Monday, September 24, 2007

Bringing some soul to Charlotte

As condos sprout uptown and plush new restaurants and spots open, Charlotte’s artsy, creative folks are talking about the soul of this city.

It’s a conversation that’s been going on for years over drinks at the bar or dinner at restaurants. Every now and then, that conversation gets public attention. Creative Loafing once wrote a cover story about the topic. I’ve written about it. A committee of young professionals did a study to see if we were cool, which is pretty darn close to asking if the city has a soul.

A night on the town here is often fun, but too often forgettable.

When is the last time you went to a performance, nightclub, or bar and had such a good experience that you talked about it for weeks? And I’m not talking about remembering the night because you were so hung over the next day that you’ll never drink again. I mean a genuinely good time with good people and good friends, an experience you couldn’t re-create even if you tried (and when you did try, it wasn’t the same).

For me ... let's see, off the top of my head: Celia Cruz at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center… Marques Wyatt at now-closed Tonic…Oktoberfest in NoDa…The Culinary Arts Experience two years ago…Chuck Brown at the uptown Hilton for CIAA two years ago.

A few Charlotte nightlife trendsetters have turned those complaints about soulless Charlotte into action.
(Read my Sept. 5 blog, "Info on club formerly known as Menage.") The Forum’s Andy Kastanas and local DJ James Fedele are working on a lounge/restaurant called Soul in Plaza-Midwood. (Read my Sept. 24 blog, "Soul is coming to Plaza-Midwood.")

The titles of each project give you an idea of what they’re about. Creating spaces that feed the spirit as well as the body. Both projects are supposed to be places for people who want to their nightlife to consist of more than getting sloppy drunk on cheap beer and Jager bombs, or dancing to the same songs they hear every hour on the radio.

The concepts will add variety to Charlotte’s nightlife. With the exception of live-music venues, our nightlife revolves so much around bad music and cheap drinks, or pricey martinis and pretentiousness.

So tell me, when was the last time you had an unforgettable experience partying in Charlotte? And do you think Charlotte has soul? Why or why not? Post your replies below.

Soul is coming to Plaza-Midwood

On Saturday night, I drove down 22nd street, wondering where the heck I was going. I was trying to find a party, but had never been in this area. Then I saw cars parked along the street and two police officers standing in the near the intersection of Brevard and directing people where to park and where to party.

Inside Center of the Earth Studio, basically a warehouse, people of all hues, ages, professions and sexuality grooved to the delicious beats of DJ Neil Aline, of New York. Art pieces lay scattered about, there were a few sofas near the entrance, and disco balls hung from ceiling beams. Bartenders mixed drinks among circular saws and other tools at a makeshift bar. There was one bathroom. To get to the smoking section you walked through some plastic sheeting to the outside of the building.

It was grimy and oh so lovely.

The party was called Foundation, and it was a launch party for Soul, a new concept by The Forum’s Andy Kastanas and local DJ James Fedele. Soul will be in Plaza-Midwood at the corner of Pecan and Central above Lotus. It’s where the Perch improv comedy club lived years ago. They plan to open in the next few months.

To call Soul a lounge wouldn’t do it justice. To call it a restaurant wouldn’t be fair either. It will be both. Most partiers recognize Kastanas for helping build this city’s house music and nightlife scenes in the ’90s, but he also has a culinary degree and loves to cook. He and Fedele plan to put as much emphasis on the food as the music and the vibe of Soul.

The menu will be tapas with cuisine from all of over the world. The music will be soulful house. Oh, and the cocktails recipes will be equally emphasized. There won’t be any full size entrees nor will there be a dance floor.

If you want to see the layout, go to Common Market or Central Records and see if they have any flyers from Saturday’s party. The design of the building is on the back of the flyer. Along with adding a kitchen to the building, Kastanas and Fedele will add a balcony along the Pecan Avenue side of the building. There will be seating around the DJ booth as well as lounge-style seats throughout.

The goal is for friends to go, grab a seat, nibble all night and hear good music. If you hung at Tonic and Tutto Mondo back in the early years or go to Prevue on Wednesday nights for Pop Life, then Soul will be your kind of spot.

At Saturday’s Foundation party, I ran into people I haven’t seen clubbing in ages and people I only see at certain types of parties. The true house heads were on the dance floor. Aline made me want to find his music and burn it. He spun the typical house tracks such as “Lonely People” as well as funked up cuts by Stevie Wonder.

Kastanas and Fedele want to bring the soul back to Charlotte. Kastanas bluntly says he is opening a club for he and his friends. Usually, that isn’t the smartest business plan, but I hope it works this time.

Oktoberfest sold out

Charlotte Oktoberfest is sold out.

I wondered if the move to Metrolina Expo would dampen enthusiasm for the popular event, but obviously it didn't. The last ticket was purchased at 10:46 p.m. Sunday, according to organizers.

If you didn't buy a ticket and want to go to Saturday's event, be sure to read Friday's E&T. We will be giving away three tickets.