Perhaps it's called the Queen City for a good reason. Because it's possible to have your gooey butter cake and eat it too and be pampered like the regal Queen Charlotte herself. Suppose you're looking for a city escape where you can delve into some outstanding dining, indulge in a spa treatment, catch the Charlotte FC team in action, and sip artisan cocktails with a skyline view. In that case, Charlotte, NC, checks all of those boxes. And the beauty of it all is that you can do it all within the purview of the newly minted JW Marriott.
By Colleen Thompson
Stay at the JW Marriott Charlotte
The first JW Marriott in the Carolinas, the 22-story luxury hotel, is hard to beat if you seek an urban retreat. Perfectly positioned at the corner of Stonewall and College streets and sandwiched between two of Charlotte's finest eateries, a spa, a rooftop pool, and within walking distance to the Bank of America Stadium (home of the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC). The hotel draws its inspiration from the sumptuous textiles and patterns of the city's namesake Queen Charlotte, along with ornate royal details like the chandelier that hangs in the hotel lobby and marries them with the modern sensibility of the city. The subtle aromatic scent of warm amber and citrus wafts through the hotel-and instantly, it is the smell of relaxation, comfort, and the sense that you're in good hands.
From the moment you pull up to the valet service and check into the JW Marriott Charlotte, it has the look and feel of a polished, urban boutique hotel that continues through to the living spaces. Request a corner King room with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the ever-expanding uptown Queen City. The pampering begins with the large marble bathroom with his and her sinks, featuring JW's signature ylang-ylang aromatherapy skin & hair care products and, white waffle dressing gowns and supersoft Frette velour slippers. No one does bedding quite like JW, with their 400 thread count white linens, tasseled cotton throws, down duvets, and extraordinarily comfy pillows that leave you feeling immediately rejuvenated.
Breakfast on the run: Stop by The Counter at Deans and grab a Ginger Sunrise for an early morning boost of a freshly squeezed concoction of carrot, golden beet, orange, ginger, and turmeric. Pair that with avocado on rustic bread toast topped with spiced seeds and fresh mint. If you happen to be at the JW on a Sunday, then Brunch at Dean’s is a must. Opt for the Crab Cake Benedict with grilled asparagus, roasted tomato on brioche with spicy hollandaise. And sip on a wickedly excellent peppered Bloody Maria.
Start your day with pampering: Head to The Spa situated inside the JW. On arrival, relax in the calming lounge with a glass of Champagne or local Lenny Boy kombucha while you wait for your esthetician. The Spa offers six private treatment suites, a couples' treatment room, and even an Express Treatment pod. Guests also have access to indulgent and calming treatments, including a chill & decompress facial, a botanical opulence massage, and Alluring Bay manicures and pedicures. I chose the 80-minute Goddess of the Sun Ritual treatment. The treatment begins with a personalized aroma sensory blend followed by a full-body sun-infused shea butter sugar scrub, swaddled in an age-defying probiotic wrap, finished with a warming scalp massage. This intensive treatment left me feeling Zen-like with every cell in my body on notification to relax.
Eat Lunch at Caroline's Oyster Bar: A buzzy, chic spot day or night, Caroline's pays tribute to all things nautical and coastal Carolina seafood. The 360-degree centerpiece bar is roped in with a commissioned piece by San Francisco–based knot artist Windy Chien. An eight-seat oyster bar serves up the day's selections, including a personal favorite, Fat Belly oysters from Morehead City. Get started with the Spicy Tuna Tartare served with avocado, crispy rice cakes, and a yuzu ponzu. The charcuterie board to share is definitely worth ordering, which consists of grilled andouille sausage, paper-thin serrano, Shaker Blue Cheese, pickled okra, pimento cheese, and grilled sourdough toast. Of course, you could stop there but keep going. Order the heavenly Shrimp & Grits of charred corn, white cheddar grits, blistered tomato, and bacon lardons. After all, you're on an urban retreat, so dessert is compulsory, and the gooey butter cake might just have been the highlight of a very splendid weekend.
Take in a Major League Soccer CFC game: Within walking distance of the JW Marriott, the Bank of America Stadium is where the Charlotte Soccer team calls home, along with the Panthers. Perhaps the most exciting thing to happen in Carolina sports in some time, 2022 marks the inaugural season for the soccer team, and the excitement at every game is palpable. Their opening night set a record-breaking MLS attendance mark of 74,479 against the LA Galaxy. Even the signature Panthers statues outside the stadium had Charlotte FC scarves draped around their necks for the occasion. The crown on the team crest pays homage to the Queen City's namesake—Queen Charlotte, and each of the crown's four spires signifies the four wards of Uptown Charlotte. The BOA Stadium underwent a $50 million upgrade to accommodate Charlotte FC, including locker rooms specifically built for the team. Capacity is now 38,000 for most of the team’s home games, with fans restricted to the lower bowl and club sections. The team will play 17 home and 17 away games, and there are still plenty of matches (11) to catch the blue & black in action. With a new MLS team, Charlotte FC is likely to also play international visitors in exhibition games at BOA Stadium, including a friendly against Chelsea FC in July. Take a look at the remaining schedule to book your tickets.
Sip Cocktails with a View at The Aura Rooftop: A mini oasis unto itself. Hidden atop the 5th floor of the JW Marriott, this regal-toned, botanical paradise, draped in lush greenery, includes a bar and pool area that serves botanical-themed cocktails and hand-held nibbles to the tune of magnetic vibes. Take in the expanding Queen City skyline while lounging in the pool or tucked inside the privacy and coziness of a cabana. Sip on a "Color of Your Energy" cocktail of rye, green Chartreuse, Italian apéritif, lemon, Aqua Faba, fresh strawberry, and basil. While nibbling on spicy tuna hand rolls with avocado, nori, cilantro, and sriracha. When the sun is shining, the tunes are on rotation, and the crafted cocktails are flowing, you may never actually want to leave this gem of a place for the entire weekend.
Eat Dinner at Dean's Italian Steakhouse: A relaxed take on a modern high-end American steakhouse, but with the charming rustic touches of your favorite Italian trattoria. The sleek space with cozy booths allows guests to feel comfortable and unstuffy, but there's no skimping on the pampering and the attention to detail. The foreword in the menu gives the backstory of the restaurant named after renowned businessman Dean White, "who revered the simple yet exceptional things in life, savored the very best cuts of steak, and admired the finest Manhattan." And there's no doubt that Dean's delivers on Mr. White's testament. The show kitchen enables guests to watch the team, headed by Executive Chef Robert Reinken, turn out ultra-prime marbled cuts of American Wagyu and 28-day dry-aged steaks with deft and precision. Start the evening with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Champagne to sip alongside the Burrata cheese with apricot mostarda, truffle-infused honey, Spanish Marcona almonds, and grilled rustic bread. For an entrée, try the Italian "Oscar" Filet, an 8 oz. petite filet with jumbo lump crab, asparagus, and a taleggio cream. If you're a wine lover, you will not be disappointed. Ask for the Dean's List, which features off-the-menu bottles chosen explicitly for their rarity and historical significance. These highly sought-after bottles represent a best-in-class selection of Californian, first growth. If you're running short on time because you need to get to the soccer, pop back into Dean's post-game for dessert. Grab a table on the patio and be entertained by the excitement and celebrations of crowds of Charlotte FC supporters. But, of course, the night would not be complete without tasting the delectable tiramisu and a Dean's Manhattan to toast the winning team.