Optimist Hall is a beautifully adaptive reuse of an old mill in the Optimist Park neighborhood of Charlotte. The old mill now serves as a mixed-use facility, featuring an ever-popular food hall and creative office space for Duke Energy. While Optimist Hall can get very busy during peak hours, the vibe and overall experience make it worth visiting.
Top Reasons To Visit Charlotte’s Optimist Hall
There is no shortage of things to do in Charlotte. On any given Saturday afternoon, you might find yourself at the Whitewater Center or on one of the local greenways. You might also attend a sporting event or hang out with friends at one of Charlotte’s many breweries.
Is an afternoon at Optimist Hall worth your time and effort? We think so. Here are the top 5 reasons to visit Optimist Hall.
Light Rail Next to Optimist Hall
1. The Food
The concept behind Optimist Hall might conjure up memories of mall-style food courts. Still, it is nothing the same. I’ve never left a mall food court without feeling disappointed. On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed nearly every experience I’ve had at Optimist Hall.
Comparing a food court in a mall to Optimist Hall would be like comparing the local recreational league softball game to a Major League Baseball game experience.
The food choices at Optimist Hall are as eclectic as they are delicious. Some of the restaurants are locally owned, while other restaurants are small franchises that focus mainly on high-quality food courts.
Take Papi Queso, for instance. Papi Queso sells gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches that will change your thoughts about the go-to childhood meal. Papi Queso started as a trendy food truck in the Charlotte area but put down roots at Optimist Hall.
If calling a sandwich a gourmet grilled cheese sounds contradictory, you haven’t tried Papi Queso. My favorite is the Mac Melt with Applewood Bacon. Creamy mac and cheese are topped with sea salt and fresh herbs. Plus, they perfectly sear the sandwich between two slices of bread.
While Papi Queso might be my favorite tenant, there are many other delicious food options. I usually order from more than one place. Other options include pizza, tacos, dumplings, ramen, empanadas, sushi, cocktails, gelato, and bakery items.
2. The Beautiful Mill
The building itself is wonderful. The weathered brick and wooden floors are inviting, and the old smoke stack proudly exclaims the region’s history as a pioneer in textiles. Nowadays, Charlotte is more known for banking and stock car racing (as odd a pair as you will find), but beautiful old mills are still scattered throughout the region.
While the mill has been rebranded as Optimist Hall in its current form, it was initially known as the Highland Park Gingham Mill. Interestingly, the mill was built by the same firm that developed Atherton Mill, also located along the modern light rail. Atherton Mill has undergone its own transformation and now serves as one of the centerpieces of the South End community.
Optimist Hall was meticulously remodeled so that it is brand new in some regards, but the history is preserved, and the building stands as a beautiful fusion of the past and present.
It can be costly to remodel old buildings. That is one reason why developers knock down old buildings in dense urban areas (Goodbye, Hall House). Still, the results can be outstanding when a firm takes the time to preserve a historical building and its natural charm.
And such is the case with Optimist Hall. When you hang out in the redesigned courtyard or ride the elevator from the lower to the upper level, you can briefly forget you’re hanging out at a mill built in the early 1900s. Then you sit at a table near one of the walls and notice the building around you.
3. Space To Socialize Or Work
The layout of Optimist Hall partially resembles a horseshoe, with a large courtyard serving as its center. Most food stalls are in the horseshoe’s center and eastern arm. There are plenty of nooks and tables to sit down at to eat and hang out.
If it gets too crowded inside, you can always move outside to the center courtyard, with plenty of additional seating. Between the indoor and outdoor seating, there is enough seating for as many as 650 visitors.
The unique spaces and fun vibe makes Optimist Hall a great place to meet your friends or a great place to work remotely away from the office. The atmosphere might be a little loud if you participate in many Zoom calls.
Still, there is plenty of room to set up your laptop on a weekday or gather with family and friends on the weekend.
4. Next To Blue Line
The Blue Line of the local light rail changed Charlotte in many ways. The most notable evidence is how South End rose like a Phoenix, and the Rail Trail became the heart of an urban environment.
While some people ride the Blue Line daily, many people in Charlotte have never caught a ride on the light rail. The reason for this is simple enough. With only one line running north and south, the Blue Line is only convenient for very few.
Still, the Blue Line is a fun addition to the city that turned areas full of warehouses into an urban core. I spent a Sunday afternoon with my two-year-old riding the Gold Line (back when it was actually a trolley) to the Charlotte Transit Center, where we hopped on the Blue Line to ride it to its end and back.
My kid had the time of his life, so I won’t tell him that the afternoon was an excuse for me to ride the light rail for the first time.
So if you want to experience Charlotte at its best, go for a walk on the Rail Trail in South End, ride the Blue Line past Uptown to eat dinner at Optimist Hall, and then ride back into Uptown to catch a baseball game or a basketball game.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. 😎 The light rail is fun, and Optimist Hall’s placement along the light rail is both fun and convenient.
5. Support Local Businesses
Optimist Hall offers many options that you could easily visit multiple times before doing the same thing twice. There is something for every preference, and when you are done eating, you can visit one of the other retail stalls. Optimist Hall also features a pet shop, a candy store, and a plant shop.
Not every business at Optimist Hall would be considered a local business, but almost all tenants would be considered small businesses. Tenants such as Harriet’s Hamburgers, Noble Smoke, and Papi Queso have Charlotte roots.
Optimist Hall is unique because it offers local businesses the chance to survive and thrive. In places like South End, trendy chains such as Shake Shake have replaced local restaurants like Pike’s Soda Shop. Plus, the quality standard for food and design is on par with what you might expect from trendy national brands.
Eating and shopping at Optimist Hall can enjoy great food, a fun atmosphere, and support small businesses. What’s not to love?
More About Optimist Hall In Charlotte
There are many reasons to visit Optimist Hall, but we’ve listed our five favorite reasons above. If you plan to check it out, you may still have some questions. Fortunately, we have some answers.
Where Is Optimist Hall in Charlotte?
Optimist Hall is located in the Optimist Park neighborhood, sandwiched between Uptown and Noda. The old mill is on the north side of I-277 and adjacent to the first light rail station (Parkwood) north of Uptown.
If there is one thing that is regrettable about Optimist Hall, it is something that isn’t even the developers’ fault. Optimist Hall sits at a weird curve in the road, which resulted in quite a few car accidents as more and more traffic started to enter and leave the area surrounding the food hall.
Still, Optimist Hall is positioned in a great location central to Charlotte, just outside of the hustle and bustle of Uptown, and accessible by light rail or call.
The actual address for Optimist Hall is 1115 N Brevard St, Charlotte, NC 28206.
Does Optimist Hall in Charlotte Have Free WiFi?
Remote workers, rejoice! Optimist Hall has free WiFi and is a popular spot for the local remote workforce that doesn’t have access to a WeWork. Of course, the complimentary WiFi is intended for purchasing guests, so buy a coffee and lunch while you are on-site!
You might not want to work remotely at Optimist Hall every day because it sometimes gets a little busy and loud. But it does offer an excellent change of pace. Optimist Hall is a great place to meet up with a co-worker or business partner, and while you might enjoy your time, you can still get some good work done.
Can You Park At Optimist Hall Charlotte?
Yes, parking is available at Optimist Hall. As you come north from Uptown, you can quickly drive past the entrance if you are paying attention. A long drive winds past a group of apartments to a parking lot surrounding the old mill, food hall, and creative workspace.
Parking gets tight during peak hours, so if you can take the Blue Line, you might consider doing so. It’s a fun way to get to the food hall, you won’t have to worry about a designated driver, and if you live along the light rail, it is likely the most convenient way to get there.
Still, the light rail isn’t accessible for most people, and parking is available.
What Is The History Behind Optimist Hall Charlotte?
Before Optimist Hall was remade into a food hall and innovation center for Duke Energy employees, it served as a prominent textile mill in the Charlotte community. It was then called Highland Park Gingham Mill, or Highland Park Mill.
The same firm that built the Highland Park Mill also built other prominent mills in the Charlotte area, such as the Alpha Mill and Atherton Mill.
When Sara Blakely was trying to get Spanx off the ground, she came to Charlotte to convince the owner of Highland Mills to build her prototype! Over the years, the Highland Park Mill made a variety of textiles. In the most recent year, the mill made women’s hosiery, even as it started to fall out of style, but that’s certainly not all they have made.
Still, the current food hall and innovation center may be the mill’s highest and best use. Gibson Mill in Concord, NC, is another old mill that now features a food hall, but Optimist Hall has the better food selection.
Camp North End sits just a few miles away from Optimist Hall. Camp North End is also an adaptive reuse of facilities that previously made Ford Model T cars and Army missiles. If you enjoy the history behind Optimist Hall, make sure you visit Camp North End too.
Who Owns Optimist Hall Charlotte?
Charlotte-based White Point and Atlanta-based Paces Properties team up to create this transformational project that became Charlotte’s first food hall. It takes a dedicated and experienced team to turn a building from the early 1900s into a modern-day food hall.
While plenty of skyscrapers stretch into the sky, there is something special about Optimist Hall that makes this adaptive reuse one of the most exciting developments in Charlotte’s recent history.
Is Optimist Hall Charlotte Worth Visiting?
Optimist Hall is a beautiful venue with fun and tasty food that you might not be able to get anywhere else in Charlotte. Even if you can find some of the eats elsewhere, you certainly can’t find all these options in one place.
It is hard to visit Optimist Hall and get just one thing, and we aren’t sure you should limit yourself to one type of food anyways. Empanadas and pizza and sushi may not sound like a great combination, but they are all delicious in their own right. That may not be the specific combination you want, but the possibilities are endless.
You will fall in love with multiple food vendors. After all, there are tacos, burgers, ramen, salads, a bakery, a gelato shop, and a candy store.
Optimist Hall is also a great place to hang out. Whether you are meeting friends on a Saturday or meeting up with a business partner on a Wednesday, the food hall’s central location within Charlotte makes it convenient and easily accessible.
Optimist Hall is worth your time and money. The experience is unparalleled in the Charlotte region, and the food is excellent.