Hidden Hotel Gems | Charlotte's got a lot | Charlotte NC Travel & Tourism
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Hidden Hotel Gems

Eat, drink and play without the stay.

By Bryan Richards and Torie Robinette

Here in the Queen City, you don’t need to swipe a key to enjoy the royal treatment at area hotels. From swanky restaurants serving phenomenal fare and chic cocktail lounges pouring craft spirits to well-appointed fitness centers and lush greens, rooftop pools and regal spa services, cultural events and more, visiting the gems hidden within Charlotte’s hotels should become part of your regular repertoire. And to enjoy those special amenities exclusive to hotel guests, treat yourself to a staycation. After all, we wouldn’t want to leave the city either.

Eat

Few of us consider that great hotel bistro we’ve heard visiting friends, family or co-workers rave about to be an option in our city dining rotation. But the Queen City’s regal inns and resorts are changing the way we think, beckoning Charlotte residents to venture into these tucked away mainstays and experience a world of food without ever checking in at a front desk.

In addition to the prime cut filets, perfectly seasoned racks of lamb and exquisite Dover sole plates, BLT Steak at The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte is known for its dessert menu. Occasionally, the decadent offerings, like those served in the in-house dessert bar, Bar Cocoa, are infused with honey directly acquired from the hotel’s rooftop honey beehive.

For a romantic escape, Evoke at Le Méridien Charlotte in Second Ward is ideal. Evoke’s kitchen serves up deliciously inventive dishes, like squid ink tagliolini, porcini pappardelle gnocchi and fresh crudo, for you to enjoy while cozied into a seat in the retro-chic dining room.

Communal vibes and new American flavors mingle in The Westin Charlotte’s latest dining concept, JP Charlotte. Here, the cast iron jalapeño cornbread, paired with honey butter and orange marmalade, begs to be tried first. Then your palate will be torn between the unexpected charred Spanish octopus and comfort food favorites, like pulled pork macaroni and cheese.

The farm-to-table philosophy is exemplified within the walls of The Dunhill Hotel’s restaurant, The Asbury. Executive Chef Chris Coleman highlights the rich culinary traditions of the South by sourcing local heirloom ingredients whenever possible and including classic dishes, like cast iron biscuits, deviled eggs and chicken and dumplings, on his menu.

The Shain Gallery-supplied artwork that adorns the walls echoes the artistic vision behind each dish crafted at the Gallery Restaurant—hint: the name—inside The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge. Try unique offerings, like the Maple Leaf Duck Breast, Heritage White Pheasant and Cervena Elk Tenderloin; each presentation is as beautiful as its flavors.

If you enjoy the bone-in, bourbon-brined pork chop or chicken and waffles at Trade Restaurant & Bar inside the Omni Hotel Charlotte, keep Essex Bar & Bistro on your radar. Essex, which will feature a casual atmosphere with upscale eats, is built into the Omni Hotel in Bank of America Plaza and will open soon.

Seaonal and regional ingredients inspire the menu at Libations Kitchen & Bar tucked inside the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Charlotte. It was designed to cater to students, businesses and residents in Third Ward. Here, the culinary team incorporates classic American recipes to create dishes with a twist. Try the Prosseco & Shrimp, infused with Prosecco basil Italian ice, or the Truffled Mac & Cheese filled with smoked gouda.

Also, plan to add the Charlotte Marriott City Center’s new restaurant to your list of must-tries when it makes its debut in the fall. Marriott’s new dining concept accompanies a series of renovations in progress at the 30-year-old hotel.

Drink

As the sacred art of fashioning the perfect drink has inspired mixologists and brewmasters across the city, a craft cocktail culture has blossomed. It cues a nightlife scene filled with martinis being toasted in swanky hotel lounges and glasses being clanked along skyline backdrops at rooftop hotel bars. Whether you make these hidden craft havens your pre-dinner drink stops, your main event or your nightcaps, they should be added to your plans.

As you admire the view of Uptown from The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte’s 15th floor modern speakeasy, The Punch Room, renowned mixologist Bob Peters delicately shakes and stirs creations that fuse top-shelf spirits with housemade syrups and fresh, seasonable herbs and fruits.

For craft whiskeys, an extensive wine list that spans the world and other sparkling libations, scoot up to the bar and watch the magic unfold at Le Méridien’s cocktail lounge, Longitude 80. With your perfect pour in tow, stroll into the adjacent lobby, dubbed Le Méridien Hub, which features a library nook, books available for communal reading and cozy seating for cultured sipping.

A handcrafted post-work drink is the perfect reprieve after a stressful day. Pop into Soco Bar at The Westin Charlotte, which is known for its seasonal cocktails. Distinctive ingredients, like Cholula Hot Sauce, basil and blackberry, meet fine bourbons, tequilas and whiskeys to tantalize your taste buds in unexpected ways. If you’re craving a warm pick-me-up, visit the hotel’s Soco Cafe for a freshly brewed latte or cappuccino and a sweet treat.

Want the EpiCentre vibe without the packed bars and clubs? Settle into the W XYZ Bar at Aloft Charlotte Uptown, where cocktails are curated in a fun and lively drinking den that offers room to stretch out and mingle.

If you’re a true whiskey connoisseur looking to hone your palate even more and enjoy exceptional pours among fellow aficionados, you’re in luck. The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge’s Whiskey Club of Ballantyne convenes for serious tastings, tailored food pairings and spirited conversations once a month on Friday evenings. But if you prefer a spot of tea to something stiff and on the rocks, The Ballantyne can also accommodate. Enjoy a spread of tea sandwiches, pastries and hot tea during the hotel’s regularly scheduled Traditional Afternoon Tea, which is served Wednesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m.  Reservations are required, and the cost is $32 for adults and $16 for juniors.

Play

While some of us reside within communities that offer access to amenities like pools, golf courses, killer gyms and workouts, cultural offerings, and more, many of us are searching for the occasional opportunity to enjoy first-class facilities without breaking the bank on extravagant contracts and memberships. A chance to bask waterside at the gorgeous hotel pool, be pampered in the spa, play 18 holes on manicured greens or practice yoga perched atop a hotel rooftop that overlooks the town is within reach. Plus, with special non-guest offers at most hotels, you’ll find it often pays to play.

At The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte non-guests have the opportunity to book a sensuous massage, body scrub or skin treatment in the two-level penthouse Spa & Wellness Center. A scheduled spa service earns you an all-access pass to the nail salon, Fitness Center, Cycle Studio and Aqua Lounge, which encompasses the whirlpool, pool and movement studio—great for yoga. And if you’re looking to sharpen your culinary skills, sign up for pastry and chocolate-making classes at the Ritz’s on-site Cocoa Lab, which plays off Bar Cocoa’s menu.

If you’re in search of a sweat-inducing workout or a cool dip in a nice pool without a room key, you’ll appreciate the Omni Charlotte Hotel’s special offerings. Members of the Charlotte Athletic Club, which is connected to the Omni, can access the Omni’s luxe rooftop pool and tanning deck for free. If you’re not a CAC member, you can purchase a day pass there and enjoy the Omni pool access bonus that way.

Craving tee time on a gorgeous course? Play a round at the The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge’s public PGA course, The Golf Club at Ballantyne. Dana Rader Golf School is also on-site and can be accessed for paid lessons. If you’re craving vitamin D off the links, purchase a day pass to the resort’s pool or book a spa service in The Spa at Ballantyne to enjoy built-in entry to the pool, sauna and well-equipped fitness center. Tranquil spa treatments range from the Carolina Lavender massage to pre-natal and gentleman-focused massages.

If fashionable fun is more your style, be sure to add Evoke at Le Méridien’s monthly Cocktails & Couture events to your calendar. Every second Wednesday of the month, trendsetters gather over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres to watch local designers and fashion school students put their ensembles to the test in an incredible “Project Runway”-style competition.

For a chance to socialize with neighbors and treat yourself, plan to attend one of The Duke Mansion’s various events, including an annual holiday high tea that features pop-up retail offerings and gorgeous décor. The mansion’s magnificent gardens are open daily to the public at no cost, offering nature lovers the chance to stroll, relax and admire the blooms’ beauty. And if your thrills come from unearthing Charlotte’s storied history and treasured landmarks, you’ll want to join one of the free “Explore History!” series tours that the 101-year-old bed and breakfast hosts. Led by various historical experts in the city, the tours’ topics change monthly, and reservations are required.

This article ran in the May 2016 issue of Happenings Magazine.