Known as the Portland, Oregon of the south, Asheville has a massive artisanal food and drink scene.
But, don’t take my word for it. For a town of only 80,000, it’s home to five James Beard Award nominated chefs, 22 breweries, 14 farmers markets, two honey bars, three hard cideries, and a park dedicated solely to food trucks which opened this summer. With the recent foodie explosion, it’s only natural that creativity and innovation have infused the cocktail realm as well.
Be it a funky beer, a foraged cocktail, or a lively scene, when in Asheville, here the top 10 places to get your drink on:
Ben’s Tune Up
Housed in a renovated auto repair shop, grab a table on the patio appointed with colorful mannequins, taxidermy, and herb-lined vertical gardens. Then, order up a sake flight of house brewed sakes; varietals range from hibiscus to Nigori. (Ben’s Tune Up is the nation’s fifth micro sake brewery.) For food, check out the Chinese five-spice bratwurst, duck tacos and wonton nachos.
The Crow & Quill
This place is steampunk meets funk and my favorite bar in all of Asheville for its unexpected, ‘down-the-rabbit-hole’ vibe. Don’t be surprised to see a few scenes play out like this: A woman leading a man around the dance floor to live accordion music, or patrons rocking fashions from the Victorian Age to the Victoria’s Secret catalog. And a bartender, with a perfectly sculpted handlebar mustache and plug earrings, deftly making drinks. A surreal, sublime experience—do NOT miss this. It’s members only, so either pay the membership fee (a few bucks) or go with a member.
One word: Porron! Beyond the award-winning Spanish tapas by chef Katie Button, a Food & Wine Best New Chef of 2015, Curate offers a crazy cider-sipping experience out of a carafe with a spout (aka porron in Spanish). And yes, it takes some practice, so don’t feel bad if you miss your mouth completely or it dribbles down your face, like it did mine. Hot tip: the faster you tip it up, the better chance for the liquid to hit your mouth—instead of your cheek or chin.
Riding on the sour beer trend, Funkatorium—an outpost of local Wicked Weed Brewing Co.— specializes in the beer resurgence, specifically in the Belgian Lambic style. Then, it’s aged in wine barrels for at least three years. To hop right into the world of sours, simply order a flight of five sour beers of your choice.
Just a block away from Crow & Quill sits an ambiguous black building with no signage. Yet another side of quirky Asheville is revealed at this self-professed dive bar. Expect to see hippies and hipsters alike swigging down beers and playing Foosball.
Designed by manager Jesse Ratliff and a team of talented barkeeps, MG Road’s innovative cocktail menu changes seasonally. The night I went, I chose the Telemundo off their spring menu. Created by Kyle Gray Beach, it was made of mezcal, lime, kaffir-infused St. Germain, egg white foam, and topped with chili powder. On Mondays, it’s a hotspot for the bar and restaurant industry of Asheville to hang. Plus, there’s plenty of imaginative Southern-inspired eats as well, such as the fried catfish with white gravy.
If a sexy cocktail with stunning sunset views of Asheville is what you’re after, head to the hotel’s terrace. Have a Manhattan or Margarita, made four different ways, or try one from the ‘Homegrown’ section of the cocktail menu that features regionally inspired cocktails, such as the White Whiskey Berry Sour with moonshine, lemon, and strawberries.
Upon entering, you’ll notice a curious sign that reads: “Knird, Doof”. No, it’s not some ancient Celtic language, as I guessed. It’s the words ‘drink’ and ‘food’ spelled backwards. On the right side is the restaurant with delicious, modern renditions of Southern eats by Chef John Fleer. On the left is a cozy, 8-stool bar with creative drinks by barman Spencer Schultz. The cocktail menu is divvied into three sections: Free-Spirited (non-alcoholic), Refreshing (original creations), and Full-Spirited (brown, boozy classics). The Yardbird is an excellent example of Schultz’ barkeep abilities of Rittenhouse Rye, lemon, dry vermouth, fig, and five-spice syrup.
Forage-to-glass is what it’s all about here. Opened by Charlie Hodge (a Portland, Oregon transplant) less than a year ago, Remedies specializes in root and herb-based cocktails foraged or grown locally. Don’t miss the Root Daiquiri of rum, sarsaparilla, burdock, lime, and dandelion or a sans-booze herbal soda. On Sundays, a ‘star-tender’ aka guest bartender, runs the bar with his or her own special cocktails.
Top of the Monk
Head to the speakeasy-style above the Thirsty Monk Belgian beer bar to experience a novel ‘sidecar’: every cocktail is served with a key. This key gives you access to an assortment of snacks, such as macaroons or nuts, locked away in an old-timey mailbox. Their riffs on classics are especially tasty, such as the Death in the Netherlands with Bol’s Genever, absinthe, Angostura Bitters, house ginger- cardamom bitters, lime, and cane sugar.