Housed inside a mansion, Cajun Queen smacks of New Orleans, its home-like confines decked out in bayou-themed decor. Vibrant purple paint, Mardi Gras–masks affixed to the walls, and live jazz music compete for attention against a colorful wall mural depicting three gators on a picnic.
The kitchen staff foregoes gator, however, and instead cooks up gulf creatures such as shrimp, crawfish, oysters, and scallops, each served in various New Orleans–fashions: splayed over rice in an étouffée, sautéed creole-style with tomatoes and onions, or blown straight out of a clarinet. Encrusted with a mélange of spices, farm-raised catfish and new york strip steaks sizzle on the grill until blackened, and then join a mound of garlic mashed potatoes on the eatery’s wooden dining tables set up on either inside or on the spacious back patio. Come the weekend, Sunday brunch pairs eggs benedict and andouille sausage with Kahlua-laced coffee.
As Tommy, one of Howl at the Moon’s piano players, explains on the club’s website, “Every night…we try and throw a party, regardless of whether it’s a Tuesday night or a Saturday night.” The bar’s trademark dueling pianos serve as the epicenter of these nightly celebrations; patrons submit their favorite songs on slips of paper for the pianists and backing musicians to recreate. If the website’s playlist is any indication, the bands can handle popular songs from all genres and eras, from Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” to Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” The performances are spirited: colorful lights splash upon a stage where servers, guests, and chairs that have somehow developed mobility all dance along to the music.
Fueling the celebration is the bar’s indulgent selection of drinks. Servers stand over patrons to plunge jello injectors into their mouths, and revelers grab colorful straws to help drain 86-ounce booze buckets filled with sangria or other fruity libations. Pomegranate liqueur and honey-infused whiskey sweeten specialty cocktails, and local beers add depth to coolers stocked with Stella Artois and Dos Equis.
Savory small plates, including mac ?n? cheese and sliders made with locally farmed and organic Angus beef, pave the way to Crave Dessert Bar's main attraction?decadent desserts. The bar's sweet treats, which earned it Charlotte's best location for To Die For Desserts in 2012 by Elevate Lifestyle Magazine, include carrot and walnut cupcakes and chocolate fondue with seasonal fruits and marshmallows. Chocolate-swirled cheesecake rests atop a fudge-brown crust, and the red velvet cake, cream-cheese frosting, and toasted pecans of the Scarlet Letter layer cake pay homage to the only foods Nathaniel Hawthorne ate while writing The Scarlett Letter.
To complement the tapas and desserts? flavors, diners can puff on hookahs in more than 16 fruit varieties, including peach and watermelon. Bartenders craft more than 40 signature cocktails, which make the bar?s photographs and canvases by local artists more and more appealing as evenings progress. The loft's hardwood floors, exposed brick, and comfy chairs and couches accommodate guests until 2 a.m. Tuesday?Sunday, and after 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, the bar transforms into a 21+ hot spot.
Standing before a mural of the nighttime Charlotte skyline with "The Comedy Zone" imposed over a massive moon, nationally touring comics present finely honed humor. Within the NC Music Factory's sprawling entertainment complex, The Comedy Zone keeps punch lines rolling with its regularly stuffed calendar of established and up-and-coming jokesters. From table seats, visitors can wet their whistles with a bounty of domestic and imported beers, bottles of wine, four-straw margaritas, and savory cocktails and feast upon a menu of classic pub fare. Monthly open-mic nights test rookies' mettle, and armchair comics can sign up for classes where industry professionals ramp up joke-writing skills, obliterate stage fright, and share the secret noise that makes hecklers cry.
Charlotte Comedy Theater's founder, Keli Semelsberger, studied with Amy Poehler and other luminaries of laughter in Chicago before bringing the exhilaration of living in the moment to Charlotte stages. Voted 2012's best improv- or sketch-comedy group by readers of Charlotte magazine, the company's cadre of off-the-cuff funny people delights audiences with interactive short-form shows. Drawing from games and exercises similar to those used on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, R-rated evenings teem with uproarious, impromptu scenes, where the cast takes suggestions from seat-bound participants and tries to ignore the bartender's ceaseless suggestions of "whoopee cushion." Charlotte Comedy Theater doubles as a school where aspiring improvisers learn the tricks of the trade during six-week improv classes, and where beginners can wire their brains to think off the cuff in monthly Improv for Everyone workshops. Charlotte Comedy Theater’s customizable team-building programs encourage small groups to trust their instincts and one another throughout fun, interactive exercises, which sometimes incorporate zip-line and rafting excursions.