Ellington Underground kicks off 2018 from the S&W Cafeteria building

WIDE ANGLE: It’s hard to fit a seven-piece band into a photo, but having more players means more sound for local collective Window Cat. The future-soul outfit shares a bill with Asheville-based rockers The Broadcast at Ellington Underground on New Year’s Eve.
WIDE ANGLE: It’s hard to fit a seven-piece band into a photo, but having more players means more sound for local collective Window Cat. The future-soul outfit shares a bill with Asheville-based rockers The Broadcast at Ellington Underground on New Year’s Eve. Photo by Sarah Kaitlyn

Ellington Underground might have just opened in October, but the art deco venue is already proving itself on Asheville’s music scene. On Sunday, Dec. 31, the venue will ring in 2018 with performances from soulful blues group The Broadcast and jazz-funk opener Window Cat.

“We could’ve done a bigger, heavier rock band for New Year’s, but we wanted to stay true to our locals,” says accounts buyer Chris Tyrrell.

Authenticity runs deep at Ellington Underground, and not just in the bands it books. The Patton Avenue club is stationed in the basement of S&W Cafeteria, a pre-Depression-era building, designed by architect Douglas Ellington, whose name is also associated with Asheville High School, City Hall and First Baptist Church. Though S&W changed hands over the decades, it came back to the family a little over a year ago when Douglas’ great-nephew Andrew Ellington secured the lower floor.

“He’s a really young dude — a touring musician who has spent time on the road,” Tyrrell says of Andrew. “He saw this as an opportunity to host musicians who come through the area.”

Only in his mid-20s, Andrew has assembled an impressive setup, transforming a concrete box once used for parking into a cutting-edge listening room. Preserving the original art deco style, Ellington Underground balances old and new with lattice wallpaper, black-and-white tile floors, Edison bulbs and exposed beams. There are also old elevator shafts in the building that, during the tail end of Prohibition, allowed liquor to be transported directly from Commerce Street. “The history will give you goose bumps,” promises Tyrrell.

Today, a full-service bar pours out local brews and house cocktails. The signature, The Ellington Underground on Fire, blends rye whiskey, maple syrup, apple cider reduction, ghost pepper tincture and bitters. It’s garnished with an apple twist. Guests can sip their drink in the lounge area — outfitted with modish sectional sofas — or hit the floor.

“It’s like Gatsby meets A Night at the Roxbury in there,” says Tyrrell. “We’re not messing around.”

Heading into 2018, the venue’s staff plans to host big-name bands on Fridays and Saturdays, reserving Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for local acts. Since opening, the club has hosted the likes of Southern funk rockers Porch 40 and high-energy blues ensemble Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats.

And the New Year’s Eve bash sets the tone for shows to come. “The Broadcast has done New Year’s gigs at The Grey Eagle for the past three or four years, but they really wanted to do their own thing. I gave them a tour and a history lesson, and it was a done deal,” says Tyrrell. “Our opener was one of those awesome local bands I kept getting texts and emails about. It all just fell into place.”

WHAT: The Broadcast and Window Cat
WHERE: Ellington Underground, 56 Patton Ave., ellingtonunderground.com
WHEN: Sunday, Dec. 31, 9 p.m. $20

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About Lauren Stepp
Lauren Stepp is an award-winning writer with bylines here in these mountains and out yonder, too.

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