Adventurous entertainment in Asheville

FREEWHEELIN’: Asheville on Bikes produces a number of community rides each year, including the Halloween-themed Pumpkin Pedaler, pictured. Routes allow for cyclists of a range of skill levels to take part in the group excursions, and most of the local bicycle advocacy organizations events are free to attend. Photo courtesy of Asheville on Bikes

Dinner and a show, beers and bands, a visit to a gallery or stroll along the Urban Trail: All of these pastimes put locals and visitors in touch with Asheville’s creative side. But what if you want to add an extra layer of intrigue to your recreation? How about a bike ride in costume? Or, perhaps, a beer tasting in the dark? Read on for those and more ideas … if you’re feeling brave.

Easy rider

The earliest community events, hosted by Asheville on Bikes in 2006, drew about 50 people. Today, rides organized by the local bicycle advocacy group bring out 200-700 cyclists, depending on the weather. “There are elements of each event that I savor,” says Mike Sule, AOB’s executive director. For example, at the Summer Cycle, “We get a lot of young riders participating and it shows growth in the organization — it’s not just for the rough and rowdy.”

In fact, Sule explains, a lot of thought goes into making AOB’s community rides available to a range of abilities. Events offer 2-, 10- and 14-mile journeys that connect so cyclists on each route meet up, and those originally at the back of the ride find themselves leading the pack. “We come from a place where cycling should be safe, fun and accessible,” says Sule. “It’s how we grow as a community.” Most rides are free to further reduce barriers.

Bike of the Irish, in March, kicks off the spring cycling season, but it’s the Pumpkin Pedaller that often attracts the largest number of riders. For the annual Halloween-themed excursion (scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 26), some people spend all year working on their costumes, Sule says. And many creative bike enthusiasts incorporate their wheels into their alter egos.

The organization now has about 450 active members and a large social media following. “Asheville on Bikes is more successful in our advocacy work because there are more people responding to our calls to action,” Sule says.

So what direction might that activism take in the future? “I really want to see our city move to adopt [National Association of City Transportation Officials] design standards,” says Sule. “Because if we can change the policy and if we can change the standards for how active transportation facilities are built, that’s a more holistic approach to how we do infrastructure. … If we update the design standards, we’ll get facilities that are equipped to move all people by a variety of modes, safely. That’s one of our biggest pushes.”

And if one of those modalities just happens to be a leisurely pedal with family and friends on a crisp autumn day, while dressed as a ninja pirate … that’s fine by us.

Learn more and join a cycling event at ashevilleonbikes.com.

Quick on the draw

EASEL DOES IT: Attendees to two local figure-drawing nights have the opportunity to sketch (or paint and sculpt, depending on the session) live models. Open to serious, focused artists, both classes welcome all skill levels, from beginners to advanced. Image from a line drawing session by Andrew Mastriani

The first session of the Figure Drawing Salon at Colourfield was held nearly five years ago when the visual art and dance space first opened. The term “salon” was chosen “because it feels more a gathering than a class,” says Colourfield manager Alex Alford. “Plus, music is playing, sometimes we chat as we draw, there are light snacks, and we’re all there to learn from each other.”

Alford explains that figure drawing is part of every artist’s development and a matter of ongoing discovery for some. “When Colourfield opened, we had the space, and with dancers and actors using the space, we had plenty of willing models,” he says. “It seemed a natural thing to do.”

Across town in Riverview Station, artist Andrew Mastriani saw a need for a second figure-drawing opportunity. He launched The Drawing Room, a Wednesday night session, when models hold a single position so artists can work on “prolonged drawing of one pose and really focus on one piece much more than having multiple pieces at the end of the night.”

At Alford’s Friday evening salon, models move through a variety of poses. He and Mastriani attend each other’s sessions — intentionally scheduled on different nights — “to work these two different mindsets of drawing,” Mastriani says.

There are many other similarities between the two figure-drawing classes: Both are open to artists of all experience levels. Beginners are welcome, though there isn’t instruction, and critique isn’t offered unless requested. “There’s no judgment, no pressure and always a good vibe,” Alford says.

At both, basic ground rules create a safe space. For example, the person posing decides if he or she wants to talk or remain silent and can refuse to hold a position that feels in any way uncomfortable, Mastriani notes. Those in attendance must “draw the whole time (no sitting and staring; that’s creepy),” adds Alford.

Plan on arriving 15-30 minutes early to set up and get settled. At Colourfield, artists are permitted dry mediums only, and no photography is allowed. But, “folks don’t need to bring anything; all supplies are provided. … Folks are free to bring whatever dry drawing materials they choose (charcoal, pencil, pastel, etc.),” Alford notes.

The Drawing Room provides easels on a first-come, first-served basis. There, due to the longer-held poses, “you can bring wet or dry medium, or if you even want to sculpt — if you’re not taking up too much space — you can bring clay,” says Mastriani.

Asheville boasts a number of people who have either been a figure model previously or are open to the idea, Mastriani says. “We have people of different body types and genders,” he continues. “It’s about studying the human form — that’s the essence of figure drawing.”

The Figure Drawing Salon at Colourfield meets Fridays, 6-9 p.m., 54 Ravenscroft Drive. $15, info at colourfield.com/art. The Drawing Room meets Wednesdays, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Riverview Station, 191 Lyman St., JMK Studio 236. $10. Contact andrewmastriani@gmail.com or on Instagram @thedrawingroom_Asheville.

The great escape

To enter The Conundrum, a visitor descends a flight of stairs and presents a password through the hatch in a speakeasy door. And, while the low-lit, cinematic interior doesn’t house bootleggers or mobsters, it does contain an array of secrets and diversions.

The Noir Room offers wine- and beer-tasting in the pitch-dark room (servers wear night-vision goggles) and is “one of our most popular things with locals whenever they have people visiting,” says manager Cary Nichols. People who’ve entered the room as strangers have had enough fun to go to dinner together after the show, she adds.

The Conundrum started with one escape room 3 1/2 years ago. “Shawn Verbrugghe, the owner, constantly adds,” says Jeff Catanese, also a manager. “We’re very soon to have four escape adventures,” plus there’s a full bar and live music events on Saturday nights, as well as private parties and corporate, team-building events.

Escapes include The Attic of Abigail Falkirk — complete with eerie lightning flashes through a dormer window — and the comedy-based Brewery of Dr. WunderBrugghen. Conundrum hires local actors, Catanese notes, and the newest escape adventure, Who Whacked Wise Guy, was designed by the actors who are familiar with the venue’s particular brand of escapade.

That room — an extension of the bar — continues the Prohibition-era ambiance with luxe wallpaper and red upholstery. Despite the below-ground location, the feeling is cozy (and a little naughty) rather than claustrophobic. “Although this one has puzzles like an escape room, you’re interrogating suspects and trying to solve a mystery [rather than] trying to get out the room,” Catanese explains.

“It’s our most theatrical,” Nichols adds.

Most adventures are an hour long for two to eight people; a soon-to-be-added escape adventure (slated for October) will be a two-person challenge that should take about 30 minutes. “We do have some of the more difficult escape adventures,” Nichols says. While the national escape rate for such experiences is about 50%, The Conundrum boasts a mere 30% rate.

For those who don’t make it out on time, a waiver signed before the challenge begins “allows us to hit the incinerator button,” Catanese jokes.

Kidding aside, players can ask for as much help as they want, “so [the games are] only as hard as you want to make them,” Nichols says. “It’s been a delightful study of human nature.”

Book an adventure, $25-$35 at entertheconundrum.com or visit The Conundrum, 1 Battle Square, Suite 2B.

Walk about it

Earlier this year, local artist Anna Helgeson and her wife took an LGBT history tour while on vacation in Madrid, Spain. “As a gay tourist, I’m always looking for things like this. … Just to know they exist is really encouraging and lets me feel more welcome and safe in that city,” she says. Back in Asheville, she created the Downtown Asheville LGBTQ+ walking tour, available through Airbnb Experiences.

The two-hour trek starts at Rustic Grape and includes stops at gay-owned businesses and sites of LGBT-focused events, such as Blue Spiral 1, Malaprop’s and Pack Square Park. Trade and Lore Coffee is “the wildcard on the tour,” Helgeson says. “Since their opening, they’ve [displayed] gender-neutral bathroom signs. I feel like they’re part of a new generation of business owners who are aware of being inclusive regardless of whether they’re gay or not.” This new paradigm leads to a discussion of why there are fewer displayed Pride flags these days, and fewer “gayborhoods” — geographical areas frequented by LGBT-identifying people.

Helgeson points out that, while the lessening need for the recognized boundaries of gay villages is progress, there’s also loss associated with that shift. In researching Asheville’s LGBT history, she found that information was decentralized and stories were sometimes hard to unearth. “Back in the ’90s there were LGBTQ community centers,” says Helgeson. “Sometimes they’d have an archive, sometimes there would be people you could contact.” Asheville used to have a publication called Community Connections that shared information about meetings and events for the lesbian and gay community.

Helgeson’s tour ends at O.Henry’s, the oldest continuously running gay bar in North Carolina. The venue’s new owner was on board with the tour from its inception, Helgeson says, and some of the bartenders have worked there for decades, so “it’s an important place to go and acknowledge and recognize.”

Drinks are, of course, on offer at O.Henry’s, and other tour stops include samples of wine, cheese, chocolate and honey. The refreshments sweeten an excursion that offers a look into a past at turns quirky, inspirational and shaped by hardships. “Oppressed people’s histories [are] not one of those things that are comfortable,” Helgeson says. But it’s an important part of Asheville’s story.

The Downtown Asheville LGBTQ+ walking tour takes place Fridays, 4-6 p.m., $45 per person. Register at avl.mx/6i3.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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