Whether you're on layover, vacation, or passing through during a road trip, there are some places you should visit in Charlotte, NC. These are not those places. I have compiled a list of 7 locales that are at the bottom of anyone's bucket list.
Music Venue: The Chop Shop
As far as music goes, this venue has seen some really great local gigs. They have hosted gigs from ska to performance art and break dancers. They know a good draw when they see one. The severe downside, however, is their physical space. When this place first opened it was literally on the other side of the tracks. The air was humid and overheated, and our oasis was this new venue just around the corner. Upon entering, though, we realized that it was better outside risking sunburn. The five or six large ceiling fans were too high to do much air movement. At the time they didn't have air conditioning, and relied on open doors to circulate a sweaty draft.
It can hold approximately 800 patrons in the viewing area alone, not including the bar, back patio, and pool tables. So, it's large. The large 'back yard', as I call it, is home to a local food truck at times. It is also home to uneven dirt, a couple of rickety tables, and a tiny porch that serves as a rather dangerous choke-point to those entering and exiting.
The bathrooms are up to par, and the alcohol variety is on point-- but multiple reviews online have mentioned drink minimums concerning tipping. I've always thought that the employees and owners were fine folks, but there are obviously times that the public doesn't agree with them. Although I know that they are a new venue, I can't forgive their acoustics. With the sound booth in mosh-zone and high metal rafters, this makes for awkward sound mechanics that can sometimes leave you wanting to go choke on the smoker's patio.
My final verdict: Worth the awkwardness if the band is one of your favorites-- but I wouldn't bother just swinging by to check it out.
Restaurant: Buffalo Wild Wings:
Most people would specify certain franchises when it comes to reviewing a chain, but this is an exception to me. Every Wild Wings I have visited has left a terrible taste in my mouth and a raging headache.
For some reason, every time I visit a Wild Wings, there are nearly 20 children under the age of 10, all running around to and from their attending family members. The last time I visited was for the sake of someone wanting to get in on some karaoke, which ended with kids singing along to the only two Disney songs that the DJ had: A Whole New World, and Beauty and Beast.
In a rather tedious chain of events, the servers are typically more interested tending to the children and families and not a woman with friends looking for a stiff drink.
As the service began to pay attention to our table, keeping those whiskey sours coming, a child or five rushed past my table, somehow knocking off an empty glass to the ground.
Had it been greater than 30 degrees on the patio, I would have had a much more enjoyable night. That was not the case.
Final Verdict: If they change things up, I may come for a break-dance event, but concerts will never overcome the awful acoustics.
Midwood Park, while it has a fair amount of space, is a quaint community area, but seems to leave you wanting. There is an adequate field for baseball or kickball, and there is a playground enough for shedding some excess energy in children. Neither area is as well-kept as other parks, I've often seen trashed clothing or garbage scattering the playground.
There is 7x5' square of cement under a makeshift gazebo for performances, along with some square log seating and steps for an audience. I would enjoy seeing more performances here, in hopes of more money being contributed to whomever maintains the park.
There is a community garden nearby, open to use for crops and flowers and local art. This garden is not well-tended, though. A trashed stream suggests that any irrigation was forgotten about while halfhearted construction has formed a muddy path from the garden to the field.
Even though locating this park is a tedious task of trial and error, the winding roads causing much disorientation, I would love to see this park renovated, and I would probably visit it again anyway.
Final Verdict: Work in progress, but still pretty bad.
Transportation: Toss-up between late-night buses or a cab at any time.
While you're rushing about trying to find your way back to the hotel or on to the next bar, there are a multitude of different transportation options. Charlotte has CATS' buses, several local taxi companies, a Light Rail, and various trolleys which travel around downtown.
During the day the CATS' buses are running very regularly, nearly ever ten minutes. You can get from South End to University in two hours. That being said, when the sun goes down, I would suggest avoiding the Transit Center. That means if you can't take a bus from point A to point B without switching buses, then you might want to get a cab. There's something about the sun going down which brings out the huddled, muddled, tired masses on public transportation. Some just stare through you, while others insist on talking to you about some of the oddest topics, like edible panties or the political issues of Kenya.
While there aren't many news-worthy issues on the city bus, they certainly occur. Holding tight to your possessions closely isn't always enough-- sometimes you should just avoid risk entirely. That means participating in the games of Cab companies. I won't pretend to favor any company more than another, but overall the issues are timeliness, friendliness, and confusion. I have, on many trips, run into the driver who insists on starting the meter before I've gotten in the car. At the end of the trip, they insist on taking their time reaching the destination. These trips are almost always during the day, considering that they don't have half as many fares as they do later in the evening for nightlife.
Final verdict: Enjoy buses during the day, rely on cabs at night-- don't bother renting a car for Charlotte, the parking is costly and atrocious.
Hotel: Baymont Inn and Suites
If you've ever experienced the tedium of long layovers or missing a flight, you understand the desperation when looking for a hotel to catch some sleep. If you find yourself in this situation in Charlotte, avoid Baymont Inn like the Bubonic plague, because it may very way be where plague began.
Although the service desk leads you to believe that you should give this odd-smelling resort the benefit of the doubt, you'll soon learn that you should have stayed at the airport.
The elevators lack buttons, lighting, and any ounce of safety. No matter which floor you're given, they all reek of many different kinds of smoke, not merely cigarette. And if you happen upon a room without smoke-stained air, you'll be greeted by the stench of moth-balls and uncleaned linens.
I imagine that the owners believe that, due to desperation of occupants, they can just spray their burlap sheets with Febreeze and call it a day.
I even overheard someone on the shuttle complaining about their blanket being replaced with a table runner. I felt lucky. I only heard bugs were scuttling somewhere nearby.
Final Verdict: Just sleep at the airport.
Educational: NASCAR Hall of Fame:
According to many die-hard fans, of which I am not, the $20 admission fee is not worth the visit. If you happen to have to park, $10 parking doesn't make it any better.
The museum has a well-received race-car simulator and pit-crew role play, but also has vast open, empty spaces, dry historical information, and an overall lack-luster construction of the building. While there are a vast number of interactive displays, I can imagine that two years from now, they can't afford the maintenance required to keep them up and running.
As you stroll through this shiny interior, you will take a pit stop at the Cafe, surely. I never tried the food, but I didn't need to try it to tell that it was a bit dull looking. Sandwiches and sodas. There is a wing place, though. If you like wings.
They offer souvenir photographs of you when you walk in, I suspect that they do it before you've experienced much, or these pictures would be full of disappointed faces.
Final Verdict: Only for die-hard fans.
Mall/Shopping: Concord Mills (excluding Popeyes) :
Of the many malls in NC which I have visited, this one is by far the most hyped, and most disappointing. I recall first visiting when I was in my early teens. The only place my family and I had time to visit was the Great Outdoors satellite store attached. That store wasn't too shabby, interesting items and even a special guest speaker talking about fishing lures I think.
Now that I have visited the entire mall on several occasions, I am certain that it is my least favorite mall. Not only is it many miles away from where I live, on the edge of downtown Charlotte, but it's in an area ruled by boaters, NASCAR fans (neighbors to the race track), but the area is otherwise boring suburban wastes smashed with various commercial storefronts, and this mall.
Over 1.4 Mil square feet of space, and the mall thoroughfare runs in a circle for a little over a mile. Many housewives and employees take time to do their daily exercise by speed-walking 'The Concord Mills Mile". Personally, when I'm in a mall, I try to avoid walking in circles, or visiting every store.
As if the overall travel wasn't enough to deter me, the variety of stores is rather lacking. There are nearly 4 candy stores, 20 women's clothing stores, 30 specialty stores, and each one is more similar to the last. Upon entering through the theater entrance, the first store seen is an obscenely large Forever 21 with at least six entrances and exits. I can only imagine the number of 'misplaced' inventory.
If that doesn't set the tone for the draw of the mall, the adjacent FYE, Coldstone Creamery and AMC Theaters really reminds you that malls are for teenagers, and I don't belong here. I should just get my candy and get out. Of the several candy store options, though, I suggest avoiding the one with a wall of Jelly Belly to choose from. Signage is unclear in some of these stores, and when selling by the pound, they want that candy to come out fast and hard to get more money for their 'bougie' boutique.
Final Verdict: For teenagers.
As you have read about the bottom-rung of Charlotte's social scene, I hope that you find yourself in locations like Pinky's Grill, The World Famous Milestone club, The Neighborhood Theater, Rusan's Sushi, or many of the awesome bars that are popping up in the city. Charlotte, like any other world-class city, has its awful businesses, but there are many more good ones to visit.