Charlotte is not the state of North Carolina’s capital, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was. Known as the Queen City (for Queen Charlotte, who it was named after), the southeastern hub’s skyline rises with ever-taller towers each year—a transformation aligned with an explosive growth in population. Real gems worthy of the buzz around Charlotte, however, are far lower to the ground, tucked into the vibrant neighborhoods surrounding the office-laden Uptown center. As the city changes, time will tell if Charlotte can maintain its current hidden-gem reputation in the face of ever-increasing population growth and rising rents. But in the meantime, the following are spots that Charlotteans regularly enjoy.
The Bar at Supperland
It doesn’t take much adventuring around Charlotte to realize that, aside from stellar barbecue and certain architectural styles, the city doesn’t offer the stereotypical “southern charm” that many visitors might expect to find. Over the years, it’s increasingly traded those roots prevalent in other cities around the Carolinas, like Charleston and Greenville, for more cosmopolitan fare. One establishment, however, is anchored in the classic charm: The Bar at Supperland. Attached to the restaurant that provides its namesake, this utterly gorgeous establishment will settle guests right into paisley prints. Come for craft cocktails, beautiful design, and fantastic Southern comfort cooking from Supperland.
The Giddy Goat Coffee Roasters
The Giddy Goat is a coffeehouse and roastery nestled in the leafy Charlotte neighborhood of Plaza Midwood, known for its retro look and feel. The bright, spacious shop has a vast array of seating for groups or the ever-present remote worker. Its coffee is considered by many city residents to be some of the best in town. Customers can even watch the staff execute the roasting process, which happens directly on premises. That level of dedication to authenticity probably registers little surprise that the coffee is great, but what many may not expect is the fantastic food, which includes empanadas and breakfast burritos.
Grand Bohemian Hotel, Autograph Collection
While other cities might outdo Charlotte with their sheer volume of inspired lodgings, the Queen City still has much to offer. Uptown’s Grand Bohemian Charlotte, Autograph Collection is an Argentina-inspired property filled with vibrant colors and unique furniture and treatments. Its MICO Restaurant serves up Argentinian fare and the rooftop Buho Bar offers panoramic views paired with tapas and craft cocktails. Part of the Kessler Collection hotel group, which those from the southeast will find familiar, it all comes together to create something spectacular.
OMJ Clothing is a men’s bespoke clothier tucked into a lane of Charlotte’s historic South End. When coupled with the brand’s extensive personalization options, OMJ’s apparel portfolio seems limitless. What makes their offerings even more special are the assorted accessories, wares and wellness products that dot the store’s shelves, ensuring each visitor finds something unique. There’s plenty of locally themed items here, too.
Paper Skyscraper is situated on the Dilworth neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, East Boulevard. The colorful outpost’s name hints at roots in stationery; while that’s true, there’s plenty more available here. Delve deeper into the store’s many nooks and crannies, and you’re treated to a wealth of treats and wares from small businesses and brands across the Carolinas. This is Paper Skyscraper’s true spectacle and what likely keeps the place in a near-constant state of frequenting by Charlotteans.
Optimist Hall provides more than a dozen answers to the question, “Where do we go when we don’t know what we want?” From great meals that span cuisines and cultures to excellent and unexpected drinks, it has something for everybody. From Neapolitan pizza at Ava to delicious ramen at Bao and Broth, to Indian street fare from Botiwalla and authentic Cuban delights at Suarez Bakery, this former gingham mill has attracted hospitality tenants from all over. Many storefronts in the hall also have brick and mortar locations around the city, but visiting Optimist is an easy way to visit them all if you only have a day or two to explore.
A laidback local neighborhood haunt that pairs good drinks and food with great games, Ed’s Tavern is a Charlotte classic. Located on the edge of the historic Dilworth neighborhood, Ed’s delivers elevated bar meals without sacrificing that neighborhood feel. It’s a hotspot for weekend brunch or a relaxed meal and a game of pool.
The Mint Museum Uptown
Charlotte’s Uptown district is home to a growing number of towering corporate headquarters, but thankfully it continues to grow as a hub for art, culture, nightlife and culinary gems. An essential stop on its leafy avenues is the Mint Museum Uptown, a beautiful brutalist structure housing several floors of unique exhibits, the Mariposa restaurant and a rooftop event venue. Inside, there’s something for everyone, including many intriguing pieces by North Carolina artists complemented by a wide array of art from all over the world. Wednesday evenings are free for all visitors.
Resident Culture Brewing
With locations in both Plaza Midwood and South End, Resident Culture is a local favorite. The brewery offers up tons of interesting and innovative beers, craft cocktails and carefully considered menus. The South End location has an in-house coffee bar and taco counter, while Plaza Midwood sees regular visits from various food trucks known around the city. South End also has great music and dancing for the late-night crowd.
Hero image by Matthew Spadaro