Stepping through the front door of Lex 18, a restaurant, supper club and moonshine bar, is like stepping out of the high-resolution digital grit of day-to-day life and into a sepia-toned reverie. Hardwood floors, floral-print wallpaper and maroon velvet curtains decorate the interior. Live jazz music lilts from an upright piano, and there is not a flat-screen television in sight.
“I think that’s why this restaurant is really charming,” says owner Georgia Malki. “We’re trying to be authentic about taking people back in time.” Malki and her husband, Alan Van de Kamp, are the imaginative team behind the restaurant and a series of vintage-themed events.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 23 and 24, Lex 18 holds its White Christmas Live 1930 Radio Show, an evening of fine dining (a four-course dinner is included in the ticket price), live holiday music and the re-creation of actual radio plays and commercials from the Prohibition era and jazz age. Patrons are encouraged to arrive attired in fashions from the ’20s to the ’40s.
By 1928, “over 80 percent of American households had a radio, and they would sit and listen to these programs and allow their imaginations to fill in everything else,” says Malki. “The old radio shows — thank goodness so many of them have been preserved — were such a wonderful way for families to listen to music together, to listen to a story together and to allow that household to be filled with wonderful memories. … Our intention is to bring that to our dinner guests; to make them go back to those days where families were together, listening and visualizing what they were hearing on the radio. It became very real for them.”
During the show, local musician Lenny Pettinelli (Empire Strikes Brass, The Wild Card Trio, Vibration of Versatility) will perform classic holiday tunes on piano. “From Halloween to New Year’s, all the togetherness and all the family and friends and the songs have always made me nostalgic,” he says. “I guess I prefer to play them myself and make different versions from the ones I’ve heard a thousand times.”
Pettinelli will be putting his own spin on old favorites such as “Christmas Waltz,” “Christmas Song,” “Silent Night” and “Jingle Bells.” He says that his musical interpretations vary “only in an improvisational sense, in terms of embellishments and — no pun intended — ornamentation.”
Van de Kamp acts as the voice of the broadcast. With his soothing baritone, he’ll deliver a comic Christmas tale originally aired on the “Cuckoo Radio Show” in 1932, and a retelling of A Visit from St. Nicholas that has been updated for a modern audience. Van de Kamp will also be re-enacting the scripts of actual radio commercials from the period. “Some of them aren’t very politically correct,” he says.
“Lucky Strike will be one of our sponsors,” says Malki. “The claims they made back then were pretty outrageous.”
The Lex 18 building itself provides the perfect location for nostalgia-driven dining, as it was once the location of The Eureka Saloon, an Asheville bar that operated as a speakeasy during Prohibition. After the saloon closed in 1922, the location was used as everything from a hardware store to a bus station before coming full circle to house the current restaurant and moonshine bar. Malki and Van de Kamp have taken it upon themselves to restore the space to its original grandeur.
“People crave an immersive experience, or just an opportunity to step away from everyday life, and [Lex 18] became an optimum place where we can deliver that,” says Malki. Since opening just over a year ago, the restaurant has hosted numerous events, such as its Downton Abbey Vintage Banquet — themed around the popular BBC television series — and a (belated) wake for Grove Park Inn and Grove Arcade namesake E.W. Grove.
Coming up, the Downton Abbey parties will launch again in 2016, and “we have a Thomas Wolfe Mystery Dinner that we do that is set in 1929,” says Malki. “We’re always seeking to create something unique and wonderful for people.”
WHAT: White Christmas Live 1930 Radio Show
WHERE: Lex 18, lex18avl.com
WHEN: Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 23 and 24, 5:30 and 7:45 nightly. $58 per person (tax and gratuity not included)