Located in the South End and Wilmore neighborhoods, Bardo is all about opposites and in-betweens. It’s all casual, laid-back atmosphere, with cuisine that’s anything but everyday. It’s small, unobtrusive design, coupled with boldly flavored small plates and creative cocktails.
The term “bardo” is literally defined as the transition, or state, between death and rebirth.
“We want it to be an experience, not just a place you come and eat,” Jayson Whiteside, who heads the management side of Bardo, explains. “Bardo is the transformation of a guest from entry to exit.”
It’s this concept of transition, experience that inspires the interiors of the space, alongside the unique quality of atmosphere. The restaurant is laid out in a rectangular shape, and upon immediate entry, you’re able to peak straight into the kitchen—where Chef Michael Noll is behind the counter preparing dishes, with mixologist Amanda Britton crafting cocktails behind the bar to the right. The color palette is a compilation of soft neutrals: light grays with touches of greenery. It’s a small space, and it’s part of what makes Bardo different from your typical Queen City spot.
Although, the smaller setup wasn’t originally what Jayson and Michael had planned. “It kind of evolved through conversation,” according to Jayson. “We saw a gap in the market in Charlotte, and we realized there was an opportunity for Mike to really showcase his techniques and skills. We changed from a bigger, laid-back concept to a more intimate, smaller technique and chef-driven style.”
The attention to detail behind the decor is mimicked in the team’s thoughtful planning within the food and drink menu. Each of them, in his or her own lives, has gone through this stage of transition, with none of the three being native to Charlotte. The team brings their own particular backgrounds and perceptions of food and flavor; Michael is from Pennsylvania, Amanda from New Jersey, and Jayson from Marion, North Carolina.
“So many of us are transplants; we move here, and we make Charlotte our home.”
It’s this idea, this sentiment, that Amanda infused in one of her favorite drinks. “It represents what I want to do here,” she explains. “I used Muddy River Rum, carrots, yellow beets, ginger, dill, Sombra Mezcal and lime. It plays off of the root vegetables that are in the cocktail, but also it’s a little love note to Charlotte. I’ve been here for almost seven years, and so many of us are transplants; we move here, and we make Charlotte our home.”
Alongside Putting Down Roots, The Cooling Effect has been one of Bardo’s most popular cocktails—a blend of Lunazul Reposado, aloe, agave, lime, and arbol and guajillo peppers.
Chef Michael himself is excited about the Beef Tartare, decorated with egg yolk jam, mushroom, radish and togarashi, and Jayson recommends the Diver Scallops, adorned with Japanese cucumber, chicken skin, and fermented hot sauce.
“Probably the most exciting aspect of it for me is simply watching people’s reactions,” Jayson says. “I see Mike watching people react, and, really, that’s what makes him an artist. I get a kick out of watching Mike get excited because somebody else is excited. It’s a lot of energy; that’s the flow of the space. The flavor that Mike combines on these dishes is just something that you don’t see everyday.”
“We like to keep it as chill as possible, and then we hope that people come in and leave with an amazing night.”
With an eye toward the future, it’s this dedication to atmosphere and technique that the Bardo team wants to focus on. As Noll puts it, “I’m the type of person who doesn’t believe in trying to hype something up. We like to keep it as chill as possible, and then we hope that people come in and leave with an amazing night. We just try to make it special.”