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