Charlotte Gets Social
by Yvonne Ackerman
images courtesy Kyo H. Nam
If you ask any Charlotte native just how far our city has come in recent years in terms of dining and recreation, they’ll tell you without hesitation that Uptown has evolved substantially from what it used to be—that is, a ghost town outside of the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Now, we have a rapidly growing dining scene bolstered by the proliferation of high-rise apartment buildings and hotels.
However, anyone who frequents Uptown after dark knows there’s still a need for something more in order to put us in true competition with larger cities. Charlotteans can rejoice in the New Year, though, as we now have the perfect player to capture our city’s enthusiasm and desire for innovation in our city’s nightlife. Enter: QC Social.
QC Social is, at its essence, an “enthusiast’s lounge,” describes General Manager Morgan Leitert. Every moment of a guest’s experience at QC Social is curated and finely tailored, from the drinks to the culinary selections. At once a bar, lounge, and venue, QC Social draws on collaboration from its creative team, staff, patrons, and our city’s local talent to ensure each visit offers a snapshot of the Queen City at its very best.
This ethos is evident everywhere from the innovative cocktail menu to the vision for the lounge’s place in the community. QC Social will feature local artists and artisans everywhere—from their menu and talented bar staff to their walls and stage area, where they will host artists, musicians, and performers.
“We want to highlight people’s talents and what they can bring to the table,” says Bar Director Jade Finn. The feel of the lounge is, above all, intimate (think: cozy lounge seating), but the vibe can change from night to night, depending on whether QC Social is hosting live music or showcasing a local artist.
Charlotte’s storied history will also take center stage, from the design of the building to the cocktail menu. In the building process, QC Social worked to preserve the history of their space rather than tearing it all down and starting fresh. The team sought out local metalworkers and woodworkers to enhance the original exposed brick and wood in the open and airy lounge.
Celebrating Charlotte’s past is central to QC Social, and this philosophy is realized most fully in their graphically-designed libations and elixirs menu. Going far beyond a simple description of their cocktails, Finn crafted a vision for a menu that is at once an illustrated history of Charlotte and an inspired list of libations whose creativity and style goes well beyond what we have seen from any cocktail menu in the Queen City.
Part cocktail menu and part graphic novel, the list of drinks is sorted into sections, each inspired by a piece of our city’s history. The opening part of the innovative menu describes Charlotte’s founding days and is titled after our city’s most famous (and infamous) descriptor by General Cornwallis of our city as a “hornet’s nest of rebellion.” The cocktails in this section draw from a well-curated spirits list and are inspired by Charlotte’s fiery beginnings, like the Yeoman’s Uprising and the Whistle-Belly Vengeance. Finn describes this section of the menu as drinks you would find “in a tavern in colonial North Carolina, but with a modern twist.”
Although just that amount of originality would be enough to impress, the cocktails are even more than their clever names and adherence to the local theme—they take the art of mixology to a new level.
For example, rather than using only egg whites, the Yeoman’s Uprising incorporates a whole egg, and all of its ingredients are shaken with whiskey barrel-aged wood chips, which imparts a woodsy, smoky flavor profile to the finished product. Cocktailers create their own shrubs, cordials, and barrel-aged spirits for all of the 32 cocktails spread across four menus. The themes of the other menus relate to the ascendancy of Charlotte as a banking empire and celebrate our city’s diversity with globally-inspired cocktails.
Each cocktail is made using an advanced ice system—purified water is used to create hand-cut ice cubes for each drink. QC Social’s attention to each detail, right down to the ice, ensures that each cocktail’s flavor profile is well-balanced. Sometimes, the ice even is used to enhance the flavor of the drink, like in the Uptown Cavalier, which uses a hopped grapefruit bitters-flavored ice cube to add both flavor and chill. Another cocktail, the Mecklenburg Farmer #4, uses hand-shaved ice flavored with sage, cucumber, and Aviation gin.
Beyond cocktails, QC Social serves a variety of wines and beers. The tap beer menu is “regional and rotational” says Leitert, and the bottle menu is also regional, unique, and includes Belgian and Trappist beers. The feel of the menu is “curated and not overwhelming,” says Leitert. The wine selection is focused on small Italian producers and unique varietals. QC Social is passionate about highlighting smaller producers on all of their menus, and there are plans to host tastings to introduce the Charlotte community to their selection of wine and beer.
The shareable plates menu will adhere to the finely curated feel of the beverage menus as well. Food options are small plates with a focus on local and seasonal items, many of them plant-based.
Leitert and Current Culinary Olympic Team member Master Chef Jason Hall developed the menu to incorporate items from local growers and producers. Their charcuterie plate will feature cheeses from their neighbors at Orrman’s Cheese Shop, and their produce will come from local farms.
Look for inventive shareable plates like a polenta and white bean tart, or a beet and apple mille feuille. The menu items will surprise even those already familiar with the North Carolina farm scene, like a vegan cheesecake made with (wait for it) North Carolina passion fruit (when in season). Their signature dessert is also plant-based and pure decadence: a chocolate chestnut tart with shortbread crust. QC Social’s small plates menu has an attention to detail and excellence writ large in the experience of the lounge as a whole.
With their grand opening at the end of January, QC Social is breathing new life into Uptown Charlotte, and its creative and management team believes in the Charlotte community. “We feel strongly about promoting our scene and talent here,” says Finn. He recognizes that many people from larger markets are moving to Charlotte, and they arrive and want that same dining scene to which they are accustomed. People are ready for creative food and drink options, and they don’t want to be limited in their choices. “It’s a good time to be in Charlotte,” says Finn, “and we want to be a part of that movement.”
QC Social is ushering in a new era with their social lounge concept by providing a place for patrons to enjoy great drinks, small plates, and music in a relaxed atmosphere. Gone are the days when Charlotteans have to venture out of town for an experience that is a cut above—QC Social provides something for everyone. Each evening at QC Social, the team will go out of their way to ensure guests have an experience that is at once unique and focused on excellence, and that philosophy is ultimately what will put Charlotte on the map as a destination city.