Mountain vistas, quirky culture, and remarkable restaurant and arts communities—there’s definitely something special about Asheville, N.C., that draws people in. Rooted in a resilient Appalachian heritage but absorbing influences from around the globe, this small city (population hovers around 90,000) nurtures an exceptional spirit of creativity and collaboration.
In the last decade, Asheville’s earned the moniker Beer City USA—the metro area alone is home to nearly 40 craft breweries. And thanks to a nearby apple-growing region, an emerging hard cider industry is starting to thrive. There’s also an ever-growing number of wineries and meaderies, and—despite North Carolina having some of the country’s strictest liquor laws—a new craft distilling industry is gaining steam. Add in several meaderies, a sake brewery, plus a wealth of craft cocktail venues and neighborhood bars, and Asheville reveals itself as one of America’s newest best places to drink.
Downtown is the beating heart of Asheville’s bar scene; on every block and around every corner there’s an excellent watering hole worth investigating. Fortunately, despite the occasionally hilly terrain, the city’s center is easily walkable, with lots of colorful street buskers, historic landmarks, and stunning architecture to take in.
North Market Street’s Sovereign Remedies gets its name from a term for herbal folk medicines that self-reliant Appalachian families concocted for healing their maladies. Striking 14-foot arched windows complement the vintage décor in the historic space, which has earned a devoted following with its seasonal, farm-to-glass cocktail program and creative, locally focused kitchen.
Whiskey aficionados should make the short trek over to Lexington Avenue to check out The Crow & Quill, which boasts more than 450 whiskeys plus hundreds of other types of spirits. Don’t miss taking a peek at the hidden upstairs garden area that gives a fun view of Asheville’s rooftops.
A quick jaunt around the corner to Pritchard Park leads you to one of Asheville’s Art Deco architectural wonders, the S&W Building. Inside, The Times travels back to the 1920s with its upscale vintage décor and carefully researched menu of historic cocktails. Dip down an intriguing staircase just inside the building’s main entrance to find Save Me the Waltz, a stylish craft cocktail lounge and jazz club named after the only novel by Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of F. Scott), who famously perished in a fire in Asheville in 1948.
Not far from Pritchard Park, look for the iconic statue of a giant iron that marks Asheville’s historic Flatiron Building and the entrance to Wall Street, home to the fun-loving MG Road. Sister business to its upstairs neighbor, the smash-hit Indian street food restaurant Chai Pani, MG Road is a festival for the senses with its wild abundance of colored lights and tiki-themed drinks menu. For just $9, you can cool down with the Guava Mama, a mix of tequila, orange liqueur, guava, lime, and salt.
Bordering downtown, the up-and-coming South Slope neighborhood has evolved in the past five years from a collection of derelict warehouses and factories to establish itself as Asheville’s new brewery district. But beer isn’t the only beverage to be found here.
On Collier Avenue, the lines can be long at the ever-inventive Burial Beer Co., but favorite brews like the Skillet Donut Stout and Shadowclock Pilsner make it worth the wait. Step outside to the expansive beer garden to snap a photo at the Instagram-famous mural of Tom Selleck and Sloth from the movie The Goonies.
Drift around the corner to Buxton Avenue to find Urban Orchard Cider Co., which crafts creative hard ciders from locally grown apples. The smart bet is to order a flight so you can sample the range of styles and flavors, from the semi-sweet April Skies (brewed with pineapple and lavender) to the bone-dry Arid Apple.For those more in the mood for spirits, Antidote is the answer. The handsome three-story space is decked out with collections of vintage laboratory equipment and cozy, lamplit nooks. The bar menu features offerings from local distillers, including gin made by next-door neighbor Chemist, whose production facilities can be viewed through a window on Antidote’s first floor.
Before leaving the South Slope, pay a visit to Ben’s Tune Up. Housed in a converted auto shop, Ben’s is a favorite local late-night haunt featuring an Asian fusion restaurant, outdoor beer garden, live music and dancing, plus its own sake brewery specializing in genshu, nigori, and fruit-infused namazake.
River Arts District
Asheville’s River Arts District, known simply as the RAD, was once an aging industrial area full of empty warehouses along the French Broad River. Now it’s home to the city’s densest concentration of working art studios. It’s also a fun place to bar hop.Start at Wedge Brewing Co.’s original location on Payne’s Way, a local gathering spot well known for its popular Iron Rail IPA. For something more spirited, walk next door to Bull & Beggar, a cozy and creative seafood-focused restaurant that happens to have one of the area’s better craft cocktail bars.
For one of Asheville’s most expertly curated wine lists, go down one more door to District Wine Bar, the high-ceilinged former workspace of the late sculptor John Payne. Its comfortable sofas and exposed-brick, art-covered walls make it a pleasant venue for sipping on selections from a carefully chosen menu of about 50 wines by the glass.
Not far away is Asheville’s first urban winery, the recently opened plēb. With a mission to support and nourish Western North Carolina viticulture, plēb sourced tons of grapes from area farmers in 2018 to create more than 20 small-batch varieties. It serves its current offerings—from a mix of local and regional vintners—on tap in its roomy, laid-back wine bar.
Next, head down Riverside Drive to find Asheville’s only nomadic cidery, Daidala Ciders. Owner Chris Heagney learned his trade in England and now creates his ciders at other area facilities, serving them in his second-floor taproom at Historic Cotton Mill Studios, which doubles as a gallery space for local artist Andy Herod.A short drive down the road at RAMP Studios, Ginger’s Revenge specializes in an entirely different kind of brew—alcoholic, gluten-free ginger beer. The lime agave flavor—inspired by the Moscow Mule—is usually on tap along with a rotating variety of creations, all made with locally sourced botanicals and fruit.
Just 20 years ago, this hip, walkable neighborhood was popularly referred to as “Worst Asheville,” but its Haywood Road corridor is now a destination, partly due to its lively and eclectic restaurant and bar scene.
Start your Haywood Road tour at Jargon, a small restaurant that’s making waves with its imaginative and well-executed food and adventurous cocktail program. Explore offerings such as the bourbon-forward Ice Breaker 2.0, named for its smoked ice sphere that’s cracked open with a tiny hammer.
A few blocks east, The Whale: A Craft Beer Collective flies in the face of Asheville’s prevailing “drink local” zeal by devoting its multitude of taps and extensive bottle collection to rare and sought-after brews from around the world. Fortunately for those in need of a nosh, it shares space with seasonally focused, farm-to-table restaurant Haywood Common.
The perfect place to curtail the crawl and settle in for the evening is the nearby Golden Pineapple. The new venue from longtime Asheville bar stars Katey Ryder and Donnie Pratt has a long list of affordable and accessible wines by the glass plus one of the city’s best house cocktail menus. It’s hard to choose, but try its satisfying take on the Airmail, which is luxuriously laced with burnt honey and amaro.