Changes afoot at Aloft: A new restaurant and new bartenders move in

Taking flight: Chef/owners Roz Taubman and Bobby Buggia will launch The Blackbird downtown this week.

Aloft, Asheville's newest hotel, brought with it a considerable amount of edible real estate: upstairs, the Wxyz bar, and on the street level, a restaurant space that will house The Blackbird, which will open for dinner on Tuesday, Oct. 16, after completing its move from its former Black Mountain spot.

“We're expanding our menu tremendously because we're moving from a 130-square-foot kitchen to a 900-square-foot kitchen, so we have a great deal more room and flexibility to be able to do the preparations we need to do,” says owner Roz Taubman, owner and chef at The Blackbird as well as the mother of Molly Irani, owner of Chai Pani and MG Road.

Taubman and her partner, Bobby Buggia, will bring a modern-Southern menu to downtown with foods that highlight regional products, such as stone-ground heirloom grits from Peaceful Valley Farm in Old Fort.

“We're living in the South; therefore things that are grown in the South used in a Southern style like they've always been used for a 100 years makes sense,” Taubman says. “It fits.”

The Blackbird will serve lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. A bar menu will also be available. Menu items include low-country fare such as oysters, shrimp and grits, and crabcakes, as well as inland staples, such as a grilled pork chop with arugula, smoked bleu cheese, barbecue sauce, corn pudding and Brussels sprouts. The restaurant also offers vegetable plates and meat-free pasta dishes.

The space enjoys many of the modern design elements of the Aloft building. The dining room houses multiple seating areas to host private gatherings. The front windows roll back, opening the dining space to the air. But although the restaurant is in the Aloft building, it isn't part of the hotel, nor does it connect to Aloft's atrium. The only connection is through a service elevator in the back so that The Blackbird can provide room service to Aloft guests.

McKibbon Hotel Group says they're excited about their affiliation with The Blackbird, indirect though it might be. “We're really looking forward to their arrival, and I know that they'll be great to help serve guests with dinner,” says Paula MacDonald, director of communications at McKibbon Hotel Group, the Florida-based company that owns Aloft. “We do have a kitchen in the hotel that serves small-plate items, but definitely, Blackbird would be our first choice to recommend to guests.”

While Blackbird moves in, some of the bartenders at wxyz are moving out. The mixology of Cynthia Turner and Donnie Pratt caused a stir, so to speak, at The Magnetic Field in the River Arts District. They moved on from The Magnetic Field to open the bar at wxyz.

But now, after less than two months at the hotel, Pratt and Turner have turned in their notices. “The craft is a little lost in the crowd there,” Pratt says. “Saturday, we probably had 200 – 300 people up there. It's a little too much for the style that we want.” He says it's important to him to add that McKibbon's influence had nothing to do with his decision to leave. “McKibbon and everybody on staff over there has been more supportive of what we do than most places that I've worked,” he says.

Turner says she will move to Table to work with bar manager Jesse Ratliff. Pratt says he will move to Cucina 24. They are also involved with The Blind Pig Supper Club.

Aloft Hotel is located at 51 Biltmore Ave. The Blackbird sill open daily and will serve lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. For hours and more information, see theblackbirdrestaurant.com or call 828-254-2502.

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