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2012 Democratic Convention: Where Stars Like Ashley Judd and Thora Birch Will Eat, Stay and Play

RNC: Bern’s Steak House

It's far from Hollywood, but there are plenty of places to grab Carolina barbecue before heading to the $6,500/night suite in the tony Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 23-Sept. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Tampa and Charlotte are hardly hotspots for Hollywood, but at least the world-class wines, concerts and afterparties will add even more spice to both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions already-heated political fare.

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DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION
Charlotte, N.C. (Sept. 3-6)

Who's Going: Industry associations range from film (Ashley Judd, Thora Birch and Mai Lassiter, wife of James, Will Smith's producing partner) to TV (Glee director Paris Barclay and The Bold and the Beautiful producer Colleen Bell) to business, including Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon. If these attendees are looking for TV time -- and who isn't these days? -- they'd be wise to stake out a spot by the California sign.

Who's Playing: The MTV Video Music Awards are happening in L.A. the same week as the Democratic convention, but planners still managed to book rapper Common and Jermaine Dupri to DJ the RIAA benefit Sept. 4. The Creative Coalition has The B-52's headlining its Sept. 5 shindig, hosted by concert-chair L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. And Grammy-nominated rapper Flo Rida will perform at a Sept. 5 concert for veterans groups Got Your 6 and The Mission Continues.

Where to Nosh: When The Hunger Games was filming in town, Amelie's French Bakery (2424 N. Davidson St.) was a hotspot for castmembers like Woody Harrelson. And owner Lynn St. Laurent has political connections of her own after rubbing elbows with West Wingers during a recent round table on small businesses at the White House.

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Penguin Drive-In (1921 Commonwealth Ave.), a frills-free spot famous for its fried pickles, is a fave of Just Go With It's Brooklyn Decker, who lived in Charlotte growing up. "It has delicious, greasy food," she says, "and is a landmark in Charlotte." Considering its recent showing on Adam Richman’s Man vs Food, it seems Decker’s not the only one.

Up the street from the site of the president's nomination-acceptance speech, Halcyon (500 S. Tryon St.) is equal parts Southern and swank. Homeland's Claire Danes has dined on its farm-fresh fare, and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and DNC CEO Steve Kerrigan come for a fix of local flavor.

Sleek style and specialty cocktails set the tone at the new 5Church (127 N. Tryon St.), where private parties for the DNC's visiting celebs are already booked.  Since opening, the posh spot's hearty dishes from lamb burgers to lobster mac and cheese have drawn sports stars including the Panthers' Cam Newton, Olympian Cullen Jones, and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

Barbecue and beer reign at Mac's Speed Shop (2511 South Blvd.) south of the city where businessmen and bikers alike mingle over Big Pig pulled pork sandwiches. Chefs like Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, and Anthony Bourdain have all stopped in for the famed 'cue, and a recent visit from Madeline Albright gives it plenty of politico cred. 

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Where to Stay: The modern Ritz-Carlton (201 E. Trade St.), Uptown's toniest hotel, has LEED certification and eco-friendly features that make it a natural pick for Dems. And its $6,500/night suite Presidential Suite comes with a DC-via-Hollywood connection, having been the setting of several scenes in Showtime hit series Homeland. On the 15th floor is the Urban Sip Wine and Scotch Bar which features 35 single-malt scotches, the city's largest selection of wines by the glass and top-notch views.

For the most privacy, stay at the opulent Ballantyne resort in the separate four-bedroom, 3,670-square-foot The Cottage at Ballantyne (10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy.). James Taylor and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a fundraiser last March at the hotel.

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Where's the Fun: You might need to look at nonconvention Charlotte, like CNN's Morgan, who will "attend my first-ever rodeo. I did some bullfighting in Spain once; I need to get back in the saddle." For parties, go to big events to find out where the afterparties are. (Or rent the Ritz-Carlton's Presidential Suite and throw your own.) With buzz growing for Flo Rida's show, it has high aftershow potential -- and could throw the crowd into a swing state.