Experience Charlotte's Quirky NoDa Vibe

Learn to blow glass, sip coffee in a cat café and delight in Southern fare, Charlotte's arts district has it all.

You’ll notice North Davidson Street’s calling cards right away. Yes, everyone walking by—from professionals with briefcases swung over their shoulders to camera-toting tourists—has a smile on their face. But, beyond the people (and pets) that occupy the space, NoDa itself seems to bubble over with something vibrant at every turn.

“I feel like the energy of everyone walking up the stairs from out there is just always good and positive, everyone’s happy in NoDa anyway,” says Lori Konawalik, owner of Mac Tabby café, Charlotte’s first cat café—perfectly encompassing the feeling that seems to flow down North Davidson Street from one historic mill to another.

Grab a seat on one of the mosaic tiled benches in the heart of the district and soak it all in. 

Delivery vans swing up to the curb, temporarily covering the lotus flowers painted onto the pavement where parallel parking lines would regulate drivers anywhere else. Laughter bursts out from around the corner where a group of teenagers snap pictures in front of one of the countless murals peppering surfaces from dumpsters to storefronts. Soul and instrumental music float from an unseen speaker just down the block. Appetizing scents waft from outdoor patios, stopping hungry passersby in their tracks.

And slowing down is definitely the key to enjoying your experience at local favorite Reigning Doughnuts. In fact, those in a rush could miss the establishment altogether—thankfully, locals with a sweet tooth lining up alert visitors to the walk-up window. Its green shutters open each morning to showcase the doughnuts and beverages available. Once you’ve been handed your treat (you can’t go wrong with Cinnamon Sugar), grab a seat at one of two shaded picnic tables to savor every last bite.

Those who held off ordering their cup of joe from Reigning Doughnuts—and those who are ready for their second cup of the day—can make their way around the corner toward another unique gem, Mac Tabby.

Step through the cat café’s threshold, a door tucked between Custom Jewelry Lab and Ruby’s Gift shop, and head up a narrow flight of stairs. Once you reach the top, you’ll enter a room filled with natural light, jazz music, locally sourced coffee, tea and beer, plus themed items and a slew of cat people ready to pass through the glass door off to the side. There, 12 adoption-ready cats snooze, romp and snuggle with visitors for 30 minutes to an hour at a time.

“People think of NoDa and they’re like, oh, it’s the cool, weird spot to be,” says Konawalik. “It’s artistic, and it’s the art and entertainment district of Charlotte. You expect weird things here—and I always felt like this is pretty weird! Cats and coffee. Where else would this belong? I feel like it belongs here.”

On ground level, just steps away lies Pura Vida Worldly Art. Its brightly-painted interior is packed with wares sourced from more than 40 countries. Visitors can peruse children’s books from around the globe, in addition to woven mats, fair-trade cards, spiritual items, apparel and more. Toward the back of the store, additional rooms open up to reveal a shrine remembering and honoring the dead, as well as local art—a common denominator found in many NoDa establishments.

Local art is even more prominent outside Pura Vida, and not just on inanimate objects. You’ll find many a tattoo parlor, buzzing with customers. Fu’s Custom Tattoo, NoDa’s first tattoo studio, sits next door and welcomes walk-ins, perfect for those who find themselves struck with inspiration while in Charlotte’s creative hub.

Across the street, the lively Cabo Fish Taco bustles with customers. Stop by for a midday meal and indulge in phenomenal signature tacos and sides with a spicy kick while chatting over massive margaritas balanced on crystal-clear stems.

Hot Glass Alley

Once you’ve re-energized with a taco or two, immerse yourself in what NoDa is best known for: art. And not just any art, but a form you’re not likely to find in your hometown: glassblowing.

“I realized that Charlotte didn’t have any kind of glassblowing experience like this—the nearest place is in Asheville or in Star, it’s like two hours away,” explains Jacob Pfeifer, glass artist and owner of Hot Glass Alley. “And I was like, ‘this humongous city doesn’t have this?’” And with that, Pfeifer set out to create a uniquely NoDa experience.

While Hot Glass Alley is not located within walking distance of North Davidson Street, it is considered part of the NoDa neighborhood and worth the five-minute trip. Those who make the short trek can shop stunning gallery pieces. Drop by during a free, open demonstration night, or make an appointment to take part in a make-your-own or date-night class.

After newly minted glassblowers have sufficiently marveled at their work, they can head back to North Davidson Street to wrap up their day. Ask a local, such as Konawalik or Pfeifer, where they’d send an out-of-towner to grab a bite to eat, and they’d point you to Haberdish. Take their advice and head inside.

You'll immediately know you're in the South, as Haberdish places everything in mason jars, from tea lights to sweet tea and silverware, even your receipt. The establishment as a whole sticks to its roots. From plates that could have been plucked from Grandma’s china cabinet to the menu items themselves—pimento cheese, specialty pickles and fried chicken, to name a few—Haberdish doesn’t shy away from Southern classics. Which explains why the restaurant often accrues a waiting line during dinner hours. No need to fret.

While you dream of deviled eggs, pop into Haberdish’s neighbor Bartique to pass the time. The trendy, dimly lit space sports racks of colorful outfits and gallery art on one wall, stacks of glasses on the other, and a resident pooch named Pucci sprawled out on the floor. Half bohemian boutique and half bar, it’s unlike any other establishment you’re likely to wander into during your trip, but not surprisingly it’s thriving in this neck of the woods.

“Charlotte is truly a melting pot, it really is,” says Estelle Ra Helfrich, co-owner of Bartique. “Every major city has that neighborhood that has a different identity than other parts of the city, and with all of these people moving here, they can relate to this neighborhood.”

As can those just passing through, and what better way to top off a visit to the arts and entertainment district than with, well, entertainment. Neighborhood Theatre fits the bill, as the impossible-to-miss restored movie theater plays host to bands representing a wide array of genres, from Mexican ska to rap to gospel to indie rock.

Within earshot, purple-hued The Evening Muse also features a myriad of live acts, in addition to open-mic nights.

From the moment the sugar dusted on your Reigning Doughnut melts over your tongue, until you step out from under the marquee at Neighborhood Theatre, you’ll feel pulled along by the current of energy that sets NoDa apart from the surrounding districts—and with so much to see and do, you have every reason to return and be swept away all over again. 

 

Madison Sullivan
About the author

Madison Sullivan is an Assistant Editor with Morris Visitor Publications, based in Aug...