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Plenty to do in uptown Charlotte, day or night

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.

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