Luckily, Xpress' July 23 cover story -- in which novelist Henry James was revealed to have once dubbed George Vanderbilt's majestic mansion "a gorgeous practical joke" -- came out two weeks after the voting closed for this year's Best of WNC reader survey. Otherwise, Biltmore Estate -- the largest private residence in the country and a perennially popular tourist attraction -- might have lost out to some other lofty South Asheville landmark (like, maybe, Home Depot?).
Then again, with its newly opened hotel, its award-winning winery, its concert-friendly grounds, and the always-interesting, how-did-they-sleep-in-those-short-beds whimsy of its innumerable rooms, the Big House just might weather James' damning description unscathed. -- MM
Last year, Mountain Xpress leaked a story about an allegedly diaper-wearing local law enforcer. Bad puns were in shorter supply this year, but not scoops, if the paper's repeat win as Best Watchdog Group is any indication.
In separate articles, Xpress shone the spotlight on the Asheville Police Department (for its alleged mismanagement of a springtime peace rally) and on Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford (for his handling of an alleged domestic-abuse case involving his son).
Proving that everybody deserves their own watchdog, votes cast in this category were as diverse as "Lesbians," "Neurotic Christians" and "The Blue Ridge Parkway." The Blue Ridge Parkway? Did we miss something here? -- MM
Despite the neighborhood renaissance that saw West Asheville's first major arts festival, the third anniversary of the popular West End Bakery, and the opening of numerous other downtown-esque businesses along Haywood Road, the burgeoning Brooklyn of Asheville came in second behind repeat winner Montford.
This historic district of period homes and dead-author stomping grounds -- O. Henry is buried in Montford's Riverside Cemetery, and Zelda Fitzgerald met her fate in a fire at the late Highland Hospital on Zillicoa Street -- got livelier this year with the opening of Pyper's Place, a cafe housed in the former Montford Laundromat. A half-block away, the 1-year-old Sweet Heaven Ice Cream & Music Cafe continues to thrive, combining organic ice cream and live folk music in a feel-good parfait that is quintessential Montford. -- MM
This hubbub topped the balloting in categories in two separate divisions. See Best Local News You're Sick Of (under Best Media) for the dirt on this one. -- PG
Claudia Nix (who co-owns Liberty Bicycles with her husband, Blue Ridge Bicycle Club President Mike Nix) recently offered her views on the subject.
"I have been working on the issue of [the lack of city] bicycle facilities for over 20 years here in Asheville," she observed. "[We've] come a long way but still have a long way to go."
Nix urges people "to get involved, attend public meetings, and vocalize their desires."
Even more importantly, she continues, "People [should] write to our Congressman, Charles Taylor, and let him know that we want Congress to guarantee full funding for the Transportation Enhancements Program by supporting an amendment to strike Section 114 from the 2004 Transportation Appropriation bill." Section 114, she explains, "cuts out the mandated set-aside for funding bicycling and walking facilities." -- MM
For details, visit www.blueridgebicycleclub.org.
Holy Emeril, will the cult of the celebrity chef never die? If you ask me, there's something, ahem, distasteful about the trend. Shouldn't the food shine alone without the wizard having to part the proverbial curtain?
But at least it was a close race. Hot on the dissed Best Chefs' heels was a smorgasbord of "best/worst" categories that we also neglected to include, according to readers: More than one voter rued the missed chance to condemn the "worst city official." A couple more visualized a better-balanced survey altogether -- one that offered "worst of" counterparts in every category. Now there's an idea. -- MM
Newcomers to the Best of WNC Reader Survey, take note: The Best South Asheville Landmark category wasn't chosen at random. It's part of a series that started two years ago, with Best West Asheville Landmark. (Comments like "Why not N, E, or W?" and "Why just S. Avl?" were the norm this year.)
Such objections could be viewed as evidence of neighborhood pride. Flip that shiny coin over, though, and you have grouches who want to demolish such seemingly irreproachable categories as "Best Handicapped Access" and "Best Local Nonprofit." One untouchable even wanted to do away with "Best People" altogether. -- MM
On high-fashion runways, trends morph faster than pop singers turn into actresses. On small-city sidewalks, things take a while to catch on -- which is why dreadlocks on white people still have the power to provoke (white dreads "won" last year, too).
Dreadlocks stopped being a Rasta thing many years ago, of course -- today, you're just as likely to find them on your Brown-educated coffee barista.
One voter specifically protested "fake dreads" -- which was either a social statement regarding the aforementioned dread-coiffed Caucasians, or a heads-up on a truly scary trend. -- MM
This year saw a triumphant surge in local street performers after the city lifted its ban on soliciting, making room for living statues, tap dancers and fire spinners on downtown streets. Given the influx of eccentrics, voters apparently longed for some plain ol' sweet "Summertime."
Actually, Bobby Sax says "Amazing Grace" is among the songs he's most often requested to play. "And 'Over the Rainbow,'" he adds. "They love for me to play that."
The popular sax man claims an impressive musical pedigree, noting that his last stint was with Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs. He's been a fixture on local streets for the past two-and-a-half years, but isn't about to name his favorite corner: "I'm just a move-around man," he allows. "I move and groove." -- MM
As in Washington, so in Asheville: It seems our current leaders are provoking some serious ire in the streets. Among the more printable blasts leveled at the Asheville City Council by Best Of voters were such inflammatory phrases as "current idiots" and "oust the corporate sycophants." (More restrained folks simply said "get better government.") Many condemned "the PAC" -- the conservative political-action committee (Citizens for New Leadership, since renamed Citizens for Balanced Government) -- whose anointed candidates (blessed with $8,000 apiece) claimed a voting majority after the last election. (Mayor Charles Worley and Council members Joe Dunn and Carl Mumpower were elected, and Jim Ellis was appointed to serve out Worley's uncompleted term on Council.) The four have frequently voted as a conservative bloc ever since.
Some readers named names. "To get Worley out!" and variations thereon were the No. 3 Best Reason to Vote. After Mayor Worley, Council members Mumpower and Brian Peterson tied for most unpopular -- even though none of the three will be on the ballot this fall.
It looks like an awful lot of Ashevilleans are hopping mad at the sitting Council. But the $32,000 question is: Will they be mad enough actually to jump up off their couches and vote? -- SR
As you drive up Beaucatcher Mountain on Vance Gap Road, you'll pass through a narrow, steep-walled gorge. Look up, and there it is -- the strange little stone bridge that seems to connect nothing to nothing. If it's late on a fog-shrouded night, and yours is the only car on the road, pull up directly beneath the bridge, roll down your window, and call out: "Helen -- come forth! Helen -- come forth! Helen -- come forth!"
Then, put your arm around your date and hold each other close. A sad woman in an old-fashioned dress may appear out of the fog and implore you, "Have you seen my daughter?" Then again, you might look up and see the woman's corpse, dangling from the bridge where she supposedly hanged herself after her only child died in a fire at nearby Zealandia Castle.
After you stomp on the gas pedal and blast back down the mountain in a mad panic, try to remember to examine your car closely in the next day's light. If you find a handprint etched permanently into the paint, you'll know, locals say, that you've just had an encounter with Helen. -- SR