At an hour when many bars and restaurants are busy closing up shop, Dream Nightclub lights up as a beacon to nocturnal wanderers from across the city. Custom-designed graffiti murals, pulsing LED lights, and energetic dance beats greet patrons as soon as they enter the after-dark dancehall and performance venue. The 5,000-square-foot club features ample lounge seating for bottle service or dramatically lit staring contests, as well as two bars and a full-service kitchen that churns out plates laden with chicken wings and french fries as late as 2:30 a.m. on most nights. A QSC sound system floods the dance floor with Latin, techno, or hip-hop tunes depending on the day, although the club also hosts occasional DJ sets and regular jazz-band performances.
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Certified Angus Beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market.
This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded from one restaurant in 2007 to 220 today, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.
Executive chef and owner Jim Alexander has created an upscale dining experience worthy of a world-class New York or London eatery, with a menu of contemporary French cuisine that remains accessible to all diners. Educated at New York’s Culinary Institute of America, Alexander has been widely recognized within the restaurant industry, including earning a stint on the 1996 gold-medal-winning U.S. Culinary Olympic Team. His mastery of the kitchen shines not only in the well-flavored meals, but also in Zebra’s characteristic, artistic presentation. Entrees include the flavorful tournedo of beef tenderloin, served with prosciutto roasted asparagus, rosemary-roasted fingerling potatoes, and a kiss of sauce ivoire ($28), as well as the popular Zebra Signature—a French take on surf and turf with beef tenderloin, lobster, shrimp, and scallops served over a bed of angel-hair pasta and tarragon white wine ($44). Endings come together sweetly with French flair in desserts such as house-made ice cream or the hot soufflé of the day.
A new player on Charlotte's vibrant culinary scene, El Camino greets diners with a menu of fresh, scratch-made Tex-Mex dishes that are as innovative as they are family-friendly. Meals often start with the kitchen's signature guacamole, which contains traditional ingredients—hand-smashed avocados, fresh tomatoes, and cilantro—but with a creative addition of roasted peppers. Warm flour tortillas play triple duty; they envelop spinach and cheese to create quesadillas, hold unusual fixings, such as fried chicken or beef brisket, inside half a dozen taco varieties, and wrap themselves around nine kinds of overstuffed burritos. The El Camino kitchen prepares north-of-the-border specialties as well, including Cowboy Burgers topped with pepper jack cheese and a West Texas chili made with five varieties of peppers.
The Wine Shop, as the name cheekily suggests, specializes in providing numerous wines in an easygoing, friendly shopping arena. With a densely populated stock of over 3,000 domestic and imported wines, and nearly 1,000 of these bottles priced under $12, there's no shortage of affordable potables to pick from. The smartcard you receive with today's deal actually operates on three machines contained within the store. Not altogether different from old-timey soda fountains, these non-vengeful examples of automata read the amount of credit on your smartcard and allow you to select a glass of wine accordingly. With three machines on hand, each is stocked with a variety of wines curated directly from the stock on hand, containing eight reds and four whites at all times, at varying price ranges. Make your selection and receive a glass of up to 4 ounces from the polished machinery, which keeps wine fresh between pours. Depending on the wines you choose, you can use your card over more than one visit, or use the entire value in one card-swiping go.
The eclectic organizers at Red Frog Events take a lighthearted and fun-focused approach to building their adventurous events, such as obstacle courses, scavenger hunts, and themed bar crawls, to connect city dwellers with local neighborhoods. Their creative, interactive offerings include regularly occurring competitions such as the Warrior Dash, Great Urban Race, and Beach Dash, the proceeds from which usually benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Like the idea of having a pet rock, their events have grown more popular annually, and frequently spring up in cities across the United States.
On the open-air rooftop at Pavilion at EpiCentre, event guests take in views of the Charlotte skyline and the stars as they mill about. More than 25,000 square feet of seating and dancing space accommodates large groups of revelers or conferences of 25,000 sentient floor tiles. With its convertible’s roof, the Penthouse Bar and Lounge can be opened or closed based on the event, and an expansive sound stage often plays host to live bands and emcees.