The aesthetic of your standard cocktail lounge privileges form over function.
It's so different from the way every other establishment category functions. Ace No. 3 [7.7] lives on the quality of its burger, while Bossy Beulah [2.8] dies on the lack of quality of its chicken sandwich.
That means Kiki and Tattoo doesn't have to be good. The new liquor lounge (or French bistro, or modern American rooftop bar, or whatever the fuck they're aiming for) has everything going for it: a brilliant (and pricey) design borrowing from dingy 70s New York lounges, a power ownership group with Soul Gastrolounge already on their resume, a cozy space tighter than a Snapple cap, a neighborhood friendly story of a former tattoo parlor, and warm relationships with every major media platform in Charlotte.
The drinks could be awful and they'd still make a buttload of money.
Instead, Kiki and Tattoo puts in the work to earn every dollar.
Kiki combines creative cocktails that are as tasty as they are sexy with a multifaceted spatial experience that'll keep you entertained all night. Most of us will not be willing to wait to get in, but the bougie among us who do will get their money's worth. It's convoluted, but greater than the sum of its parts, and we count it among Charlotte's best places to drink.
I went to Kiki on a Monday night.
If you're like me and you're too old to wait in line in December with 20 year olds who think the pregame starts at 11pm, I suggest you try Kiki on an off night. I shared the space with only a few other couples, and had both bars mostly to myself. You can hop on their waitlist online.
I hate having to explain this pretentious concept of the dual bars. T.S. Eliot will no doubt roll over in his grave as I describe for you this nightmare of cultural decay, conventalism, and chic chasing.
So, the main dining room area is called Kiki. That's where the draft cocktails are, pre-made and poured from a tap. My bartender, who looked like Jared Leto playing a bartender, suggested a standard wet martini. Like all draft cocktails, the flavors were muddied and difficult to pick out.
The real show is next door on the "Tattoo" side.
It's extremely small. The bar seats maybe 4-5 people, and there's additional lounge style seating for 10 or so more.
You feel like you're transported out of Charlotte the moment you walk over, like you've suddenly entered a scene from Sex in the City. Mirrors, brass, darkness, and displayed fresh bar ingredients make the place the shimmer like an Italian church and smell like a spice garden after a rainfall.
There's "no menu" at Tattoo, except there is. Tattoo produces a monthly study, a standard cocktail with several variations, which they describe, name, and print onto paper.
Yeah, that's a menu.
Your bartender will ask you your preferences in an effort to make your cocktail a custom collaboration, but you can literally just pick named drinks off the sheet of paper at the bar.
The folks behind the bar can mix their asses off though. I ordered the Don Ho, a pineapple and cinnamon flavored martini served with pineapple allspice smoke which puffs from, you guessed it, a large brass pineapple. It was sweet, a little sour, and the smokey aroma extends the sensory experience both before and after your sip.
I also grabbed a Vesper, a delicious blood orange cocktail with vodka, gin, and a hemp leaf garnish.
Both drinks were delicious, but more than that, they say something. There's a message here about shifting societal ideas surrounding drug use, a statement relevant to the former countercultural energies of Plaza Midwood. They're perfect drinks for a space inhabited by the ghosts of tattoo artists.
That means the owners of Kiki and Tattoo are thinking about what they're doing, why they're doing it, and the space they occupy in this community and this city.
That is what so many new spots miss. Don't just do something. Mean something.
I'm impressed by Kiki and Tattoo, more impressed that I thought I'd be.
But if this is the changing face of Plaza Midwood, there's a lot we're losing. It won't change without a fight. Sushi Guru couldn't cut it, and NC Red is struggling to carve out its territory. In the face of all that, a little Dairy Queen lost its battle to stay alive and whoever takes over the space is going to have to have millions of dollars to do it.
The war for the soul of Plaza Midwood will be a bloody one. Those who survive will be the ones who learn to build bridges between the old and the new.
Kiki and Tattoo is part of that bridge. A thoughtful, smart take on Plaza's high-end future, this liquor lounge deserves all the success coming its way.