By 9 p.m. on June 20, most seats were filled at Off the Wagon’s first themed event: an Elvis-inspired Hawaiian luau. There were several large groups, one table of 20 and quite a few couples. But the minute dueling piano maestros Jess Mills and Eddie Hathaway started tinkling the keys, it was one big party, everybody clapping and singing along: a roomful of piano aficionados dying to hear their favorite song, which just happened to be “All Shook Up.”
The good-natured staff were all in costume: Sarah Allison, Kayla Boyd and Nicole Neal in colorful sarongs, and doorman Josh Hodgin greeting guests in Hawaiian shirt and lei. Most notably, services manager Brett Kiser’s campy getup — grass skirt and coconut bra — was right out of a Gilligan’s Island repeat.
The drink specials, reminiscent of what Elvis drank in the film Blue Hawaii, were the Blue Hawaiian (a big handful of a tumbler filled with blue Curacao liqueur, pineapple juice and rum) and the mai tai (light and dark rum, orange Curacao and lime in a tall, shapely glass).
But what if you like a little food with your alcohol? Off the Wagon doesn’t serve any, but one group carried in a bag of popcorn as big as a man’s torso, and the party of 20 was passing around a Mellow Mushroom pizza. In addition, the piano bar has a deal with two neighboring restaurants, Brasilia Steakhouse and Korean House: You can order from a special small-plates menu, and the staff will pick it up and bring it right to your table.
The atmosphere on this particular Friday was high-energy, all-inclusive, humorously irreverent and thoroughly interactive. Entertainment bartender J.J. Sherman, aka Wrangler, was assigned to the bachelorette party: five tutu-clad young women at a reserved table front and center.
“We’re the bachelorette party destination of Asheville,” said Kiser. “One night we had nine of them at once.” The bachelorettes had their own drink menu, rated from G to XXX. Asked what makes a drink XXX, Wrangler explained, “The best way to describe it is, it’s more about who it’s done with than what’s in it.” Then he helped a bachelorette hold her hair back as she slurped a whipped cream concoction situated between the legs of a male stranger, as guests swarmed around to watch. Obviously a professional, Wrangler held a clean towel underneath the ladies’ chins as he poured shots down their throats. The Vegas transplant is clearly a man who’ll not only get you wasted but will get you some truly awkward photos for later.
The all-request piano bar ran the gamut from Elvis tunes to rock ’n’ roll (“Sweet Home Alabama,” “Walk This Way,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me”), the occasional rap and more recent hits like “Low” by Flo Rida.
Asheville resident Lexie Autrey was there celebrating her promotion, sharing a fishbowl drink with friends. “This is a typical Friday night,” said Kiser, “but on Saturdays at midnight it’s standing room only.”
The huge drink selection includes wine and Champagne by the glass, the signature 64-ounce fishbowls (served in the real deal), local brews, specialty shots and drinks. For the designated driver crowd, there’s Red Bull (sugar and sugar-free) or soda, and no one was judging. Still, the intoxicating house-party ambiance made it mighty tempting to throw caution to the wind and order that Mrs. Robinson fishbowl (a tantalizing combination of Kraken black rum and homemade lemonade).
To find out about the venue’s next themed event, visit offthewagonrocks.com.
Off the Wagon is at 22 N. Market St. Hours are 6 p.m.-midnight Monday-Tuesday and 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Wednesday-Sunday.