Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bars and clubs give it the ol' CIAA try

You know it’s CIAA time when an EpiCentre club like Whisky River – which often hosts concerts by country artists including Luke Bryan and Craig Morgan – rolls out the red carpet for rapper Nelly.

It’s an, um, interesting transformation. I mean, if you think about it, it’d kind of be like the Excelsior (a private black club on Beatties Ford Road) hosting a NASCAR-themed party the night before the Coca-Cola 600.

Now, I’m not trying to pick on Whisky River or the EpiCentre. Plenty of uptown clubs that don’t specifically court black patrons throughout the year change their tune during the CIAA. And it obviously makes good business sense for bars and clubs situated close to the arena to do so.

However … if any bar or club that’s not typically very diverse throws a CIAA party, it should realize the invitation could ring false: Hey, I know this is normally the last place you’d want to hang out, but come on by this week!

(Incidentally, there are fans and revelers out there who not only resent the invitation, but who also have in the past said bars and clubs hold CIAA partiers to a different standard when it comes to security, dress codes, cover charges, etc.)

Why bring this all up? Not because I’m a pot-stirrer. Not because I have a solution for what seems to be a perennial hot-button issue. I bring this all up to remind you that Whisky River and other not-typically-black clubs, they really are trying with the rap shows, and with the other CIAA-themed parties.

If you get there and you feel like they're not trying hard enough, make sure you and your friends take your business somewhere else.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

This kids' stuff is serious business

What’s the toughest ticket in Charlotte this weekend?

If you think it’s Black Eyed Peas, you’re wrong: Their concert at Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday still has plenty of open seats.

Meanwhile, none are available for two of the four weekend performances of “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” by Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s Tarradiddle Players. And tickets for William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” which CTC bows tonight … well, if you don’t have some already, you’re out of luck. Its entire eight-show run is sold out.

Part of the reason tickets to “As You Like It” were gobbled up is because only 100 were allotted per show; it’s being done in “promenade” style, so the audience will move around ImaginOn’s open spaces with the actors.

But Children’s Theatre – which has been staging shows since 2005 at ImaginOn – definitely is on a hot streak despite the sagging economy.

Last fall, its season opener, “Beauty and the Beast,” sold out 18 of 21 shows at ImaginOn’s 570-seat McColl Family Theatre. In December, “If You Take a Mouse to the Movies” had eight sellouts over 14 performances; Children’s Theatre audience services director Rob Odum says it “was probably the biggest holiday show – in terms of audience numbers – in our history.”

Performances of those and other popular shows have been added on the fly to accommodate demand, Odum says, but they try not to overdo it. “We don’t want to feel like we’re growing so fast too that we sacrifice the quality of the work.”

Looking ahead, certain performances of CTC shows in March (“Treasure Island”), April (“Good Night Moon”), and May (“The Commedia King Arthur”) have already sold out.

So here’s a tip: If you have kids who enjoy theater, buy now, because StubHub can’t help you on this one.

Monday, February 15, 2010

New York vibe gives Butter flavor

On paper, it might look like a recipe for failure: Two New York nightclub owners decide to try their luck in Charlotte – by bringing us “a slice of New York nightlife.” After all, New York mentalities and perspectives sometimes don’t play well around here.

However, the owners of the posh new Butter Charlotte on the northern edge of uptown aren’t your average Manhattan nightclub owners. And one of them – 35-year-old Scott Sartiano – is guided by a Carolinas upbringing, having attended high schools in Columbia, Greenville (N.C.) and Hendersonville; his parents live in Kannapolis.

The 8,300-square-foot, bi-level space has hosted private events every weekend since its soft opening last month, and Friday night, Butter opens its oversized, faux cow skin-adorned doors to the masses. It’s another feather in the cap for the N.C. Music Factory, which also boasts concert venue The Uptown Amphitheatre, live-music club The Fillmore Charlotte, and Halo nightclub.

To give you a sense of how big a deal the clubs owned by Sartiano and business partner Richie Akiva in NYC are, become a regular reader of the New York Post online and you’ll eventually see their names on Page Six.

The Yankees celebrated their 2009 World Series win at Sartiano and Akiva’s Chelsea nightclub 1OAK. In December, their Butter restaurant in Lower Manhattan hosted an album release party for R&B crooner Robin Thicke; Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Usher were in attendance. Oh, and Sartiano’s exes include actresses Ashley Olsen and Jamie Lynn-Sigler.

So will our Butter become a regular hangout for celebrities, too? Almost certainly.

Pro Bowler Julius Peppers of the Carolina Panthers has already stopped in. Actor Wilmer Valderrama of “That ’70s Show” intended to celebrate his 30th birthday there last Friday night, but was snowed in in New York. Paris Hilton’s sister, Nicky, will be at Butter Friday night. And Black Eyed Peas reportedly will stop by after their concert at Time Warner Cable Arena Saturday night for an after-party sponsored by Bacardi (rumor has it will serve as guest DJ).

“It’s important to have celebrities in a club,” Sartiano says. “That said, I don’t focus my business around them. I focus my business in good service and a great atmosphere, which is what ultimately keeps everyone – whether you’re a celebrity or not – coming back.”

In conversations with Sartiano, it wasn’t entirely clear what type of crowd he and Akiva are hoping to attract. On the one hand, it sounds like they plan to embrace everybody. But he also suggested that certain types of people aren’t welcome.

When asked to elaborate, Sartiano says, carefully: “Richie and I have always prided ourselves in making sure that our venues cater to a wide demographic of people. … That said, people with a great sense of style, fashion and culture create the vibe we want to maintain at Butter.”

How will this very-New York mentality play in Charlotte? Time will tell.

But on a recent Saturday night, Butter’s lower level was packed with happy-looking people – a wide demographic of happy-looking people – from velvet-covered wall to velvet-covered wall.

A sneak peek at Butter Charlotte

The scene: Award-winning club designer François Frossard has put together a space that oozes style, from the velvet flocked wall coverings inside to the Balinese daybeds on the outdoor patio. The lounge-like area upstairs – which guests walk into first – is punctuated by a protruding backlit sphere behind its main bar (pictured here).

A grand staircase leads down to the bigger main room, where most of the dancing takes place. The room’s centerpiece will be a giant chandelier that sends wild light shows bouncing across thousands of crystals; the VIP area (pictured below) is also here.

The music: On a recent Saturday night, NYC DJ Dimitry Mak downstairs wove together a top-notch mix of songs that ranged from Rihanna’s “Disturbia” to Prince’s “Kiss” to a club remix of Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” There’s also a DJ booth upstairs, where volume matches the vibe – it’s lower-key, so not as ear-splitting.

The drinks: Domestic beers are $5 each, imports are $6; wine by the glass, $10; liquors run $8-$75; $12 cocktails include a “Butter Martini” made with citrus vodka, orange and pomegranate liquors and pineapple juice. Bottle service is also available.

The servers: Attractive and bubbly twentysomething women in knee-high black leather boots and long-sleeved black mini dresses.

The details: 950 Seaboard St. in The N.C. Music Factory. 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday. Cover: $10. 704-295-1565;

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Comedy Zone is still making us laugh

It’s been more than two years since the Comedy Zone on College Street uptown closed, and about a year since the one in Matthews shut down. But the Comedy Zone is still a major player when it comes to the funny business in Charlotte.

Not because it still owns a club in Lake Norman (inside the Galway Hooker Pub), but because almost every month, it partners with the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center to bring nationally known comics to center city.

In the past year or so, Heffron Talent International – which owns the Comedy Zone name and operates 65 locations in North America – has teamed with the Blumenthal to present shows by: former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Norm MacDonald; Louis C.K., an Emmy-winning writer who was worked with Chris Rock and Conan O’Brien; prolific Southern stand-up/country music artist Tim Wilson; and D.L. Hughley, one of four comics featured in Spike Lee’s 2000 film “The Original Kings of Comedy.” To name just a few.

“This agency’s one of the largest buyers of celebrity talent per month in the whole country,” says Heffron Talent owner Brian Heffron. “We’re actually the largest comedy club chain in the country.”

And its corporate headquarters are right here, on Westinghouse Boulevard in southwest Charlotte.

Among the shows on the horizon forthcoming from Heffron’s company are Aisha Tyler (Sunday at McGlohon Theatre; pictured at right), “Laugh for the Cure” (March 4 at McGlohon), and Sinbad (March 12 at Belk Theater).

But the biggest thing Heffron has in store for us … he can’t talk about – yet.

“There will be a fairly big announcement very soon,” he says. “I think we’re within a week (of making it). ... It’s gonna be the best club I’ve ever put in this town.”

Want to win a pair of tickets to see Tyler’s stand-up show at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at McGlohon Theatre? E-mail and tell me your best joke about Charlotte. Deadline is 2 p.m. today.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SI's cover girl ... exposed! Again!

On Tuesday, after getting comfortable talking on the phone with the hottest supermodel on the planet, I took advantage of the moment, lowered my voice and asked Brooklyn Decker: "Soooo... what are you wearing right now?"

Unfortunately, the answer will be more interesting to fashion-conscious women than to pervy men: "I am wearing a 2812 dress by Sienna Miller -- it’s like a tan suede -- and I have black tights and black platform booties," said the Matthews beauty, who graces the cover of the 2010 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

For additional outtakes from my interview with Decker, along with quotes that expand on comments she made in the story I wrote in today's Observer, keep reading.

On how she got in shape for the 2010 shoot: "Before shooting, I actually was filming a set of workout DVDs, so that was kind of perfect. (But) SI’s not big about skinny. It’s really about just making yourself the best you. They love a really healthy, toned girl who’s curvy and beautiful, and just really fit. And so I was doing these workout DVDs and it was cardio, yoga and sculpt. That helped me get ready. It wasn’t about dieting, it was about eating clean and eating healthy and then just working out and staying active."

On the anticipation of the announcement: "Oh, my fingers were definitely crossed. This was my fifth year shooting, and I think all the girls that shoot it for that many years have their fingers crossed. But you just don’t know anything. Everyone is so beautiful in the issue and, there’s really no formula on how to figure out who gets the cover. So I was very anxious."

On getting the good news: "I found out (Monday). I had a casting and I showed up to the casting and it was at a hotel, the Gansevoort Hotel, and I go up, open the door and Diane Smith is there -- Diane’s the editor of the Swimsuit Issue. And there were about 15 big blown-up pictures of me with the Sports Illustrated behind my head, and a bunch of news cameras were there and the boom mics. I got teary-eyed and cried and did the whole thing. It was really amazing. I was super-surprised and relieved, and just happy."

On her family's unexpected surprise visit: "My agent set up a little cocktail (party) for some people from Sports Illustrated (and) my friends in New York. And I’m there, and we’re all passing around the magazine and all of a sudden I hear, 'Woohoo! Party started!' I look over and it’s my mom and brother coming in with two bottles of wine. I give them big hugs, and of course they made me cry, and I said, 'Where’s dad? Where’s Andy [her husband is tennis star Andy Roddick]?' And they said, 'Oh, they couldn’t come, they’re working.' Then about 10 minutes later, my husband and dad walk in with a platter of food and they’re like, 'Anybody need any hors d'oeuvres?' And again I burst into tears. So I cried three times yesterday -- it was a very good day. I had no idea they were gonna be there. They’re the people I wanted to celebrate with, so having them there made me really able to kind of relax and enjoy it."

Favorite shot of hers in the SI photo spread, besides the cover: "There’s one that’s like a double page of me laying down with a flower in my hair I think that’s really nice."

Putting her appearance on the cover in perspective: "It’s one of the highest honors you can get in a magazine. I think magazine covers are a very, very big deal in themselves, but Sports Illustrated comes out once a year, the swimsuit issue does. And you have it for a year, it’s not something that shifts every month. So it’s a very big deal. You look at the roster of girls who have shot it -- you have Heidi Klum and Elle McPherson and all these sort of iconic models -- so now to be joining (the) ranks of them, it’s gonna be great for my career and great for me personally."

The biggest lesson she's learned from working with SI: "Stay true to yourself. I’ve worked with them for five years and we’ve just become a little bit of a family. They’ve known me since I was 18, since I graduated high school, and the amazing thing about them is that before you shoot with them, it’s not about getting skinny, it’s not about changing yourself for the shoot. It’s really about just being the best you. And they love curves and they love healthy women -- celebrating your body, that’s what SI’s all about. So having them embrace you helps you embrace yourself. It’s very cool."

On visiting Charlotte: "Work’s just been a bit crazy, but I try to go back once every couple of months, and I love seeing my parents and I love going home and Charlotte. I spend my time a lot in Austin, Texas, now and New York, but I spent my whole life in Charlotte, so it’s always a privilege to go home. All my best friends are down there, so when they found out I had the cover, they said, 'You have to come home so we can all celebrate here.' So I’m probably gonna go back in a couple of weeks, for a weekend, just to celebrate with my friends back home."

On her and husband Andy Roddick's Valentine’s Day plans: "I’m working and he’s playing in a tournament!"

Favorite Charlotte restaurants: Cantina 1511 (1511 East Blvd. and 7708 Rea Road) and The Flying Biscuit Café (7930 Rea Road).

Favorite Charlotte store: Target. "We don't have a Target in Manhattan!"

Favorite Super Bowl commercial: The Google one. "It kind of made me teary-eyed. I think I was also stressed about the issue, so I was a bit emotional."

Favorite "American Idol" judge: "I don't watch 'American Idol' - isn't that bad?"

Favorite junk food: Sour Patch Kids and Swedish Fish.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Will Matthews woman grace SI cover?

Last year, Brooklyn Decker of Matthews earned a small spot on the cover of what is the de facto Holy Grail for swimsuit models: the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. And this year, she appears to be the favorite to nab the big spot on it.

Various Web sites -- including Bodog and Fafarazzi -- have been speculating this week that the 22-year-old Butler High grad could be the latest SI cover girl. We'll find out for sure Monday night, when the official announcement is made during "The Late Show with David Letterman" (11:35 p.m. start on WBTV).

Regardless of where she winds up, this will be the fifth straight appearance in the swimsuit issue for Decker ... who is almost as famous for being Mrs. Andy Roddick as she is for her tanned and toned figure. The magazine hits newsstands Wednesday.

Between now and then, you can join Brooklyn's legion of nearly 20,000 Twitter followers by clicking here. I'll be talking to her by phone on Tuesday afternoon, so look for highlights from that interview at, and in Wednesday's Charlotte Observer.

Michael Bublé set to return to Charlotte

Grammy Award-winner Michael Bublé is coming to Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday, July 10. Bublé -- who is touring in support of his 2009 album, “Crazy Love” -- last performed here in March 2008, at the same venue.

The announcement adds bulk to the TWC Arena’s 2010 lineup, which also includes Black Eyed Peas on Feb. 20, Bon Jovi on April 22, Carole King and James Taylor on June 2, and Daughtry on June 11.

Tickets for Bublé’s concert go on sale Friday, Feb. 12 at 10 a.m. through,, the arena box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, or charge by phone (800-745-3000).

- - -

Here's "The Situation": The star of MTV’s hit show “Jersey Shore” did not appear as scheduled at Suite Wednesday night. But fans will get another shot at seeing him in the flesh: The Situation is now planning to party at the EpiCentre nightclub this coming Wednesday night (Feb. 10) instead.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wallace Fever now. Playoff fever to follow?

Normally at this time of year, die-hard Bobcats fans are getting ready to spend some time focusing on … something besides the Bobcats. But this is a different kind of year for our NBA team, and thanks to Gerald Wallace, we’re gearing up for a different kind of All-Star break.

Charlotte’s whirling dervish of a forward is the first player in the team’s six-season history to be selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game, which is set for Feb. 14 in Dallas; he also will compete in the Feb. 13 Slam Dunk Contest.

So, naturally, the Bobcats organization is making a big deal out of it.

The festivities kick off Saturday night, before Charlotte faces the New Orleans Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena: The first 5,000 people in the doors get a free Gerald Wallace action figure, and a booth will be set up so fans can videotape a message for the star – as well as offer suggestions about what dunks he should attempt in Texas.

Wallace-focused fun then culminates next weekend, when the Bobcats host “watch parties” for both Saturday’s dunk-off and Sunday’s game at the Wild Wing Café in Ayrsley Town Center. During breaks in the action, fans can win prizes and mingle with the Lady Cats.

Also on tap: Through 5 p.m. Saturday, visitors to can enter for a chance to win a trip for two to the All-Star Game in Dallas, an autographed All-Star jersey, or one of several other prizes. Then there’s “The Gerald Wallace All-Star 2-Pack ticket special,” a fancy way to sell you a set of tickets to the final two Bobcats home games before the break – Saturday’s game against the Hornets and Tuesday’s versus the Wizards – for only $33. (See the team Web site for details.)

To top it all off, the team appears to have a shot at making the playoffs this spring for the first time in franchise history, after five seasons of futility. Don’t clear your spring calendar yet, but if you’re a Bobcats fan, you might want to consider this weeklong celebration a dress rehearsal.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who's the biggest 'Avatar' fan in Charlotte?

OK, I'm going to share an excerpt from an e-mail I received earlier this week, and I want you to guess whether the author of it is talking about "Avatar" -- which scored nine Academy Award nominations this morning -- or "The Hurt Locker" -- which garnered the same number of Oscar noms:

"I'm so in love with [it]!!! I will say that [it] is the best movie ever!! I have seen it twice. ... AMAZING!!! If my husband and I get another date night, that's the movie I'll choose!!"

I won't even bother insulting your intelligence. I'll just say that this kind of reaction is why James Cameron's crowd-pleasing piece of pop eye candy has taken $551.7 million out of Americans pockets ... and why Kathryn Bigelow's gritty war movie has made just $12.6 million.

"To get to those numbers, you need repeat business, you need great word-of-mouth, and you need to grab an audience basically across the board,"'s Paul Dergarabedian told CBS last week after "Avatar" became the highest-grossing flick of all-time.

So whether or not Cameron wins Best Director when the Academy Awards are handed out on March 7, he's already won in the court of public opinion. "The Hurt Locker" is an important film, a film that shows the horrors of war up close, a film that most moviegoers will rave about, but one that they'll probably never pay to see again. "Avatar"? Some people can't seem to get enough of it.

In recent days, I've heard from a 55-year-old grandmother who's seen it three times and calls it "one of the best movies I have ever seen"; a woman who's seen it three times and "probably will see it again"; and a guy who's seen it twice in the IMAX 3D format. A couple of other excerpts from other fans:

"No one can deny that 'Avatar' is by far the most beautiful (in terms of imagery) movie ever made. It's opened the door for all sorts of 'unfilmable' stories to be made into movies, and for that Cameron should be applauded." --Clay Johanson, who saw the movie four times during its opening weekend.

"I think James Cameron just hit the mark again for mass appeal. There's a strong female lead and the love story for women. There's macho men and some mean air and land combat for the guys. ... It's pretty impressive that the same director was able to take two entirely different movies ("Titanic" and "Avatar") to box office heights no one else has." --Chris Beeman, who's seen both the regular 3-D and the IMAX 3-D versions.

Still looking, though, for an off-the-charts "Avatar" fan who lives in the Charlotte area. Someone whose number of viewings is in the double-digits. Someone who is considering naming their first-born daughter "Neytiri." Someone who believes "Avatar" has changed their life, and is doing things he or she never dreamed of doing because of it.

If you think you are the No. 1 "Avatar" fan in the Queen City, please e-mail me at and tell me your story.