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Bring on the Fried Pickles: A Guide to Charlotte

Heading to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte? From NASCAR to mojito beer, here’s what you need to know about the place.

Photograph of Charlotte courtesy of Shutterstock.
  • 1 Charlotteans don’t take kindly to imperiousness.

    In 1780, just weeks before the tide turned in the Revolutionary War, Lord Cornwallis, frustrated by his troops’ lack of progress in Charlotte, called the city a “hornet’s nest of rebellion.” Residents adopted the hornet’s nest as a civic emblem.

  • Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

    2 We were Americans before you were.

    In May 1775, 13 months before the rest of the country, county officials whipped up a document declaring independence from the king. A man named James Jack was dispatched to deliver the so-called Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Charlotte celebrates Meck Dec Day every May 20.

  • 3 Charlotte’s two primary food groups are fried pickles and pimiento cheese.

    You’ll find one or the other on almost every menu, from upscale restaurant to dive. The fried pickles at the Diamond, in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, are the city’s best. As for pimiento cheese, some opt for the spicy, three-cheese version plied by Common Market in South End. Or head to Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar in Dilworth and order it atop your all-beef patty.

  • 4 The banking crisis started in Charlotte.

    Well, sort of. In 1982, a team led by Hugh McColl at the Charlotte bank NCNB found a loophole in the laws that kept banks from crossing state lines. NCNB bought a Florida bank, the first acquisition of many by what became too-big-to-fail Bank of America. This history, along with many other stories of the South since the Civil War, is told in Charlotte’s Levine Museum of the New South, a few blocks from Time Warner Cable Arena, the site of the convention.

  • 5 We’re the original NASCAR dads.

    The racing sport’s hall of fame is here—as are most NASCAR teams—and 140,000 people can pack the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The course speed record is a sprightly 155 miles an hour over 600 miles, set by Kasey Kahne in May.

  • Artwork by Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio.

    6 Uptown means downtown, which means good culture.

    The Levine Center for the Arts, which anchors the southern end of uptown (that’s what Charlotte calls its downtown), consists of two art museums, a performing-arts facility, and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture. The Mint Museum Uptown is hosting a show by outsider artist Thornton Dial (and don’t miss the gallery devoted to native son Romare Bearden), and the Gantt Center—named for the city’s first black mayor— will be consumed by “America I AM: The African American Imprint,” presented by Tavis Smiley. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is an architectural standout with a collection to match.

  • 7 Cheers!

    Charlotte is playing its part in the craft-brewery craze, boasting at least seven breweries by convention time. Visit the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery for traditional German-style brews, or hit NoDa Brewing Company for wild American concoctions.

  • 8 Charlotte doesn’t let geography get in the way of getting the things it wants.

    About 25 minutes from uptown, the US National Whitewater Center, where members of the US Olympic team train, has almost a mile of self-sustaining rapids, using a recirculating system of city and well water. Sign up for 90 minutes and experience a ride almost as thrilling—and bumpy—as Barack Obama’s next few months promise to be.

Want to know what’s happening down at the Republican National Convention in Tampa? Check out our guide to Tampa.

Richard Thurmond, editor of Charlotte Magazine, likes to dip fried pickles in pimiento cheese.

This article appears in the August 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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