Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Martini lounge braves uptown's no-man's land

Carlos Combs hopes couches, free parking and an upscale atmosphere will separate Charlotte’s newest martini lounge from the competition.

Combs’ Rustic Martini officially opened last week on North Tryon near Ninth Street. It joins a slew of martini bars in Center City, from Loft 1523 to Tutto Mondo to Therapy. Combs says his spot is the only true lounge –- with sofas, a humidor, a stonework bar and all premium well liquors -– on Tryon. Martinis cost $12.

Combs, a Fairfax, Va., native, picked the spot two years ago, but couldn’t close the deal because he was sent to Kuwait for the Coast Guard.

After finishing his active-duty commitment, Combs bought a former bank and turned it into Rustic. The spot has two patios. The one out front is good for people-watching (although there aren’t a lot of people on that end of Tryon). The patio out back overlooks the parking lot, so there isn’t much to see -- but it’s a good place to go if you want to be incognito.

Combs plans to offer VIP members free birthday parties. His staff will hire a limo for the birthday boy or girl, send out invitations and create a photo album from the party. Combs said he will also offer complimentary cab fare of up to one mile for members.

He’s going to need those types of amenities and more to be successful. North Tryon past Seventh Street doesn’t receive the same amount of foot traffic as businesses between the Square and Seventh Street. New Orleans restaurant GW Finns is slated to open next month. It’s where the Palomino restaurant was, so that should help generate more traffic on that end of the street.

Combs isn’t relying on Charlotte’s martini crowd. He’s building a steady clientele by renting the space to wedding parties for engagement parties and pre-wedding receptions.