week of parties during the CIAA Tournament, learned that I shouldn't participate in bar crawls that start before dark and managed to keep up (barely) with additions to the city's nightlife scene. Here are my favorite new places to party:

1. EpiCentre, 210 E. Trade St. The massive entertainment complex uptown quickly became a hot spot this year with the opening of its first drinking establishment, Whisky River. Having Dale Jr. as a partner doesn't hurt either. Suite, Howl at the Moon and BlackFinn Saloon opened soon after, and the lines started forming around the block. Uptown needed more nightlife options and the EpiCentre's venues helped shake things up a bit. Next up open: Strike City, an upscale bowling alley/sports bar/club (

2. The Thirsty Beaver Saloon, 1225 Central Ave. I'll admit I had doubts that this dive bar in a concrete slab of a building would succeed. Maybe it was the bars on the window? But a year later, the Beaver is going strong, thanks to its laid-back atmosphere, cheap drinks and welcoming owners, brothers Brian and Mark Wilson. Take a seat at the bar, and I promise you'll make one new friend.

3. The Garden & Gun Club, N.C. Music Factory, 820 Hamilton St.; Eleven years in the making, the N.C. Music Factory took a big step forward this summer with the opening of G&G, a massive house music club tucked away in Fourth Ward. The club is notable in that its focus is just on the music – a rare find, especially Uptown. You won't hear any Lil' Wayne or Britney Spears remixes here. Keep an eye on the Music Factory in 2009. If all goes to plan, we'll have another entertainment complex Uptown with a music venue that seats thousands.