(Photo of Chris Bower, left, and Steve Mann by Max Cooper)
It’s a week before the grand opening of the Double Crown bar on Haywood Road, and the place is bustling. Carpenters and painters finish crucial remodeling; inspections are passed; equipment, delayed by Superstorm Sandy, arrives and is installed.
The makings of the place have serious roots. “We’re going to have lots of Asheville artifacts in here,” says co-owner Chris Bower. “We have the original Vincent’s Ear sign, we got to save the booths and the bar-top from Mike’s Side Pocket, the wine-glass holder is from the old Be Here Now. There’s other random stuff from Asheville bars past.”
Bower, a lifelong Asheville resident, has been saving tidbits of the town’s history for years. Co-owner and fellow Asheville native Steve Mann is a photographer with two decades in his portfolio. His images will provide the bar’s visual anchor, with three distinct subjects: Southern Gospel singers, the Mardi Gras Indians krewe of New Orleans and black-and-white images of downtown Asheville in the late ’80s and early ’90s. His portraits of Eagle Street and Lexington Avenue residents, in the days before downtown was “rejuvenated,” present a vision of Southern living that is hard to reconcile with present-day Asheville.
Photo by Steve Mann
Among the epoch’s characters, discretely placed away from the gospel singers, is the fedora-clad “Cadillac,” a fabled prostitute. One of the carpenters preparing for the opening, an older gentleman who’s obviously been in the area longer than either Bower or Mann, strolls through the bar and does a double-take when he sees the photograph. “That’s Cadillac!” he says, shaking his head. Then he reminisces about some of her outrageous claims concerning her occupational skills before resuming repairs on the back door.
The “Holy Ghost” vibe
With the past duly preserved, Bower and Mann will parlay their combined experiences into a fresh venture. What that venture will be has been the subject of much speculation, Bower says. “I’ve heard it was going to be a moonshine bar, a coffee bar, a sushi bar, a Goth bar, a hippie bar,” he says. “A couple weeks there I was hearing all kinds of craziness. But ultimately it’s just going to be a local bar.”
Bower and Mann have big grand-opening plans for Friday, Dec. 21. Venerated gospel group The Legendary Singing Stars will perform two sets. The rare opportunity to see the group in the very intimate confines of the small bar should be truly sanctifying. “I’m really looking forward to them putting some of the Holy Ghost vibe on this place,” says Mann.
The partners were inspired to open the Double Crown during their many visits to New Orleans to film We Won’t Bow Down, the just-completed documentary about the Mardi Gras Indians.
“Going to New Orleans a lot inspired this space,” says Mann. “There just didn’t seem to be anything around Asheville that had the same kind of atmosphere as those funky little New Orleans places.
Photo by Max Cooper
Obviously we’re not New Orleans, but we’re trying to bring in a similar local flavor, a real home bar.” Bower strives for a similar intangible element. “To me there’s always been something magical about certain barrooms,” he says. “It’s a certain kind of feeling. A place to go that’s not yours but it is yours. I want a place that invites people to engage.”
The Double Crown’s first proposed home was Mann’s Black Box Studios on Riverside Drive. When this space proved unworkable, the two investigated moving into the old location of Mike’s Side Pocket, the long-running bar that was shut down in April after shockingly violent stabbings left three dead.
“It’s just something you’ve got to acknowledge,” says Bower. “Those tragic events really cast a shadow over this building and this neighborhood.” Bower and Mann have put both practical and spiritual efforts into dispelling negative energy, and assuring future patrons that it’ll be a safe and welcoming place.
“First and foremost we put our intention into making an effort to heal the space,” says Bower. “We did call in a Lakota shaman to come in and do a ceremony here. That was very interesting. He had some insights on the things that were energetically going on in here. He felt like it had really been cleaned up a lot just by our intention.”
“Things have just really worked out without us trying to force them, down to timing and circumstances,” Mann says. “I heard people asked about doing a bar here in April, and apparently everyone told them ‘no.’ But when I called them, they said, ‘No problem.’ I think that was just timing — things had cooled off enough when I called around the first of September.”
In another strange twist, Double Crown bar manager Rob Mueller witnessed the final act of violence that spilled out of Mike’s on April 4.
Still, he has no reservations about working at the Double Crown. “I’ve done a lot of security work, from little dive bars to gnarly redneck joints to clubs in Atlanta to strip clubs to a bunch of clubs around town,” he says. “But the only thing that Mike’s and the Double Crown really have in common is the location. Aesthetically it’s very different. People aren’t going to be getting as rowdy — it’s going to be as clean and wholesome as a bar can be.”
Cocktails and cans
In the face of relentless microbrewing here in “Beer City,” Double Crown will have a different approach to their suds. “As far as beer, we’re going to be a can-only place,” Bower says. I just like the aesthetic. And the sound it makes when the can opens. There’s only one beer we’re going to serve in a bottle and that’s Miller High Life, because it’s terrible in a can. So many great beers come now in cans, so we can pull it off. Bring your coozy.” Double Crown will also have a nice selection of apéritifs and digestifs, he says.
Photo by Steve Mann
The drink list won’t be all aluminum. Mueller describes a drink list that’s innovative, but not ostentatious. “Cocktails are one of the things that are ‘next,’” he says. “The whole fine dining revolution has involved pushing the quality of the food and the skill of cooking up but, at the same time, making it more casual, less formal. Cocktails are moving that way too — moving up the quality of ingredients and presentation, but moving down the level of formality.”
Entertainment include several DJ nights, live shows and possibly a comedy night. One feature that will make for a unique night is Mann’s collection of vintage reggae dance hall shows from the early ’80s. “A friend of mine, who recently died, Howard ‘Shots’ Robinson [aka White Squall], spent a lot of time in a little town called Grange Hill, in the western part of Jamaica,” Mann says. “There was a dance hall there, and he would plug into the board when DJs were doing their sets, and he left hundreds of hours of tapes of that. And he left those tapes to me. Brigadier Jerry, Josey Wales — other DJs and toasters.
“Buckminster Fuller said, ‘It’s not the bee’s job to pollinate the flowers. He just wants the nectar.’” says Mann. “Hopefully we can provide the nectar and other things are going to happen.”
Double Crown’s planned opening is Friday, Dec. 21. The Legendary Singing Stars will perform two sets, at 10 p.m. and midnight. Greg Cartwright will DJ between sets. $10. Call 575-9060 for more information.