Updated: Dec 9, 2019
What exactly is a social house?
I googled it. Apparently it's a pop-rap duo in which one of the guys is dating Ariana Grande.
So no help there.
Charlotte has three social houses I can think of: Piedmont Social near Steel Creek, Queen Park Social in LoSo, and Bradshaw Social House in Ballantyne. I've been to all three and even I can't quite articulate what a social house is.
It's kind of like a bar, but a bar you can bring a Baptist Church young adults group to. It's kind of like a club, but no one is dancing. And it's kind of like a Dave and Busters, but with less games and the games aren't as fun.
Really, it seems like social houses are best explained as generic catch-alls for neighborhoods that don't yet have very much to do. They serve liquor, food, games, and club music. They're appropriate for teacher happy hours, 30 and up birthdays, and catching up with your fellow ECU grads since none of you can afford anywhere nice with that degree.
Enter El Thrifty Social, a location so indistinguishable from the other social houses, you don't even have to read their press release to know it's by the same folks who created Queen Park Social.
Here's the big difference: this one is Mexican-inspired. I love the qualifier "-inspired." It's such a fun way to say "appropriated."
But I'm not being facetious when I say that added Mexican effort is what makes El Thrifty Social a bland, but winning, addition to Optimist Hall.
Upfront, don't go to El Thrifty on a weekend night if you're looking for a nice Mexican dinner with the wife at that new hyped spot you've heard about. El Thrifty will find it's niche as a millennial playground close enough to Plaza Midwood, Noda, and Uptown for a $6 Lyft. It has Optimist Hall's gigantic parking lot as an added boost of convenience, and it's walking distance to a bunch of new complexes and most of Uptown.
The music is loud (like a club) and the bar is crowded (like a club). How many more ways can I say this: this is not a dinner spot.
The interior is divided into two spaces. The main bar/dining space is what you encounter first, and then you can step down into an area with DJ's, TV's, games, and inexplicably a bunch of high tops.
I'm never a fan of "big empty space + alcohol" concepts, but in the case of El Thrifty, with all those TVs and games (basketball, duckpin bowling, shuffle board, etc.), those high tops are entirely unnecessary. Get rid of them and add more lounge style seating like what's currently against the walls. That way, the DJ might actually be able to get people to dance with his (admittedly dope) mix of late 90s and early 2000s pop-rap hits.
This place is so close to being great. It's falling into the "little too" trap.
It's a little too bright.
The menu is a little too big.
The wait for a drink is a little too long. I clocked it at 8 minutes.
The cocktails are a little too expensive. I grabbed the Juanita Appleseed and El Thrifty Margarita. I tried to order the La Gringarita so I can make a pun about The White Bitch Margarita in this review, but they were out of one of the ingredients. With tip, the two drinks were $26.
But look, I can't even front. The margaritas were really fucking good. The Juanita Appleseed is, hand to God, the best margarita I've ever tasted. It was perfectly prepared by my bartender and the apple flavors taste fresh. Don't @ me about your favorite authentic Mexican dive's marg. I'm sold on the Juanita Appleseed. Even the El Thrifty, a house marg, is formidable in Charlotte. It wouldn't stand a chance in Houston or Los Angeles, but we don't live in Houston or Los Angeles.
El Thrifty justifies its existence if only because it might be among the best in the margarita game in Charlotte.
If you live in 4th Ward, Belmont, or Optimist Park and don't feel like driving all the way to Southend for a night out, El Thrifty just answered all your prayers. This spot has some work to do if it wants to be a true gem of the city, but as a neighborhood bar, it doesn't disappoint.
Is that good enough for the owners? I guess we'll see. Either way, they're going to make a shit ton of money off the La Gringaritas.