Long-time bartender Bob Peters has watched Charlotte, North Carolina’s cocktail scene blossom over the course of his 20 years behind the bar. “Charlotte has always had a really strong drinking scene,” says Peters, who now runs the beverage program at The Punch Room at the Ritz-Carlton, where he’s been mixing for the past three years. “It’s been nice to see Charlotte go from a place with loads of great neighborhood bars to a more rich, diverse culture of drinking. Now we have great neighborhood bars, sports bars, and fantastic cocktail-focused bars.” Here’s his idea of a perfect day in his hometown.
To start the day off right, Peters heads to the NoDa neighborhood for Southern food and brunch cocktails at Haberdish. “Chicken and waffles is one of my favorite things in the world, and Haberdish has a ton of different cocktails that pair well with that dish,” Peters says. The restaurant has a well-stocked bar and top-notch list of rotating cocktails, he adds. “One of the best ways to ease into brunch is some form of mimosa. Going in too hard too fast, especially if you don’t have anything in your stomach, can mean a short day! Low alcohol content is good place to start.”
The NoDa neighborhood is a great place to explore, with beer shops, breweries and a handful of trendy restaurants to choose from, but Peters’ favorite place for beer is a 15-minute drive down the road to Lenny Boy Brewing Co., named after the owner’s dog Lenny. “Not only do they do organic beers and incredible sours, they are one of the only breweries in the southeast that do all organic beer. They also make kombucha—that’s how they started,” Peters says. In addition to the spacious digs and welcoming staff, the large taproom is dog-friendly and accommodating for families. “I have a daughter, so we get to have a beer and my daughter has kombucha. She doesn’t drink sodas, so this is a fun thing for her because she gets the same experience of trying a few different things and picking out what she likes.”
“Thomas Street Tavern is a place I worked for about eight years. It’s in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, where I live, and it has a great big patio,” says Peters of the next stop on his ideal crawl. With a bar-food-centric menu (think chicken wings, burgers, nachos), this is a great place for a snack and a cheap beer. There are also plenty of options for entertainment. “They’ve got a great jukebox and a pool table, foosball and ping pong tables outside with netting so the balls don’t fly into the parking lot. And there’s stadium seating so you can watch people play,” Peters says. “It’s one of the greatest neighborhood bars I’ve ever been to.” The drinks include local beer and simple highballs, and the bar has a good tequila selection, which is “one of my favorite things when I’m looking to get more serious about drinking,” Peters says.
Around the corner is one of Peters’ favorite cocktails spots, Soul Gastro Lounge. Anchoring the corner of Pecan and Central for the past decade, the dimly lit bar serves globally inspired food and cocktails. “They have incredible cocktails and a tapas-style menu—everything from sushi to pork belly watermelon tacos. Somehow it all works together and makes you very happy,” he says. They’re also known for their music and nightly DJ sets. On the cocktail side, bar manager Kel Minton is a good friend of Peters, who worked at the bar himself on and off for about five years. “They change the menu seasonally, so every time I go I have something different.”
If you’re not paying attention to your surroundings, you might easily miss the entrance to Dot Dot Dot, one of Peters’ other favorite spots for cocktails. “It’s in the back of a shopping center that’s been around for forever, and it looks like a loading dock, but inside it’s that classic Prohibition-era styling—a really beautiful place.” he says. “They have great small plates, especially the fried chicken, which my wife has threatened me over for the last piece,” he jokes. The cocktail menu rotates seasonally, featuring classics and house specials. “The cocktails are incredible. The truffled egg white New York Sour is one of their signature cocktails.”
For a nightcap, there’s one spot Peters frequents: Dogwood Southern Table & Bar. “It’s a little more modern than some of the places I’ve mentioned, but they focus on Southern fare as well,” he says. Named after North Carolina’s state flower, the bar and restaurant sources most ingredients locally. Bar manager Brian Lorusso, who Peters describes as “a soft-spoken, super-intelligent guy” has a knack for finding the best cocktails to pair with the food. “Dogwood is known for their desserts, and the owner’s mother makes the cakes and the pies. Bryan pair a pound cake with a cocktail and it turns the whole experience on its head. You have these modern cocktails paired with mom’s desserts.”
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