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Oct 21, 2014

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Tryon Street
April, 2000

By Bobby Bush

New Orleans has Bourbon Street and the Garden District. San Diego has the zoo and Sea World. San Antonio has the Riverwalk. Charlotte has, er, NASCAR. That’s why conventions in North Carolina’s largest city are rare, there’s not much to do.

Not being the type to sit in my hotel room and sulk, we set out on foot, north on Tryon Street, for beer and dinner at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery. This circa 1997 establishment, situated right in the heart of the financial district on the main floor of the NationsBank Building, is consistently busy. As expected, the bar was full on this late Wednesday afternoon, so we sat at a bar table to watch the crowd shuffle in and out.

Though the brewpub carries the Rock Bottom moniker, this facility is now fully owned by the Big River/Gordon Biersch folks from Chattanooga. The beers are all Big River recipes. Even the coasters, placed on the table to soak up moisture from our cool pint glasses, read Big River. But who’s worried about titles. Rock Bottom’s beers are highly quaffable. From lilting South Flyer Light Lager and punching Prospector’s Pilsner to the GABF award-winning Sweet Magnolia Brown and pungently hoppy Stingin’ Brits India Pale Ale, the residual effect is pleasant. A fairly bitter Amber was the seasonal offering and on cask were two winners. The cask Brown, topped with a 1” head of creamy foam, was extremely smooth and bitter-free. Chocolate tones appeared as it warmed. Iron Horse Stout on cask started warmer. Beneath its brown head was a smooth chocolate milkshake with a powerful but short, harsh finish. The contrast was strangely appealing. Rock Bottom’s food selection is nice. I highly recommend the Buffalo Fajitas, but everything else appeared equally delicious.

Time to move on into the night, we walked across Tryon to the opposite corner and entered Atlantic Beer & Ice. This 20 beer taproom, founded by owners of Dilworth Brewing, Charlotte’s first but now defunct brewpub, is very beer friendly. Along side the typical line-up of imports, domestics and micros were three forgotten names. Under contract with nearby Johnson Beer Company, Atlantic Beer is reviving old Dilworth favorites Albemarle Ale, Latta Light and Joe’s Porter. That alone made the stop worth while. In addition to the horseshoe-shaped downstairs bar and separate dining area, the upstairs level has four pool tables, one in a small private room, and permits cigar smoking.

Just a block or so south on Tryon is Ri-Ra. This Irish Pub was wall to wall on the main floor. From a small stage toward the rear of this long narrow bar, two musicians struggled against the mass of human noise. Irish whiskey and an obvious Guinness influence prevailed as we chose from a small but acceptable menu of Harp, Bass, Fosters, Pilsner Urquel, Guinness, Caffrey’s Irish Ale and Woodpecker Cider. Well-poured black-and-tans went down easily as we talked to other conventioneers who had found Ri-Ra the same way we did, while strolling down the street.

Tryon Street day and nightlife is not all about beer (shoot). There are restaurants, like Monticello, with fine Italian food, The Capital Grille and Bijoux Brasserie Bar, all within a six block stretch. Discovery Place offers hands on education for children of all ages. Spirit Square and Blumenthal Performing Arts Center bring in top-notch entertainment. From behind their overloaded carts, street vendors push hot-dogs and soft drinks. Skyscrapping banks and financial buildings cast long shadows. A streetside preacher holds regular services on the plaza beside Bank of America’s Corporate Center. Speaking loudly of sin and redemption, his annoyingly loud diatribe overloads a cheesy public address system. Gospel music from hell blares when he takes a break.

Yes, a jaunt down Tryon Street can be quite entertaining.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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