Place to hear jazz
Place for karaoke
Live music venue
M5 is a restaurant and bar, with the emphasis on “and.” The two elements are so well separated you can be inside one and not know the other exists. Since opening last summer, M5 has been the hottest place in SouthPark. The city's best dressed and best known flock here for cocktails and to lounge. During warm months, the outdoor patio is reminiscent of Miami. On Friday and Saturday nights, the place gets wall to wall. Get there early.
4310 Sharon Rd., 704-909-5500
Martini bar where a man won't feel emasculated
We're accustomed to martini bars that are frill-filled lounges where groups of ladies gather. But Rustic Martini looks like it sounds. Brown stone and dark wood give it a manly feel, but don't worry, fellas, the clientele is still predominantly women. There's a patio in the front and back, and on warm nights open doors create a free-flowing feel. Excellent martinis range from $12 to $14, but look for half-price specials.
616 N. Tryon St., 704-371-6874
Live music venue
Located in the heart of NoDa, the Neighborhood Theatre is the pulse of the arts district's soul. It's common to find live shows here as many as five nights a week, ranging from alt rock and country to hip-hop and reggae. With a capacity of just under 1,000, it's where up-and-coming acts come to build a fan base and established artists perform here when they crave an intimate setting. Recent acts have included Robert Earl Keen, George Clinton, and Sara Bareilles. The sound is great, the seating is varied, and the bar now serves liquor.
511 E. 36th St., 704-358-9298
Place for after-dinner drinks
Blue Restaurant and Bar
Blue opened in 2004 as one of the nicest and most popular restaurants downtown. It still is, but when the night grows long, the bar leads the way. Whether you eat here or not, this is a great place for drinks (a great wine list and martini specials) before heading to your next spot—or home. Located on the corner of College and Fifth streets, it's centrally located for nightlife foot traffic. You'll find people of all ages conversing while enjoying the live jazz that's offered Wednesday through Saturday nights.
Hearst Tower, 214 N. Tryon St., 704-927-2583
The Pita Pit
This place is open until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, making it the best (and one of the only) options after an unnecessarily long night. The Philly Steak and Chicken Crave pitas hit the spot. Get Tzatziki sauce on everything, though the relatively sober will find little need to “double the meat.” Delivery is until 11 p.m. six nights a week, but ordering over the phone can be exhausting. Luckily, this can also be accomplished at pitapituptown.com.
214 N. Tryon St., 704-333-5856
Sabrette at Trade and Tryon
When you see someone rolling down Tryon Street with mustard all over his party shirt and a crumpled ball of tin foil in his hand, chances are he made a stop under the blue and yellow Sabrette umbrella at the western corner of Trade and Tryon streets. Messy toppings are available for the NYC-style dirty-water dogs, and the seasoned veterans running the show don’t let the village idiots slow things down.
This hidden gem lets you stuff your drunken face away from the crowd—even off in the shadows if necessary—and without the wait, if you arrive before the bars close. Follow the sound of the generator to the white Winnebago in the gravel lot across from Cans. Big, greasy slices of pizza, hot dogs, and steak-and-cheese or sausage-and-pepper subs can be had on the cheap (and your credit card) courtesy of the man from Naples. Fight the hangover early with a $1 bottle of water. Open Thursday through Saturday nights until 3 a.m.
Corner of Fifth and Graham streets
The title fits. Nikko has moved to the ground floor of “The Pink Building,” also known as The Arlington, and the vast, consciously modish interior fits right in with the new digs. A neon green wall illuminates the sushi bar, while designer couches, plasmas, and striped booths work hard for that Manhattan vibe. When you hear the tambourine, it's time for sake bombs. Super Nikko has become the pre-dinner drink hot spot from Thursday through Saturday nights, when DJs spin house mixes and reinforcement bartenders arrive to help with the three-deep crowd.
1300 South Blvd., 704-370-0100
It starts and ends with the $2 pints of Guinness—all day, every day. Then there's the patio, which has its own bar in warm weather. The upstairs has bar games galore and a huge TV surrounded by couches. Loud local bands take the makeshift stage near the upstairs bar from Thursday—when all draft beer is $2—through Saturday nights, while Irish folk dancing rules on Sundays. T-shirt and jeans are acceptable, if not encouraged, attire.
1933 South Blvd., 704-343-2727
Addition to the nightlife scene
At least once a year a new bar, nightclub, or restaurant opens and immediately becomes the place to see and be seen. But it's not often the trifecta is accomplished inside one building. That's why there's no place like HOM (pronounced “Home”). Nightlife veterans James Funderburk and Andre Araiz along with a few other partners opened HOM last fall inside the former space of Menage Ultra Lounge. And this isn't your typical one-club-closes-and-another-opens-in-its-space deal. Several changes were made to the building's three levels to create HOM. The first level, an extremely posh and candle-lit lounge, is called Liv; the second level is Feast, a café serving up crepes till 4 a.m.; and the third level is Play, downtown's trendiest dance club.
116 W. Fifth St., 704-375-3737