Charlotte’s Smokey Joe’s Café looks a bit like the inside of an old trunk, the dark wood, the metal fixtures, the random assortment of elements inside, all of it here crossed with a dive bar in the city’s Cotswold neighborhood. The building itself undersells the dive bar’s impressive interior, faded blue wood slats obscuring an immense patio that includes outdoor darts and ping pong, a credit to the generally forgiving Charlotte weather. Opened in 1984, Smokey Joe’s Café was once a retail store and a pair of biker bars before taking its current name and building out the ambiance inside.
And that ambiance is impressive, looking like a general store augmented with some alcohol, a large space given multiple distinct areas that include two separate pool table areas. There is an immense amount of dive bar décor to absorb, nearly every inch of the space covered in some kind of visual element, from preserved coasters to sports trophies to strips of neon here and there. The signature feature is perhaps the bar’s most bizarre element, a masonry waterfall built in the rafters, like a stone diorama for a school project that was never quite finished.
Live music rotates through a small stage in the rear of the space, including open mic nights on Tuesdays that have developed a strong reputation in Charlotte. As many of the online reviews of the space indicate, the dive bar live music dive is an endangered species in the city, Smokey Joe’s Café one of the last remaining holdouts in an impressive dive bar environment.