The owner of the Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge, Joel Hartzler -- along with Vault partner Chad Smoker and contractor Gerald Beal — is opening a bar and restaurant on the corner of Walnut Street and Lexington Avenue in the building where Old Europe used to be located. The business, located in downtown Asheville is to be called the Southern, Hartzler reports.
Why the Southern? Hartzler says that the building was constructed for the Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company. "Over two of the doors it says 'Southern Bell Tel and Tel Co.' We sort of like embracing the history of the building, not unlike [the Vault]," says Hartzler. Hartzler references the fact that his existing cocktail lounge on Rankin is housed in an old bank building -- and makes use of the actual bank vault for a lounge area. Of naming his new restaurant after a telephone company building, Hartzler unintentionally puns, "It has a nice ring to it."
The main dining room, featuring a 20-foot bar, will hold about 50 seats. The patio in front of the building has additional seating capacity for about as many people. "It depends on how friendly you want to get," says Hartzler.
"We will be more of a restaurant than the Vault," Hartzler says, though he admits that there are some challenges to overcome. The Southern's kitchen is equipped with a hood system that vents through the side of the building, so cooking methods that the kitchen staff can employ will be limited. "You can't cook with an open flame. You can't grill or fry," says Hartzler.
To come up with creative ways to skirt these limitations, the team has hired a chef who previously cooked at Table on College Street. The chef, Terri Roberts, will likely use the convection ovens to braise meats and bake bread. She'll use a panini press for sandwiches, and create other items that can be held on a steam table -- think rice and beans for burritos, for example.
"We want to have some reference to Southern influence," says Hartzler of the menu's items. "I don't think that's only going to be [Southern], as in the southeast United States, but also southern Italian, south Asian. We don't want to be pigeonholed into one thing."
He also reports that the bar will serve signature drinks with all fresh juices, much like the Vault. In addition, there will be eight beers on tap, most of them locally brewed, "and a much more extensive wine list than the Vault has," Hartzler adds. Full-table service will be available, as well. The price point, he maintains, will remain fairly low, or at least "significantly less" than many restaurants around town.
A back room, already equipped with a bar, will be used as an event space and potential music venue.
Hartzler describes the Southern's atmosphere as "comfortable." Although he reports that the restaurant could hold more heads, he wants there to be a feeling of space in the dining room, so he won't be installing as many tables as the space could potentially hold. "We want there to be elbow room," Hartzler says.
Hartzler hopes that the Southern will be open before Bele Chere, which will take place the fourth weekend in July.
Joel Hartzler (left), Gerald Beal (right) — photo by Jake Frankel
New plans for Old Europe
One of the former owners of the space that Hartzler is renovating, Melinda Vetro, is re-opening Old Europe — in a more streamlined fashion and sans now-ex-husband Zoltan Vetro — a few blocks over at 13 Broadway, formerly occupied by the Sisters McMullen, and next door to Suwana's Thai Orchid.
"I won't screw it up this time," Melinda says, in reference to the former couple's failed attempts to greatly expand Old Europe into a restaurant/club. The bakery and coffee house moved from a cozy spot on Battery Park Avenue in 2006 into the building on the corner of Walnut and Lexington, and Melinda admits that the changes were overly ambitious. "We ended up buying high," she says. "Construction (costs were) more than we had planned, and we had 40-something employees to start with. That was a big jump from five part-time girls. To manage 40 people and pay them, it was just more than we could handle."
"I'm going back to basics," Melinda says. "I'll have all of the desserts that we used to have at Old Europe when we used to be in the Flat Iron Building," she says.
Meanwhile, Zoltan is "pursuing other interests," says Melinda, who adds that the couple is amicably split. "We're happily divorced -- both of us -- after 18 years," she says. "It took a toll on us, working together." Zoltan has given all of the equipment, as well as the Old Europe name, over to Vetro so that she may restore the business to its original focus: a humble and comfortable coffee shop and bakery.