A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Any mixologist worth their salt knows that when it comes to craft cocktails, it’s all about balance. Add a little of this and a little of that until it’s just

Madison County Championship Rodeo

Any mixologist worth their salt knows that when it comes to craft cocktails, it’s all about balance. Add a little of this and a little of that until it’s just

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Any mixologist worth their salt knows that when it comes to craft cocktails, it’s all about balance. Add a little of this and a little of that until it’s just

High Spirits in the Queen City

Any mixologist worth their salt knows that when it comes to craft cocktails, it’s all about balance. Add a little of this and a little of that until it’s just right — a perfect blend that brings the flavors into focus. That’s a good rule of thumb for exploring places, too: Start with the classics, mix in a splash of the unexpected, and a city’s colorful personality can shine.

With that rule as our guide, we’ve paired a sampling of Charlotte fun with craft cocktails that heighten the experience. Try them all, or pick what suits your fancy. Cheers!



 

Sip a craft cocktail made with North Carolina spirits at The Bar at Supperland in Plaza Midwood. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Best foot forward

The Queen City is known for its carefully curated boutiques you won’t find anywhere else. Head to Moxie Mercantile for eclectic gifts, jewelry, and leather goods. Score a cute date night look at Vestique in Dilworth. Or head to Capitol and Poole Shop for high-end designers and luxury brands — what owner Laura Vinroot Poole describes as “a global point of view for the Southern sensibility.”

For a culinary experience that matches your impeccable style, end your day at Supperland. In two refurbished church buildings, design is just as central as dessert. Jamie Brown, co-owner and designer with husband Jeff Tonidandel, explains that they wanted to highlight the space’s original contrasts. “Rough versus elegant, austere versus whimsical,” Brown says. “It’s become a place like nowhere else.”

At The Bar at Supperland, ask for the Intergalactic Love Affair, a vodka-based cocktail with lemon oleo, super carbonated soda and, among other things, a rose-shaped strawberry-orange ice cube.

 

Cheer on the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Quarterback scramble & bourbon bramble

Ready to test your loyalty? Catch a Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium and get caught up in the enthusiasm of the city’s rabid fans, known for creating a memorable game-day experience. Tailgate like a local, settle into a pre-game stadium bar, or find your spot amid the 74,000 seats: However you approach the game, you’ll love the thrill of cheering on Carolina’s team while tucked between skyscrapers.

Next is the Crunkleton, because, as beverage director Ryan Hart says, “Nothing pairs better with a game than great food and killer booze.” Order the Bourbon Bramble, an American twist on a classic British sipper: 15 High Proof Bourbon, orange blossom, marasca cherry paste, and fresh-squeezed lemon in a julep cup. “It embodies the spirit of our bar by paying homage to the past while keeping it simple and delicious,” Hart says.

 

Stroll through Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in nearby Belmont.  photograph by JILLLANG/ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES PLUS

Flora fit for a Queen City

Escape the hustle of Uptown for nearby Belmont’s Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, 110 strollable acres of all-seasons beauty. With tropical plants, orchids, and sparkling fountains, the gardens feel fit for a queen — or a Queen City.

For a royally-outfitted evening, head to the Ivey’s Hotel and Sophia’s Lounge, named for botany-loving Queen Sophia Charlotte. At Sophia’s, you’ll find botanical-forward cocktails, such as the Empress — think gin and tonic, with a floral twist of elderflower. Like the botanical gardens, Sophia’s is an immersive experience; every detail in the intimate space invites you to linger and luxuriate.

 

Admire amazing art at the Mint Museum Uptown. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Beauty in the details

Tucked into the city center, the Mint Museum Uptown epitomizes beauty, from its inspiring architecture to its well-curated and cutting-edge exhibitions. The collections offer a mix of old and new works from around the globe.

Novelty House in the Fifth Street District continues the feast for your eyes: “It’s a picture-perfect concept in the heart of downtown Charlotte,” says owner Ian S. Jones. Their fifth-floor rooftop bar offers expansive views and an Instagram-worthy flower wall.

Jones’s suggestion: Pair your day of art appreciation with the elegant Purple Sky, a gin-based cocktail with lavender, lemon, and an orchid flower garnish.

 

Carowinds Boogie Board Racer Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Fun-loving fling

If you’d rather be on a coaster than a couch, Carowinds is your ticket to fun, with a good dose of adrenaline. Soak up the sun at Carolina Harbor waterpark or feel the whoosh of the front row on Fury 325, voted the top steel coaster in the world.

Then balance your adrenaline rush with some island time at The Bird’s Nest. The rooftop tiki bar at The Royal Tot has an “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” vibe complete with tropic-inspired cocktails like The Happiest Hour. Under that umbrella garnish, coconut-infused rum, hibiscus tea, and sparkling wine blends to transport you to your favorite beach.

 

Raise your glass with a skyline view at Merchant & Trade in Uptown. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Big city vibe

To experience Charlotte’s big-city bustle, head over to the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Here you can catch a Broadway Lights Series at Belk Theater; hear the Charlotte Symphony at Knight Theater; or take in an off-beat play at the intimate Stage Door space. Nothing says “big city” like a full theater, dimming lights, and the anticipation of being entertained.

Take your evening to the next level — literally — at Merchant & Trade, a sleek, modern rooftop lounge 19 floors above the city. Pair the stunning views with a Royal Pine, which has Bombay Sapphire gin and rosemary, the perfect sip for a night under the stars.

 

Take a cocktail class or bitters sampling at The Cocktailery in South End. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Choose your own adventure

To experience Charlotte distilled, look no further than The Rail Trail. The linear park connecting 10 neighborhoods is a bastion of art galleries, bars, shops, and cafes (not to mention excellent people watching) along the Blue Line. Drop into the Golden Carrot for unique jewelry, play a game of giant chess at Atherton Mills, snap a selfie by David Furman’s Exclamation Point, or have a craft beer at local staple Triple C Brewing.

Keep the adventure going with a private, hands-on cocktail class or bitters sampling at The Cocktailery. Owner Tamu Curtis describes her cocktail supply and beverage lifestyle shop as a wide-open approach to mixed drinks. “We encourage visitors to discover a new ingredient that excites their individual palate,” she says.

The Cocktailery’s classes are part geeky deep-dive, part social experience. But at the end of the night, you’ll have three different cocktails and lots of memories.

This story was published on May 16, 2022

Susanna Klingenberg

Susanna Branyon Klingenberg is a writer and editor based in Raleigh.