I haven’t made much of a point to spend time on Freedom Drive. A quick look just shows a road with dilapidated patches, smatterings of barbed wire, auto shops and gas stations. But I’ve caught more and more glimpses of Freedom Drive as my trips to Rhino Market for trivia or a bottle of wine on the patio have increased in frequency.
In 2014, Greg Lecour wrote in Charlotte Magazine about how Freedom Drive is often seen as a seam between good and bad parts of town: “You can stand at West Morehead and Freedom Drive, turn your head left and see one kind of Charlotte, then glance right and view another. Up Morehead is uptown, the gleam, the money, Bank of America Stadium. Down Freedom is the disillusionment of the west side: mainly minority, poor, crumbling, and crime-ridden.”
It still seems that way. But if you don’t just stand there at that intersection, and instead drive through it, you’ll pick up on the appeals along Freedom Drive. And I’m not just talking about the new Asbury Flats apartments, though those look pretty spiffy.
Five places you shouldn’t overlook:
I’ll get the obvious one out of the way and say, if you somehow haven’t been to Pinky’s Westside Grill yet, you deserve to get peer-pressured into it. It has a funky, dive-bar feel, the best Tahini Salad (with falafel) of your life and crispy squash chips.
1600 W. Morehead St.
I’m coming back here ASAP, since my roommate moved out and I’m missing odds and ends in my kitchen. Yes, this family-owned-and-operated store provides cooking equipment and supplies to places like churches, restaurants and medical facilities, but it’s also open to the public. The warehouse is enormous and runneth over with new and used supplies, from barstools to spatulas (cute colors, too) to plastic stemware.
1451 Bryant St.
“Faces of Freedom”
Not far from Pinky’s are pillars lined with glass mosaic artwork that border Freedom Drive. This is a 2006 work by artist Cheryl Foster of Temple Hills, Md., with the support of the Arts & Science Council and The Public Art Commission. The pillars depict neighborhood population diversity, from a butterfly, to a black male student in a basketball uniform, to a cardinal, to an elderly black woman raising her hand, to a white male chef holding a bundle of carrots, to an Asian boy waving.
This Latin American Contemporary Art studio includes a gallery for exhibition and event space, plus three studios where Latin American artists rent studio space on a monthly basis. These studio artists provide artistic programs as well as gain exposure for their own works.
On display through Sept. 2 is “Repetitions,” an exhibition by Argentine artist Santiago Quesnel that features an “intention to create mutations and variations of the same mental image, resulting in an examination of non-traditional landscapes generated from the intersection of record, experience and memory.”
1429 Bryant St.
If you turn onto Woodruff Place from Freedom Drive, you find a green park on your left (which is where the “Faces of Freedom” stand) and a tunnel of trees leading into the Wesley Heights neighborhood. This community gives off the same aesthetic as Dilworth — walkable with strips of sidewalk, smaller houses and bungalows with porches, clean landscaping and a family-friendly vibe.
Regardless of what you set eyes on, Kristina Cook Bortle of Carolina Cooks told me: “This area has a lot of potential for growth.”
Carolina Cooks has been part of this Freedom Drive community for about two years.
“We’re all mom-and-pop businesses,” she said. “We’d like to see more come into this side of town, Freedom Drive especially.”
Photos: Katie Toussaint, Clayton Hanson