The city of Charlotte stands out in the state as not only its most populated place, but also one of the most liberal and LGBTQ-friendly. A queer visitor can find places aplenty for food and fun here in Charlotte, but locals’ loyalty lies with unofficial “gayborhoods” like Plaza Midwood, NoDa and SouthEnd.
The Plaza Midwood area centers on the intersection of The Plaza and Central Ave., just two miles from Uptown Charlotte. According to a report released by the Census Bureau in 2016, the 28205 zip code — containing most of Plaza Midwood and NoDa — has the highest number of same-sex households of any other area in both North and South Carolina.
Plaza Midwood veteran Penny Craver, owner of Dish restaurant on Thomas St., has been a loyal resident and business owner in the neighborhood for decades. Having lived nearby since the 1980s, Craver said that opening Dish there in 2002 was a natural choice.
“A lot of the members of the arts and entertainment community…lived in the neighborhood and it just made a lot of sense,” Craver told qnotes. “I think it is known as an LGBTQ hotspot because our people are an integral part of the fabric of the neighborhood, both as business owners and clientele.”
In the 15 years since Dish became a neighborhood cornerstone, the Plaza Midwood area has virtually exploded with popularity and new development. Lively from dawn to dusk, as well as into the evening, the neighborhood offers food, shopping and nightlife in abundance.
“You have quaint and interesting shops, great restaurants at reasonable prices, an interesting mix of people and a healthy nightlife,” Craver said. “Petra’s as well as Snug Harbor have provided outlets for all types of entertainment included those acts geared towards the LGBTQ community.”
Petra’s and Snug Harbor are both homes to the local queer community, offering LGBTQ nights, drag shows and other events. Another nightlife staple is the Common Market on Commonwealth Ave., whose website labels itself “your neighborhood living room.” Relax on its two outdoor patios for craft beer, wine, local music and an absolutely mouth-watering deli.
Every dining fare imaginable lies within Plaza Midwood, from Midwood Smokehouse’s inimitable barbeque to the classic Diamond diner and Zada Jane’s imaginative delicacies. After a meal, stroll through the countless shops offering everything from vintage clothing and antiques to body piercings from SADU (this writer’s personal favorite place to punch a new hole in her face).
Close by lies NoDa, an abbreviation for the neighborhood’s main street, North Davidson. Originally known as the city’s arts district, the area’s focus has shifted from galleries to nightlife. Sink your teeth into the amazing burgers at Jack Beagle’s, stop for a drink at Solstice Tavern or purchase smoking accessories and classic posters at Sunshine Daydreams.
One signature spot in NoDa is Smelly Cat Coffee, a café and ethically-sourced coffee roaster found on 36th St. Named after the iconic song from 1990’s TV classic “Friends,” the café is an eclectic haven for many visitors and regulars. Former Smelly Cat barista Avalon Hannibal says that the neighborhood has always been attractive to those who don’t quite fit the mold.
“It’s a hotspot for artists or the different in general,” Hannibal told qnotes. “Everyone planted in that neighborhood is colorful and enthusiastic about those of a different kind.”
It’s this inclusive quality that most draws LGBTQ people to the neighborhood, Hannibal says. Her own experiences there paint a picture of a community of people who cooperate and support one another.
“I’ve definitely experienced warmer welcomes in NoDa as opposed to most places,” she said. “What I used to enjoy most when I worked there, and basically lived there, was the sense of community. Bartering was a big thing between businesses and everyone is supportive of each other in their endeavors.”
Following NoDa’s namesake street through town, on the other side of Uptown lies another of Charlotte’s best-known gayborhoods. SouthEnd centers on South Blvd. and has long given the local LGBTQ community a home. New developments continuously alter the neighborhood’s surface, but despite the addition of condos and shops, one LGBTQ landmark has remained.
The Bar at 316 stands on Rensselaer Ave. in a two-story house converted into a uniquely comfortable nightlife scene. The house was previously the site of another gay bar, Liaisons, which first opened its doors in 1989.
“The address 316 Rensselaer has long been a historical landmark for our LGBTQ community,” Co-owner and Manager Kolby Brinkley told qnotes. “The South End area has been home to queer nightlife, bars and restaurants dating back several decades.”
Brinkley and his partner, Jeff Edwards, have expanded their commitment to the neighborhood by opening another LGBTQ venue; Boulevard 1820 on South Blvd. is the city’s first drag dining restaurant
“[Boulevard 1820] will have nightly shows and entertainment plus fabulous food,” Brinkley said. “We love giving back to the community and creating ways for everyone to celebrate and be proud of who we are. Boulevard 1820 will further highlight this by having entrées and food named after many legends in our drag community over the years.”
Past, present and future
The years have been kind to Charlotte’s LGBTQ community, as the growth of the city’s gayborhoods attests. For a queer visitor to the Queen City, these neighborhoods offer a fun time — but more than that, they represent our history and progress.
“I think it is important that we hold on to these local neighborhoods as part of our LGBTQ and Drag history in the Queen City,” Brinkley said. “Our history is the reason why we should be proud and we must never forget it.”