Bar Beat: The Burger Bar

There are plenty of legends about the Burger Bar, most of them too wild and ludicrous to be repeated. Its location would seem to contribute to myth-making: It’s a tiny, house-like building nestled out of the way in Asheville’s River District, not too far from the railroad tracks. It’s easy to miss, easier still to see out of the corner of your eye and wonder about, but never go in.

Photo by Jonathan Welch

Skipping it would be a shame, though, because they don’t make drinking joints like this one anymore. Open since the 1940s, it’s the oldest continuously used bar in Asheville, as the patrons proudly inform newcomers.

They’ll also challenge anyone to a game of pool (loser buys the beer).

It’s a good place to tell—and hear—some stories. Over a pickled egg and crackers (one of many classic, all-but disappeared bar munchies this place still serves), a middle-aged patron, illuminated by the green light of a neon sign, paints a vivid picture of walking the glass skyway over the Grand Canyon. “Look straight down 400 stories—that’s a sight you’ll never see anywhere else,” he says as he gets another Michelob Ultra. “Travel. There’s nothing like that around here.”

The place is simple, with two rooms inside: one with a pool table, the other with a few tables clustered around a bar. A jukebox shines in the corner and never stops playing. There’s a TV above it, but unlike in most bars, it doesn’t seem to even slow the flow of conversation.

If you’re looking for cocktails or wine, go elsewhere. The Burger Bar has beer, beer and beer. The good news is the beverage is sold at some of the best prices in town ($2.50 for a Corona, $2 for everything else). Nothing on the menu, eats included (sardines, hot sausages, beef jerky, chips, peanuts), is over $3. (Except for a pack of cigarettes, which costs $4.)

Despite the name, there are no burgers. What is here, besides the opportunity to enjoy a beer and a snack for a minimum investment, is an unusually friendly atmosphere. Everyone seems to know each other. The bartender (Patty) never lacks a kind smile. They’ll ask you where you’re from, talk about old basketball players (“David Thompson would have been the best ever if he hadn’t been pushed down the stairs at Studio 54”) or offer to buy the next beer if you can correctly peg Bob Seeger as the voice singing “You’ll Accompany Me.”

At the Burger Bar, it’s impossible to stay a stranger for long.

The Burger Bar is located at 1 Haywood Road. For more information, call 253-9794.

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