Want a great concert experience? Take a tip from Xpress staffers and head for the River District. The Grey Eagle Tavern and Music Hall, just a short hop from the heart of downtown, has its own parking and loads of square footage. Homey and unpretentious, the popular venue is a comfortable yet lively space to see and hear your favorite artists.
A catalog of roots and folk musicians visit regularly, including both local and national acts. And the on-site Yamamma's Snaqueria adds good eatin' to the concert experience. Don't discount the memories, either -- even though it was more than a year ago, the Grey Eagle still gets high, high marks for bringing John Hartford to the neighborhood. -- BP
Grey Eagle Tavern and Music Hall
185 Clingman Ave, Asheville
As we sat in Marco's Pizzeria recently, a friend asked me if I was sure that the restaurant serves New York-style pizza. Now, to be fair, I don't know New York at all, but looking around the room at the Yankees posters, a photo of the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Brown Ale in my friend's hand, I felt pretty confident that they wouldn't serve anything but authentic pie. I have since been reassured by more traveled folks that this is indeed the case. And New York-style or no, for Xpress staffers, Marco's is the top game in town.
Maybe it's the result of some kind of imprinted memory, but great-tasting pizza tastes even better in a restaurant with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. -- BP
640 Merrimon Ave, Asheville
"Wednesday night is fish night in Asheville!" proclaims local philosopher/wandering activist/and now, seafood supplier Mickey Mahaffey. For those who haven't heard, the best seafood in town isn't served in any restaurant. It's raw, fresh -- and you gotta cook it up yourself.
Since May, Mahaffey and friends (a.k.a. Asheville Fish Co.) have been making overnight runs to the coast and back to supply shrimp, scallops and a variety of fish to local tailgate markets. Every week, regulars (including, obviously, a majority of Xpress staffers) have returned to discover what treasures are in Mickey's coolers, and they hardly ever leave empty-handed. Between the three markets, Mahaffey unloads 300 pounds of seafood in two days: flounder, mullet, croaker, spot, bluefish and mahi-mahi. The list keeps growing, and you never know what he'll come up with next.
Not sure what to do with your catch? Hang around. Mahaffey and customers are always swapping recipes. -- BP
Asheville Fish Co.
Downtown Tailgate Market (Biltmore Ave, next to Bio-wheels) Wednesdays 3-6:30
West Asheville Tailgate Market (Haywood Rd, next to the West End Bakery) Wednesdays 4-7
Hot Springs Tailgate Market, Thursdays 4-7
It's a landslide. More than half of the Xpress staff named the Early Girl Eatery as the area's Best New Restaurant. It's only a short stroll down Wall Street (which gets my vote as the best street for restaurants, overall) from the Xpress offices, and it serves three squares a day.
Co-owners John and Julie Stehling opened the eatery -- named for a type of hybrid tomato -- last October. John says his vision was of a Southern-style restaurant that served healthy food made from locally grown ingredients. The success of the menu -- meat and veggie dishes, casseroles and, of course, grits -- is a testament to that dream.
They also have the coolest T-shirts. -- BP
Early Girl Eatery
8 Wall St, Asheville
This is a serious event. How many performers can you shoehorn on stage? Asheville native Warren Haynes doesn't forget his hometown, treating it (and us) to a Christmas communion each year featuring jam-band rockers like Blues Traveler, Phil Lesh and Haynes' own Gov't Mule.
The show sells out almost immediately, attracting not only locals but the inevitable swarm of tour travelers from across the country. It's an endurance event for fans: The show rolls on into the wee hours. Nobody seems to mind the marathon, though. Heck, if they could, they'd stay another day. -- BP
If you live here, I hope you like bluegrass. Maybe they should put up a sign at the city gates advising new arrivals: In this town, you can't get away from the pickin', strummin' and fiddlin'.
Some folks can't seem to get enough, though, so thank goodness for Shindig on the Green. Every Saturday evening from June to September, musicians and fans can immerse themselves in a world of dance and music. Old-timers and newcomers swap stories and songs while cloggers tap out the heartbeat of the region's deep musical traditions. Whether you're a tourist, new arrival or (like Xpress staffers) a seasoned veteran, Shindig has something for you.
It's not just for listenin', either. Bring your ax along and jump into one of the many impromptu jam sessions. -- BP
Shindig on the Green
City/County Plaza, downtown Asheville
Saturday evenings, June to September
Man, does this town love a party. And don't go grousing about the inconveniences caused by street festivals, you wet blanket you. The third Friday of every summer month, Ashevilleans (including as many Xpress staffers as aren't chained to their desks getting the next Wednesday's paper out) head to center city to see what Downtown After Five is serving up -- and, of course, to see who else is there. Eat, drink, dance, enjoy -- it's summer in Asheville, and it's free! With the credibility gap between paychecks and rent now giving the Grand Canyon a run for its money, who's gonna argue with "gratis"?
And the despite complaints, the city's biggest (and, therefore, most controversial) festival, runner-up Bele Chere, is also loads of fun. If the crowds count as ballots, it appears that Asheville likes to: drink beer in the streets, see old friends, and enjoy free music. Who knew? -- BP
In the interest of full disclosure, it's probably appropriate to note that one of the members of The Junkadelic Orchestra works for Xpress (but then again, who hasn't at one time or another?). And no, I'm not tellin' who it is (so much for full disclosure).
Reached at his mountain retreat, vocalist Bill Melanson chalked the band's success up to the musicians simply liking one another. That's a step in the right direction (and a quality a lot of bands manage to do without). Pressed for a concise yet definitive description of the Junkadelic's music, he hesitated, then began with, "It defies description." Pushed further, he conceded, "We try to play 'wiggle music' -- something that has a groove to it."
Melanson went on to remind me that we're not talking about a bunch of guys in their 20s (and naming influences like Tower of Power drove the point home). The band boasts five writers, which should give some idea of the diversity factor.
As for the musicians, Melanson says the goal is simply to play and enjoy music: "We just get together and try to have fun." Must be contagious. -- BP
Recently, Jack of the Wood held its fifth-birthday bash and everyone, it seemed, came out to celebrate. The place was at maximum capacity, and revelers spilled out onto the sidewalk.
Of course, it doesn't take a birthday party to make that happen at Jack of the Wood. Every weekend sees some new band calling in the flocks. And then there's the beer. Regulars have long established their favorites among the four different Green Man Ales brewed right on the premises (as well as seasonal brews). And then there's the fish-and-chips and other pub grub.
Manager Craig Peters chalks the customer loyalty up to the pub's atmosphere. "You feel welcome when you're here," he says. Xpress staffers obviously agree. -- BP
Jack of the Wood Brew Pub
95 Patton Ave, Asheville
Italian parmesan and fresh herb bread ... those six words alone should be enough to justify Xpress staffers' naming the City Bakery numero uno -- but that's only the beginning. "There's so much different stuff, it's hard to pinpoint," one bread-slinger told me when asked about their most popular item. Three-chili bread, olive bread, muffins, Danishes and more.
City Bakery specializes in European-style, all-natural bread, explains Rose Dennehy, who bought the business in January from the same folks that brought us the Laughing Seed and Jack of the Wood. Recently, the bakery's ovens have been moved to Lyman Street to allow for much-needed additional seating room at the Charlotte Street shop.
No order, says Dennehy, is too big or too small. "We can do whatever," she proclaims, adding that the largest orders require 48 hours' notice. -- BP
88 Charlotte St, Asheville
A drugstore is much more than a place to buy Dristan. Neighborhood pharmacies, like barber shops and bars, foster relationships with their customers that may last for years.
Hashim Badr, the owner and operator of Asheville Discount Pharmacy, not only knows his customers, he may know their parents (and even their parents)! After all, Badr's business has been serving Asheville for two decades. The front sign (and, in fact, the store itself) is decidedly retro (how accidentally hip) compared to chain stores, but don't think for a minute that it's the original one. Go inside, and Badr will point you to the "old" sign (now hanging on the wall).
And at Asheville Discount Pharmacy, you can find more than just medicine -- check out the wall of wigs and weaves behind the cash register. -- BP
Asheville Discount Pharmacy
76 Patton Ave, Asheville
Any bookstore can supply you with something to read. Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe takes it to the next level: experience. The bookstore, a fixture on Haywood Street for 20 years, brings authors, poets and philosophers together to help readers delve deeper into the world of words. Reading groups discuss the latest in lit, and open-mic poetry readings give local writers a chance to rehearse their verse and expose their prose.
And oh, the books. For some, a visit to a bookstore is like a trip to toyland. Pick a genre, and Malaprop's will have it set aside for you. Wandering the aisles got you hungry? Stop by the cafe for coffee and a munch.
Running a close second in the hearts of Xpress staffers, Downtown Books and News offers a huge selection of used books and all kinds of magazines. -- BP
55 Haywood St, Asheville
Put down that doughnut and throw the murky joe down the drain. That kind of fare is simply not acceptable when the Old Europe Coffee House is just down the street. But don't let that bias discourage you: Xpress staffers (like good journalists everywhere) consume a lot of java, and they know what they like, even if it weren't so convenient. Old Europe offers three different flavors, plus cappuccino-style drinks. The outdoor seating is shaded and comfortable, a good place for a conversation or a fast game of checkers.
And though you won't find any doughnuts here, you will find cakes, tortes, tiramisu, chocolate and other delectable desserts to dunk, with class, into your coffee. -- BP
Old Europe Coffee House
18 Battery Park Ave, Asheville
The Urban Trail is well trodden; anyone who spends a significant amount of time downtown can tell you that. But while tourists may experience the trail as an entertaining and enriching diversion, Asheville residents are more pragmatic in their approach to the trail's landmark sculptures, and Xpress workers are no exception. Giving directions, for example, becomes much easier when you can tell the wayward tourist to "go past the cats, make a right by the giant iron, a quick left, and then walk till you hit the fiddler (Wall Street parking deck to the Civic Center).
But because our offices are in the Miles Building, we can't help but be huge fans of the mammoth flat iron, whose hulking bulk hunches right outside our door. It never ceases to amaze us how childlike even the stodgiest tourist becomes in the presence of the world's largest Monopoly game piece. It also confounds us that, without fail, tourists will inevitably make the same joke: touching its business end, flinching and saying, "Ouch!"
Ironically, the flat-iron sculpture may have proved to be a little too engrossing. More often than not, said tourists will linger for a few minutes, rattle off a few more iron puns, snap a photo and stroll on down the trail without ever once raising their gaze to admire the historic structure that inspired the playful sculpture -- even though it's looming eight stories tall right in front of them. Big sigh. -- BS
The flat iron -- next to the Flat Iron Building, you moron.
This one was a no-brainer for Xpress staffers. Why? Because we work in the Miles Building. Actually, we're supposed to work there; but when you're in procrastination mode, that bench sure comes in handy. Conveniently sited in the curve at the end of Wall Street, the bench is a prime spot for eyeballing the passing parade. Many Xpress scribes can vouch for its curative abilities when the dreaded writer's block sets in. Moreover, the bench can comfortably seat four adults (or one prone sleeper; watch out for the cops, though -- slumber, it seems, is verboten). Best of all, the bench is strategically situated to afford a perfect view of the Haywood Park Hotel's front entrance -- and guests' comings and goings provide endless entertainment. OK, that might be an overstatement, but hey, it beats working. -- BS
Bench in front of the Miles Building
2 Wall St, Asheville
Reservations strongly recommended
A hands-down winner, Blue Spiral 1 is definitely a favorite among Xpress art buffs. No surprise: With 14,000 square feet of exhibit space spread over three levels, Blue Spiral is an art lover's paradise. The gallery -- one of the dozens that, collectively, have established Asheville as an art destination -- continually reinvents itself (a testament to its commitment to showcasing the talents of the region's myriad artists). For many Ashevilleans, Blue Spiral is a "must see" when giving visitors the grand tour of downtown. Let's face it, we're proud to live in a town that boasts a gallery on par with what the best New York has to offer. Who needs the Big Apple when we've got the Blue Spiral? -- BS
There wasn't a clear winner in this category, but several parks netted a vote apiece. So, with editorial license, I hereby proclaim parks in general as this year's Xpress staff pick for best use of taxpayer money. The Food Lion Skatepark, Pritchard Park and the new French Broad River Park all got the nod from our staff. Although one person here did vote for "street kids," which leads me to believe he/she knows something I don't. Is the city covertly funding these kids? Think about it: They always have money for coffee, appear well fed and, on occasion, the distinctive scent of cannabis can be detected in areas where they congregate. Somebody's paying for that bud; that stuff doesn't grow on trees, you know.
So maybe all this talk by local politicians about our "problem" with street kids is really just a cover for a top-secret operation that bankrolls these idlers to help Asheville maintain its bohemian charm -- the real reason tourists come in droves to the Paris of the South. In the coming weeks, watch for Xpress' hard-hitting investigative expose on "Operation Dreadlock." -- BS
Given the disparate results of this staff vote, it's amazing we're able to put out a paper every week. None of us could agree on what constitutes the best waste of taxpayer money. So many voices, so many opinions ... nonetheless, there were some interesting choices. "DOT's pave-everything mania" comes to mind, if for no other reason than its catchy phrasing; it could easily be a bumper sticker. Another staffer had the temerity to vote for the Urban Trail pig sculpture adjacent to the Vance Monument. This struck me as a blatant form of species bias: After all, there are turkeys there as well. So why does the pig get such a bum rap?
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the vote cast for "the pothole in the Xpress parking lot." I'm not sure how taxpayer money created this; maybe the voter is implying that tax revenues would be better spent on fixing it. (On the other hand, maybe they mean that fixing it would be a waste? Oh, never mind.) But if you're reading this and you work for the city's Public Works Department (which would constitute a waste of taxpayer money in itself if you're reading this on the job, but I digress), the crater in question is in lot number 13 -- the gravel parking area behind the Civic Center, near the Interstate Motel. (We who use it have affectionately dubbed it the "condom lot," because every morning we must tiptoe through a minefield of safe-sex jetsam, but that's another story.) The pothole sits mid-lot; you can't miss it (it's the one with the rock climbers rappelling down its sheer sides). -- BS
I'm not real sure about this category; bizarre is such a subjective term. But apparently Xpress staffers have noticed that some men around town have taken to wearing dresses. Mind you, the vote was close: Placing second was the bizarre trend of living in a city wracked by air pollution and continuing to drive an SUV. Personally, I think the latter should have won, but since I wouldn't dream of sullying the sacred integrity of our electoral system, I am honor-bound to bow to my peers' collective judgment.
Screw that. It's been hotter than Hades this summer, and wearing a soft-cotton, backless dress is downright logical, whatever your gender. The SUV thing, on the other hand, is truly bizarre. Sure, some people need one for work (Border Patrol agents and jungle explorers, for example), but how many of you jacket-and-tie types are also cruising around in these gas-guzzling behemoths? And don't give me that 'I've got a big family' bit: There are vehicles on the market that are family-friendly and fuel efficient.
Here's a neat idea: During the next city election, try attending one of the candidate forums and asking current and prospective Council members why they drive their vehicle of choice. Better yet, bring some asthmatic kids along with you (sadly, there are lots to choose from) and let the politicos try to justify their air-polluting ways to some of our community's most vulnerable citizens. I bet you might hear some bizarre answers. -- BS
Xpress staffers did agree on this one: You should vote because you can. Granted, the last presidential election took a lot of the wind out of voters' sails. (If there's any solace, it may be that Enron couldn't prop up its house of cards long enough to see a return on the gobs of money it funneled into various political coffers.) And locally, the last City Council race also left many with the feeling that big-money politics has reared its ugly head in little ol' Asheville.
But the bottom line remains that voting is a powerful tool for change, especially at the local level. Witness Mickey Mahaffey's grassroots mayoral campaign that netted him 1,000 votes in the last election -- accomplished on a shoestring budget, to boot. While he didn't win the mayor's seat, Mahaffey now has the ear of city officials who know full well that he speaks for a multitude.
Too often, we forget about the tremendous progress made possible by voting-rights activists throughout our country's history. And far too often, those gains came with a price -- sometimes the ultimate price. In a typical election, however, we're lucky to see one-third of the eligible voters exercise the right that others have died trying to secure. So get off your butt and vote ... and mind your chad. -- BS
The allegations made by the former Woodfin police chief sparked a firestorm of controversy that has rocked the state. Bribery, blackmail, corruption, racial profiling, ticket-fixing: And it all came to light when Pete Bradley bumped heads with Woodfin Mayor Homer Honeycutt. It's a complex tale, no doubt, and it's only just started to unfold. Its tendrils, however, extend far beyond the little hamlet of Woodfin to touch the state Department of Motor Vehicles, Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford, District Attorney Ron Moore and some of the biggest paving companies in the state. Some folks feel that Bradley's allegations (which have been supported by other law-enforcement officers in Woodfin and the DMV) are not so much an indictment of corruption as an attack on the good ol' boy system itself. Apparently, locals aren't the only folks interested in the tale: Uncle Sam has stepped in with a federal grand-jury investigation that has subpoenaed a veritable who's who of law enforcement.
But in order to tell his story, Bradley first had to overcome a smear campaign organized by unknown parties seeking to destroy his credibility by bringing to light the fact that Bradley is bisexual and has admitted to attending parties where people wore diapers for sexual enjoyment. Trouble is, the smear campaign failed when Bradley spoke publicly about his sex life. That took guts. And while it will be up to the courts to sort through the mess of charges, Pete Bradley has won our vote for Local Unsung Hero for soldiering on amid vicious personal attacks that would have most of us cowering in the closet.
Meanwhile, the tale itself got our staff's votes in the twin categories of Best Local News Story and Best Local Scandal. For Xpress staffers, there was no other choice. A summation of the Bradley/Woodfin saga won a spot in the pantheon of the alternative press: News of the Weird. And if it's good enough for Chuck Shepherd, it's good enough for us. -- BS