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  • Writer's pictureHannah Ghafary

A Weekend in the Queen City

This past weekend I had the opportunity to explore the bustling city of Charlotte, North Carolina. My guy and I planned an impromptu getaway to the Queen City, which I learned earned its name forKing George III's wife, Queen Charlotte, for whom the colony was originally named. We had a great weekend filled with unexpected adventures, new experiences, and great memories together. There's so many nooks and crannies of this city filled with art and adventures to get your creative gears turning. I’m here to give you a rundown of the highlights of the trip that you may want to add to your to-do list if you ever find yourself in Charlotte.

After arriving late Friday night, we woke up early Saturday morning to a Charlotte skyline speckled with fog, which wove its way through the towering skyscrapers towards us. I took in the view from the balcony over a cup of coffee before we headed out for the day. Although we stayed in the heart of Charlotte, we explored mostly near the outskirts of the city in Plaza-Midwood to conquer some new territory on our travel radar. Plaza-Midwood is an edgy, up-and-coming neighborhood about a mile northeast of uptown Charlotte.

Mural by @GardenofJourney

The Plaza-Midwood district actually has quite an interesting history, flourishing from its beginning and well through the Great Depression before its decline in the 1950s. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that Plaza Midwood experienced an urban Renaissance that transformed the once rundown quarter into a cluster of funky, artsy dwellings interspersed throughout a unique urban landscape.

LGBTQ pride mural on the side of the White Rabbit. Plaza-Midwood, North Carolina.

Today, Plaza Midwood is a chic district laced together by Central Avenue. The community is sprinkled with intimate music venues, tattoo parlors, trendy eateries, thrift shops, dive bars, and an expanding nightlife scene. As we explored the streets of Plaza Midwood, I immediately found myself growing a liking to this artistic, metropolitan side of Charlotte which I had not seen before. Around every corner there was more street art to see, with vibrant murals filling the sides of the old brick buildings and the names of aspiring artists and musicians plastered on every surface.

We peeked into the windows of eclectic and unusual shops. We sifted through the dusty inventory of a few old thrift stores, searching unsuccessfully for hidden treasures. Then, we stumbled upon the first place on our sight-seeing list: The Light Factory.

The Light Factory is a quaint gallery tucked right off the main road of Plaza Midwood. Free for anyone to explore, the gallery offers a variety of events and exhibitions for both photo and film throughout the year. Attached to the back of the gallery is a series of classrooms and studios where the Light Factory offers courses in photography and a workspace to its members. It even has a dark room where students and members can develop film.

We had the opportunity to explore the Light Factory’s annual member showcase, which was an expose composed of works from all students and members. With no official theme for the showcase, the works were all diverse and unique. It was very interesting to see the many different ways artists chose to expose their film or produce their prints. Photos were rendered in every way imaginable, from dark room exposures to prints on metal and other less common substrates. There was also a visible range in skill set amongst the works. A gallery member explained to us that the Light Factory has a diverse member base, with some individuals who have been in the photo and film industry for decades and others who are just beginning to explore their interests in photography.

After sufficiently pondering and excogitating the artworks, we left the Light Factory to continue meandering along Central Avenue. As we strolled along, we stumbled upon a rustic, little restaurant called Coaltrane’s Char Grill. Coaltrane’s is the kind of joint where you can smell savory aromas and the smoke of the grill as you walk by on the sidewalk. The restaurant is a unique fusion of South American and traditional southern cooking with an upscale culinary touch. The menu is rather simple in spirit; this place is all about their chicken. Focused on merging delicious with healthy, Coaltrane’s makes everything on their menu in-house, from scratch and offers a variety of vegetarian options as well.

Bueno Bowl at Coaltrane's Char Grill. Plaza-Midwood, North Carolina.

The wandering scents were too good to resist, and we quickly headed inside and settled in at a table for two. After perusing the menu thoroughly, the Bueno Bowl was an easy choice, and I was not disappointed. (I am an avid lover of Chipotle and KAVA, so I guess it’s no wonder that the bowls on the menu caught my eye.) My bowl was made up of a generous helping of savory maple chipotle pulled chicken and black beans served over a blend of quinoa and wild rice, all topped with queso fresco, guacamole, and a jalapeno pico with a little bit of kick. Needless to say, the food was absolutely delicious. Coaltrane’s also impressed me with their great service, and the price was very reasonable for the quality and portion. One more thing… If you ever find yourself in Plaza Midwood at Coaltrane’s Char Grill, take it from me: the street corn casserole is a must-have.

When we left Coaltrane’s, we were, as they like to say, “fat and happy”. Stuffed from our delicious lunch, we pushed onwards in our journey to continue exploring. I spotted a great, hole-in-the-wall music shop called Lunchbox Records. Now, my man loves me a lot, but, let me tell you, he loves music more. Thrilled at the prospect of adding to his record collection, he lead the way into a sea of vinyl and hipsters (joking).

I have to admit, Lunchbox Records had a quite impressive repertoire of music in their store. Most of the record stores I have ever been to are filled with old albums and vintage vinyl, or records from obscure Indie bands and Emo Punk groups I’ve never heard of. Of course, you can always find a limited selection of the more mainstream stuff at Urban Outfitters for a pretty penny. But Lunchbox Records had all the old stuff, the new stuff and everything in-between. There were boxes filled with the Beach Boys and Patsy Cline right underneath shelves stocked with brand new copies of Astroworld by Travis Scott and Mac Miller albums. They even had several Kanye West albums, which are not always too easy to come across on vinyl. We left with a Frank Ocean album, Blonde, which I already know will be a great listen.

Soul Gastrolounge. Plaza-Midwood, North Carolina.

Our amazing weekend wrapped up with a late night laugh at a comedy show. We bought two tickets to see Gary Gulman at the Comedy Zone on Saturday night. The Comedy Zone is a nationally renowned comedy club in uptown Charlotte owned by Comedy Central. The comedy club’s stage has hosted many big names of the industry like Bob Saget, Maz Jobrani and Sinbad. It was a spacious yet intimate venue warmed with the laughs of a boisterous crowd. They offered food and alcoholic beverages, and the service was pretty good considering the staff has to work in a dark room full of tables and help customers through the noise of a man hollering jokes through a microphone. The show last about two hours, and we laughed consistently throughout. For only twenty dollars per ticket, The Comedy Zone offers quality cheap entertainment that’s far more interesting than your cliché dinner and a movie.

The Nook at Plaza Midwood.

If you ever find yourself in Charlotte, I would recommend exploring any of these places. If you decide to go to the Light Factory, I advise checking their schedule ahead of time so you can consider if there is a specific exhibit or artist you may want to see. Also, be aware that it is a small gallery and thus a rather short excursion, so you may want to plan to go on a day when you will also be visiting other sights in the area. Plaza Midwood is such a quirky and unique community, and there was so much more of it that we didn’t get to see that is worth exploring.

Until the next adventure,

Hannah with Posh + Painterly

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