Food & Drink

The 14 Most Essential Bars in Charlotte

Published On 05/13/2015 Published On 05/13/2015
Courtesy of 5Church
Courtesy of The Punch Room
Courtesy of Heist Brewery
Courtesy of VBGB
Courtesy of 5Church
Soul Gastrolounge
Sarah Crosland/Thrillist
Courtesy of Cowbell Burger & Whiskey Bar
Growler's Pourhouse
Sarah Crosland/Thrillist
Courtesy of Duckworth’s Grill & Bar
Flickr/James Willamor
Courtesy of Ri Ra Irish Pub
Sarah Crosland/Thrillist
Whiskey Warehouse
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1. The Punch Room 201 E Trade St, Charlotte, NC 28202 (Uptown)

When a bar is on the 15th floor of The Ritz-Carlton and features gold accents, plush leather seating, and skyline views, you expect it to be good. When that spot also includes Bob Peters, an enthusiastic bartender whose creations make him more magician than mixologist, it's safe to expect greatness. Sample the daily punch, but bring your sense of adventure for one of the inventive elixirs like Carbonated Aviation, an effervescent twist on the classic, or Strange Brew made with smoked bourbon, hazelnut milk, and a coffee ice cube.

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2. Heist Brewery 2909 N Davidson St, Ste 200, Charlotte, NC 28205 (Noda)

Housed in an old cotton mill, this triple threat is part brewery, part cocktail bar, and part restaurant -- and the whole is greater than the sum of those parts. Despite the ample seating, this is the kind of place you’re likely to have to squeeze into the bar, or wait for a table on the weekends, especially during its next-level Sunday brunch. The small batch beers change frequently and are especially tasty when mixed in one of the beer cocktails like The Black Fog made with Heist stout, rye whiskey, and blackberry puree.

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3. VBGB Beer Hall And Garden 920 Hamilton St, Charlotte, NC 28206 (Uptown)

If you’re going to see a concert at the adjacent NC Music Factory, this laid back German-style beer hall is mandatory for pre or post-show drinks. Inside you’ll find a U-shaped frost bar and snacks (order the jumbo pretzel with house-made beer cheese, trust us), but its sprawling beer garden, where white string lights hang over picnic tables, is the biggest draw. The beer selection changes daily and brews are offered in 12oz, 18 oz, and (Munich-style large) 34oz sizes, as well as pitchers, all perfect for sampling from the 30-tap selection.

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4. 5Church 127 N Tryon St, Suite 8, Charlotte, NC 28202 (Uptown)

Feather chandeliers, leather banquettes, and a black ceiling set the scene at this sleek, loft-style space in the center of Uptown, where signature dishes such as a lamb burger, ahi tuna poke, and citrus- & herb-roasted whole fish are served alongside fancy libations. Guests typically mingle here earlier in the evenings for a drink or two before continuing on to another nearby nightlife destinations. Specialty cocktails like the Viper (Patron, orange liqueur, cucumber water, and cayenne pepper) and the Rosemary Gin Fizz (gin, liquid egg whites, and rosemary simple syrup) are sophisticated enough to keep up with the crowd.

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5. Soul Gastrolounge 1500 1/2 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205 (Plaza Midwood)

For regulars at Soul, Mondays are always a treat -- the evening's soundtrack is crafted purely of R&B and soul on vinyl, hand selected from the restaurant owner's very own collection. The small-plate lounge is notorious for tasty, inventive house cocktails and upscale snacks like Asian glazed pork belly tacos to match. The no reservations bar is small and fills quickly, so get here early if you're looking to eat, while there's plenty of standing room for drinkers. The constantly rotating cocktail menu features (potent) libations like a Celery Spritz made with gin, Cointreau, house-made celery-lemon seltzer, and olive oil, and each night of the week, Soul hosts a different DJ, so patrons at this dimly-lit craft-cocktail-haven never run out of reasons to keep coming back.

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6. Twenty-Two 1500 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205 (Plaza Midwood)

Don’t mistake this for a random art gallery that happens to have a bar in the back, or a bar that has a few pieces of art on its walls. This edgy spot with floor-to-ceiling windows and walls lined with frequently rotating exhibits, is equal parts serious gallery and craft beer & wine bar. Most nights it's standing room only, making it perfect for perusing the latest artist’s work. Just remember, even after a glass of wine, it's best not to lie about being an art connoisseur (you'll probably have trouble just saying "connoisseur").

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7. Cowbell Burger & Whiskey Bar 201 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202 (Uptown)

Charlotte is a burger-obsessed town, but Cowbell’s rock n’ roll energy and small batch whiskies make this spot stand out in the beef-eating crowd. Flat-screen TVs play music videos, and neon lights illuminate the bar area where sleek leather stools offer a perfect place to post up post work. For a bracing but sweet start to your evening, sip Roosevelt’s Fireside Scotch: an orange and cinnamon infused Glenlivet 12 Year served over a sphere of ice.

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8. Growlers Pourhouse 3120 N Davidson St, Charlotte, NC 28205 (Noda)

What it lacks in size, this corner bar makes up for in character. Order a local beer (many of the offerings are from breweries just down the street like Birdsong Brewing or NoDa Brewing Co.) and dig into the complimentary popcorn, or order a round of oysters on the half shell. And while it’s bustling on weekends, its flat screen TVs and laid-back setting make it a favorite spot to catch the game.

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9. Selwyn Avenue Pub Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, NC 28209 (Myers Park)

With its polo shirts and pastels, the crowd here can at times feel a little like an adult fraternity party -- especially on summer weekends. But the tree-shaded deck and flowing drink specials at this neighborhood spot have made it a longtime favorite for locals looking for a place to mingle over cold drinks. Much of the bar is outside, so go when the weather is good, but anticipate booze-filled crowds.

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10. Duckworths Grill & Taphouse 4435 Park Rd, Charlotte, NC 28209 (Southpark)

There are several locations of this casual beer-centric bar and restaurant, but its spot at the end corner of nightlife-hub Montford Drive continues to be a favorite for those in search of a hard-to-find craft pint. The beer list is hefty with 60 on tap and even more by the bottle. The menu features ratings and taste guides, so even beer novices can find something to suit. Plus, with $3 pint nights, an airy interior, and a sidewalk-side patio, it’s the perfect spot to settle in for ample sampling.

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11. Common Market 2007 Commonwealth Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205 (South End)

This aptly named eatery is an eclectic common ground for locals -- a coffee shop, an all-day dining room, a bar, and a general store, all under the same roof. Offering cuisine for all hours, the market boasts a full service coffee station, a sandwich counter, and a lengthy menu for beer & wine. Browse through trinkets, T-shirts, and vinyl collections while you sip one of the bar's 13 brews on tap, or stop by for some live music on the weekends.

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12. Rí Rá Irish Pub 208 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202 (Uptown)

This inviting pub may be part of a chain, but it’s been a local go-to since opening in Charlotte in 1997. Built from salvaged parts of an 1800s Irish pub, the warmly lit two-story bar fills fast with the after-work crowd most evenings. Its upstairs outdoor patio and frequent live music make it a draw for Uptown revelers on weekend nights. And the recent addition of the sophisticated second-story Whiskey Room, featuring classic whiskey punches served in silver punch bowls, is only making it a hotter spot for imbibing.

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13. Thirsty Beaver Saloon 1225 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28204 (Plaza Midwood)

Set in a boxy, orange cinderblock building next to the railroad tracks, this small bar with the giant beaver in a cowboy hat painted on its wall doesn’t look like much from the outside. But “The Beaver,” as locals affectionately call it, is a country bar with more character than most. Owned by two brothers, it’s filled with honky-tonk trinkets and colorful patrons who come for the free jukebox, live music, and cheap drinks. On Sunday afternoons you see crowds gathering -- often arriving by motorcycle -- for live bands and relaxing on the small front deck.

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14. Whiskey Warehouse 1221 The Plaza, Charlotte, NC 28205 (Plaza Midwood)

With a rooftop bar, a whiskey-forward cocktail program, and an endless roster of quality local beers, Whiskey Warehouse leaves little to be desired. The skyline view from the expansive string-light-clad rooftop earns this two-story bar/restaurant some serious street cred in the neighborhood’s fast-growing nightlife scene. The ground floor is charmingly rustic, filled with leather couches, tables built of reclaimed wood, and vintage chandeliers -- and the staff clears space for both a live DJ and a dance floor on Fridays, to accommodate the sizable weekend crowds. The cuisine consists mainly of typical bar food -- soft pretzels, nachos, wings -- but drinking is the The Warehouse's primary draw. There are eight separate whiskey flights available, each carefully curated by the trained bartenders, along with several beers on tap, and a list of creative house cocktails, made to order.