Many a punk show, drag show, fashion show and even fetish freak show played out within the cavernous black-and-red, two-story bar on College Street in downtown Asheville, which opened in 2005.
Goths, rocking knee-high boots and lace, would swap clothes there. Pinball players would get sucked into alternate virtual universes till they ran out of quarters. Fire-spinners would mesmerize people in the courtyard as they artfully twirled their blazing poi. On slow afternoons, regulars would perch at the bar, sipping gin-and-tonics and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes while trading jokes.
On the busy nights, if there was a popular band in town or a benefit concert, the crowds swarmed in, consuming impressive quantities of whiskey and PBR. They came in rowdy and chattering droves, wearing boots and suspenders, taped-together glasses, wildly colored hair, tattoos, velvet, sleek black shirts and tight-fitting pants. (One patron was even spotted cuddling a pet fox.)
Many Mountain Xpress readers expressed their regrets online about seeing it go. "My favorite bar," wrote one. "Best drinks, bartenders and atmosphere in town ... we'll miss ya Rouge." Another reader fondly recalled a Halloween party there in 2005: "Remember the hunter wearing a deer's head and holding a bleeding man's head in his grip? Or, how about all the HOT pirates?" Yet another reminisced about the "marvelous people," writing: "No one ever gave me a strange look when I was there, and I'm pretty strange looking."
A pirate flag hung above the downstairs bar. And indeed, the joint apparently encountered some rough waters, as the bar served its final shot of whiskey the last weekend in April.
When Xpress tried to contact the Joli Rouge for more details, thinking perhaps the owners were still there cleaning things out, the phone just rang and rang. The only hint of a goodbye was a succinct post on its MySpace page. "So long," it read, "and thanks for all the fish."