The appeal of east Charlotte, in three words: Conveniently not uptown.
You can get to the central city quickly enough: Despite ongoing construction, the Independence/Albemarle corridor is usually a breeze compared to I-77 and I-85. And depending on where you live in the ill-defined east Charlotte pie wedge, you can live as close to uptown as Plaza-Midwood or as far afield as the edges of Matthews and Mint Hill.
It is not the same as living in a dinky, yard-less skyscraper flat just blocks from where you work. I-277 works as an effective firewall for those who want space between life and work. And east Charlotte is close enough – and different enough – to pull it off.
The older, close-in part of Central Avenue is well-stocked with bars, nightclubs and boutiques; this trendy entertainment area is less congested and less formal or formatted than uptown. Long-established neighborhoods are quietly tucked behind thoroughfares. Huge areas east of Eastway were developed in the 1960s through the ’80s, ranch and split-levels often on quarter-acre lots.
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When development and retailing moved farther out and Independence Boulevard began major reconstruction, business corridors declined. But the transportation re-do has also made nearby neighborhoods more attractive to uptown commuters, yard-starved young families and transplants.
Neighborhood parks, nature preserves and community gardens are worked into the mix. McAlpine Creek Greenway was the first such public trail in this part of the Piedmont (1978); besides the 4-mile paved/gravel trail, there’s a nature trail (otter, beaver and mink reside in the greenway) and a 5K cross-country course.
East Charlotte newcomers find more than a now-mature tree canopy.
Unlike uptown, east Charlotte is less prone to bulldoze its past. The oldest residence in Mecklenburg County, the Hezekiah Alexander House (1774), is off Shamrock Drive. Elvis played Bojangles’ Coliseum when it was the Charlotte Coliseum and sported the largest unsupported steel dome in the world.
Arthur Smith Studio, on Monroe Road near North Sharon Amity Road, was where James Brown recorded “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” (It’s just a few doors down from the Wax Museum, a great place to buy vintage LPs and 45s.)
East Charlotte is known for an incredibly varied international cultural flair: Only in east Charlotte can you find restaurants specializing in Eastern European cuisine (try Intermezzo or Euro Grill, both on Central, for Serbian and Croatian fare, respectively; for Polish, try Taste of Europe, on Monroe Road, just over the border in Matthews).
Central Avenue from the Plaza to Albemarle Road is recognized for its amazing mix of ethnic eateries – Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Mexican, Salvadorian, Honduran, African and more. Every fall, east Charlotte’s Taste of the World event shuttles hundreds of curious and hungry people from place to place.
Tom Hanchett, historian at the Museum of the New South, periodically leads “Munching Tours” of these places to show how they relate to Charlotte’s aspirations of being a “world class city.” Just check the menus.