11 Ways to Experience the Quirky Side of Charlotte
There are many gems in the Queen City crown.
Sometimes it may seem like Charlotte has an identity crisis. Years ago, it was known as a banking city due to all of the banks that had a headquarters or a large footprint here. Boring. Then it was rebranded as “Charlotte’s Got A Lot,” a slogan that has newcomers and longtime residents wondering what that generic motto even means. Pretty unoriginal, right?!
Some of those banks and industries remain, but Charlotte isn’t as boring or as one-dimensional as these designations may make it seem. There are many gems in the Queen City crown, and some of the most beloved are unique, funky, titillating, rocking, and even a bit morbid. Here are some of Charlotte’s quirkiest gems that need to be added to your “must” list immediately.
Find hidden treasure at a mall for antiques
Sleepy Poet Antique Mall is the place to go for antiques, knickknacks, vinyl, and more. You never know what you'll find and see as you walk the aisles of this antique mall, the selection ranges from mid-century modern decor to dolls that could star in their own horror movie. Plan to set aside an afternoon to peruse the goods and uncover hidden treasure.
See the sequins, feathers, and satin — oh my — at a burlesque show
Founded in 2006, Big Mammas House of Burlesque is the largest, longest-running, and award-winning burlesque and variety Show in the Southeast. This classic vaudeville-style burlesque show is full of music, laughs, sass, and beautiful custom-made costumes that add a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun to the evening. It’s next on stage at the Visulite Theater on July 10.
Sing your heart out at a basement dive
In the movies, walking down the steps to a dark basement could mean certain death, but if you’re in Charlotte it can mean fun and questionable musical choices. Jeff's Bucket Shop is the city’s quintessential karaoke dive bar. Guests sing, rap, and shriek the night away while downing drinks and imagining they’re the next winner of American Idol.
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Rock out where grit and history converge
The Milestone has been a staple for bands ranging from rock, punk, new wave, and metal ever since it opened in 1969. Known for live music, cheap drinks, and wild parties, the club featured many acts before they were household names (R.E.M., Nirvana, and Melissa Etheridge, to name a few). A night at The Milestone is guaranteed to be a night that you'll talk about for years to come.
Enjoy ping-pong and people watching
Smokey Joe’s Cafe is a dose of country kitsch meets local neighborhood dive bar. Here you’ll see patrons ranging from construction workers to bankers and everyone in between enjoying live music and cold drinks. The true gem of Smokey Joe's, though, is the outside patio with fire pits, TVs, and a classic beach vibe, including a sandy area for ping-pong. It’s the perfect place to watch a game or to simply watch the other patrons.
See internationally renowned art in the Charlotte suburbs
In the middle of an unassuming office park in the ’burbs, there is a reflecting pool containing a giant sculpture by renowned Czech sculptor David Černý. Metalmorphosis is a large mirrored head consisting of nearly 40 steel pieces grouped into seven segments that independently rotate 360 degrees, 24/7. Saying it’s random would be an understatement, but it is definitely a sight to see, especially when its mouth spits water into the pool.
Have a drink at a former tractor supplier
Self-billed as a “21st Century Honky-Tonk,” Puckett's Farm Equipment (which was founded almost 90 years ago) has been operating as a bar and hosting live country, bluegrass, and rock music ever since the farm equipment business folded. Though it may no longer sell tractors, it is known for music and the infamous tip jar made from a prosthetic leg.
Learn some showbiz history in a cemetery
Two Charlotte cemeteries mark the final resting place for residents that are responsible for two fascinating stories in the city's history. In the Forest Lawn West Cemetery, a simple stone marks the grave of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, known as the Hilton Sisters. Stars of the vaudeville circuit, the Hilton Sisters starred in movies and were the inspiration for shows, movies, and even a Broadway play produced about their life. The Hilton Sisters made Charlotte their home after being abandoned by their manager and even worked at a local grocery store until they died in 1969.
Over in Elmwood Cemetery, a grave marker with an elephant on it labels the last resting place of John King, an elephant trainer, who came to Charlotte in 1880 with the circus and his elephants, including a large male named Chief. It's not known what triggered Chief, one fateful day, he crushed his trainer and then proceeded to run through what was then Uptown before being captured. King was buried in Elmwood, and his headstone, with an elephant carved on it, states "Killed by the elephant Chief."
Buy a statement piece to bring home
Always unique and never boring is the best way to describe Charlotte boutique Boris + Natasha. The shop, which opened in 1999, recently moved to a smaller location in Plaza Hills, but it still sells items that are both classic and quirky; shoppers will find the perfect outfit for going out or for staying in.
View the exhibitions at an artist residency
Goodyear Arts is an artist-led, nonprofit residency and multi-arts events program based on this truth: Artists need space, time, money, and community. Their work is always unique and thought-provoking — a recent show called Doomsday Clock, inspired by the sequel of the graphic novel Watchmen, focused on the countdown to when humankind will eventually cause a global catastrophe. A visit here is a nice reminder that Charlotte is more than just banks and bankers.
Step inside the little bar that could
The Thirsty Beaver is Charlotte's version of the little house that wouldn't sell or bow down to corporate buyers in the movie Up. This orange cinder block gem located in Plaza Midwood wouldn’t sell its small space of land that was right in the middle of a proposed five-story apartment complex. After numerous failed attempts to buy the Beaver, the developers built the complex around it. It now proudly stands in the middle of a horseshoe-shaped apartment complex, the ultimate middle finger to progress.