Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Asheville, North Carolina for a weekend-long bachelor party with twelve other dudes. While most of the events of the weekend are sacrosanct and bound by the laws of manhood to remain untold (“What happens in the clichéd phrase STAYS in the clichéd phrase” etc.), I feel pretty safe in divulging the fairly harmless details of the five hours or so we spent in downtown Asheville’s bars on Saturday. Short summary: they’re great!
Before getting to the bars and the drinking, I will say this: every bar we went to played really great music the entire time. EVERY. ONE. I should mention that except me, all of the other guys in the group are musicians or work in the music industry in some way. They know their stuff, and it goes without saying that they’re quite the discerning bunch. Everywhere we went, all of us commented on how great the music in the bars was. So…good work Asheville! Our ears didn’t barf once!
The first place we ended up was the Bier Garden, because it was near where we parked and it had lots of beers and ah-no-duh. They have an extensive list of bottled beers available (both local and global) and a great selection of mostly local beers on draft. They have a really great pricing structure for their draft beers: $4 for a pint, $7 for a liter, and $12 for a pitcher. Across the board, no matter the beer. Those are incredibly fair prices for craft beers, especially given the selection. I ended up trying a Catawba Valley Hyper Monkey Java Stout. Rich coffee aromas, medium-bodied, and incredibly drinkable. I needed a little pep in my step anyway, and this was just the beer for it. Everyone got some great beers and food and we stayed there until the end of the Kentucky Derby. We asked our waitress* for suggestions for our next stop, and she recommended the Thirsty Monk a few blocks away.
Oh, there’s the Thirsty Monk, right behind that OH MY LORD WHAT IS HAPPENING HELP MY EYYYEEEES
When we walked into the Thirsty Monk, it seemed like a pretty cool place. Hip people, cool music, artsy stuff on the walls. But then we spied a sign in the back of the bar saying “Belgian Beer Bar and Restrooms Downstairs”. Restrooms!?! We’d hit the jackpot! Haaahaaaaa. Our interest piqued, we stumbled down the narrow stairs to the Belgian basement bar. YES. This place was for us: dark hardwood floors, big leather couches, and a long stretch of bar to saddle up to for a while (plus, RESTROOMS!). We grabbed some barstools and met our venerable barkeep Opus, a knowledgeable man when it comes to the dark art of Belgian beer brewing. I started off with a Delirium Tremens, a well-known Belgian that I was already familiar with and isn’t terribly complex or heavy, but was perfect for this budding spring day. We asked Opus about the various Belgian and Belgian-style beers on the menu, and he answered with aplomb. I tried another beer, amazingly complex , Birrifico Le Baladin Al-lksir, an Italian-made Belgian Strong Pale Ale, which pretty much blew my mind. CRAZY complex, with a barely noticeable 10% ABV. Just all over the place, floral flavors, vanilla, sandalwood, peppercorn…this beer just kept going and going.
Eventually, our tastes desired something stronger. Namely, SHOTS. We asked Opus for a quality cocktail establishment, and he hipped us to a tucked away cocktail joint called The Vault on Rankin. Since it’s law to always do what a man named Opus tells you, we went (NC penal code 244.3 subsection D).
Opus did not steer us wrong. The Vault was a sophisticated yet cool-as-hell joint where we ended up spending the rest of the evening. Yes, we were the jerks who ordered 13 Jager bombs like we just turned 21. I’m not proud of it, but someone else paid so whatever, I’m not turning down a free Jager bomb. After that, we lounged at the bar and the outside patio area imbibing at leisure. After surveying the booze selection and watching bartender Ally (Maybe Allie? Like I’m really going to ask a cute bartender how to spell her name for the purpose of this blooorrrg**) mix a few drinks, I decided to trust her with a bartender’s choice, something with Hendrick’s gin. She did not disappoint.
Ally’s drink with Hendrick’s gin, St. Germain, muddled cucumber and some other stuff I didn’t pay attention to. Minus a few sips.
I knew I was in the right place when she said “Well Hendrick’s would be the bartender’s choice, nice!”. She also made a killer mint julep with Basil Hayden bourbon (it was Derby Weekend afterall) that brought more than one mouth to its knees (?). Despite the fact that one inebriated member of the group continually harassed Ally and wouldn’t STFU, we had a great time there, with a solid selection of local brews to compliment the booze. As dusk approached, we decided to retreat to our mountain hideaway to continue to eat the bejeezus out of 5+ pounds of AMAZING local barbecue and drink more than I care to quantify. But I can’t talk about that, as is our Mancode. Sorry!
So if you ever find yourself in Asheville, or just want to get away for a few days to the mountains, don’t worry. There are plenty of places to drink in Asheville, and even the most remote grocery stores have beer selections that rival (or maybe top?) those of Atlanta liquor stores. I should also note that every bartender or wait staff we talked to knew a LOT about the local bar scene and breweries, where they were, and what to recommend to people unfamiliar with the area. No “locals only” attitude, but a genuine pride in their hometown and desire to share it with outsiders. Yet another compliment to Asheville on knowing who you are as a city and caring enough to tell tourists where the good stuff can be found. Thanks for a great weekend Asheville, I can’t wait to go back!
*It should be noted that EVERY waitress at the Bier Garden was pretty hot. It seemed like a shift change was happening while we were there, and each server seemed hotter than the last. Just a protip if you ever decide to go there.
**Though I did give her my card. BOO-YAH!