Asheville's Best Nightlife: 'Beer City USA' is Also a Cocktail, Sake Mecca
Asheville loves to party, as illustrated by the scores of great pubs, beer gardens, wine bars and upscale cocktail lounges dotting the city. Downtown Asheville, a safe and welcoming collection of walkable blocks, houses dozens of nightlife haunts, most serving an expansive collection of beers and spirits brewed and distilled locally. It’s also where you’ll find talented street musicians earning a buck by way of a guitar or harmonica. And at downtown’s Pritchard Park, the weekend officially kicks off every Friday around 6pm when the weekly Asheville Drum Circle gets the party started.
In the River Arts District, venue favorites include Grey Eagle and the Wedge Brewing Company. In West Asheville, you’ll find hipsters sipping beers along old timers at places like The Admiral and WALK, which stands for West Asheville Lounge and Kitchen. Whichever district you choose for your night out, you’ll find a social, laid-back vibe where anyone can get away with jeans and a t-shirt and everyone is open to making a new friend.
Besides the bursting-at-the-seems craft beer scene, live music is Asheville's other claim to fame, and the city gives up-and-coming musicians lots of places to test their talents. The Orange Peel is one of the most well-known venues for bigger-name bands to play, and good acoustics make any experience a memorable one, but most bars have some sort of live music scheduled throughout the week so it’s never difficult to find a good show.
Ben's Tune Up
It's hard not to feel hip at Ben's Tune Up, an almost completely outdoor bar and raman eatery converted from a bygone auto shop. Inside the 3,500-square-foot courtyard, folks take their pick of any number of upcycled seating options, including old truck seats, where they sip local beer and now sake, which is brewed onsite. Part of the fun of drinking at Ben's is appreciating the reclaimed décor, which sports repurposed wood, exposed brick, living walls and seating areas separated by ornate awnings. In the cooler months, everyone cozies around heaters and an electric fireplace while on hot, summer nights the courtyard's openness beckons the cool breeze floating down from the mountains. ((828) 424-7580)
The Imperial Life
Set above Table restaurant, this sophisticated haunt features lots of local beers on tap, an interesting wine list, and cocktails crafted from small batch sprits and backyard herbs. Small plates, including sashimi, oysters, house-made charcuterie and artisan cheeses, round out a petite, gourmet offering ideal for late night snacking and sipping. This is a great spot for hard core cocktail aficionados and those who genuinely appreciate inventive panache behind the bar. Mixologists here aren't afraid to get creative in their craft, as demonstrated by drinks such as the Freisa Fresca, which is made with Old Forester Bourbon, strawberry balsamic shrub, Zucca Rabarbaro and pineapple. ((828) 254-8980)
Lexington Avenue Brewery
The revelry spills out onto the sidewalk of Lexington Avenue making it nearly impossible to walk by Lexington Avenue Brewery without being tempted to go inside. Known by locals as simply 'LAB,' this open-air brewpub lures beer lovers in with its 16 taps but foodies soon follow thanks to fantastic fare ranging from the Truffled Pommes Frites to the Pan Seared Trout. Sit at the 92-foot serpentine bar with views of this barrel brewhouse's operations or snag a spot overlooking the street to enjoy some stellar people watching as Asheville's population of "keep it weird" die-hards stroll by. The food, which pays homage to casual Southern and California cuisine, is worth making this a place to start with dinner followed by drinks. ((828) 252-0212)
What Sky Bar lacks in square footage it makes up in views. Access to this outdoor spot comes via a ride up a vintage elevator inside Asheville's historic Flatiron Building, where a friendly attendant (worthy of a tip) will escort you up eight floors. Step outside and a friendly waitress will offer a small collection of cocktails, which guests sip on the 8th floor terrace and on large metal fire escapes on the 6th and 7th floors. That might not sound appealing but anyone who has ever visited will tell you Sky Bar has one of the absolute best views of the sun setting behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. Subdued tunes drifting from overhead speakers help to set the easy mood as folks toast the day's end with wine, stiff martinis and tasty cocktails made with house-infused spirits. Sky Bar is closed in the winter but heats the patio in the spring and fall. ((828) 258-1058)
This stylish downtown lounge was created by the Chai Pani team and focuses on munchies-type fare and creative cocktails. Inside the Wall Street locale, a wide selection of Indian-style bar snacks blend in well with the vintage Bollywood posters on the walls. Menus and a hand-written chalkboard showcase atypical cocktails, including The Green Card, which is made with pineapple juice, lime juice, gin and green chutney. Like Chai Pani, bartenders craft their sumptuous spirits with the flair of chefs, using house-made bitters and syrups in their arsenal. The space is chic but cozy with lots of dark wood and chocolate leather to give it an air of sophistication. Expect also artful, small-plate desserts that make for an ideal accompaniment to the creative nightcaps. ((828) 254-4363)
With more than a thousands different beers on offer each year, Thirsty Monk has earned national recognition as one of the best beer bars in the world. Besides a slew of beers by the bottle (about 150 different types), the taps feature a large, rotating array of craft beers, many brewed locally. Day and night, Thirsty Monk has a jovial vibe that radiates throughout the main floor bar, onto the outdoor porch and up to the Top of the Monk bar upstairs. Lots of tasty options dot the food menu, including a selection of international bar bites hailing from Germany, Belgium and Spain. You'll also find sandwiches, tacos and pizza plus beloved dishes such as the famed Monk Nuts and White Tire Dip, made with beer, of course. ((828) 254-5470)
This new cocktails and dining spot created by the Cúrate family boasts a speakeasy feel bolstered by inventive drinks and imaginative small plates. Chef Katie Button, whose award winning culinary prowess placed Cúrate into the hearts of local diners and national critics, created an American-inspired menu of small plates and bar snacks all designed to be enjoyed in a bite or two. Desserts are also bite-sized and exude some culinary whimsy, as exemplified with Button's fun root beer float interpretation. These gourmet offerings pair well with the small, by-the-glass wine offering and the dozen+ craft cocktails mixed with premium spirits and hand-carved ice. The décor, turquoise chandeliers hung over tables, chairs and sofas in rich hues, creates a sense mystery that begins at the inconspicuous gated entrance and staircase inside. Nightbell has no sign and its Lexington Avenue street front looks like an antique shop, making it easy to miss. ((828) 575-0375)
Grey Eagle Tavern
This popular, unpretentious concert hall in the River Arts District hosts local and touring live acts showcasing an eclectic array of musical genres from bluegrass and jazz to rockabilly and folk. Besides a checkered floor and posters touting acts past and present, the spot has a no-frills aesthetic with its exposed rafters, retro candy machines, well-loved couches and old piano. Standing room for 600 surrounds the stage plus there are a handful of high tops by the bar, which serves a huge selection of draft beers. On Monday nights starting at 7pm, a slew of friendly locals and out-of-state visitors flock to the Grey Eagle for contra dancing, a style similar to square-dancing with dancers constantly switching partners while a caller doles out spirited instructions alongside the band on stage. Cover charge is is typically $7 on these nights. (828-232-5800)
This first-rate live music venue -- widely regarded as one of the best in the Southeast -- hosts a wide range of acts week to week, from regional faves like Acoustic Syndicate to national acts like Ben Harper, Damien Rice and the Smashing Pumpkins. The Peel has a spacious floor area for their mostly general admission, standing-only shows but there are typically 50-70 stools set around the perimeter of the room available at a first come/first served basis. The smoke-free facility also features a huge dance floor made from springy wooden slats ideal for boogie-filled nights. Expect also live stand-up comic acts, free cult classic movies and open mic nights at this unfussy venue. (828-225-5851)
Wicked Weed Brewing
A two-storied restaurant and brewery, Wicked Weed Brewing is one of the newest craft breweries on the local beer scene but a huge selection of delicious brews has quickly catapulted it onto the list of area favorites. From barrel-aged ales to hoppy American lagers, this brewpub cranks out a varied selection of craft beers designed to pair well with its menu of local-sourced fare. Its close proximity to The Orange Peel next door makes it a great pre- and post-show spot plus the expansive outdoor patio with its blazing fire pit at the center makes it a popular evening haunt. ((828) 575-9599)
About Kristen Manieri
Kristen Manieri is a travel and food writer with extensive travel experience in the Asheville area. As a regular contributor to Virgin Atlantic, West Jet's UP!, Dreamscapes and Forbes Travel Guide, she has published more than 200 stories over the past eight years. Asheville makes it easy for her to be such a fan. With its bursting-at-the-seems dining scene, sprawling hotels, eclectic shops and miles of picturesque hiking trails, this small town tucked into the palm of the Blue Ridge Mountains has captured Kristen's heart and she loves nothing more than inspiring other travelers to visit.
Read more about Kristen Manieri here.