Beer Scout: Asheville Club honors local history and breweries

HISTORICAL SOCIETY: To turn the former Kim's Wig Shop into the Asheville Club, general manager Trevor Reis and his business partner, Sal Membreno, removed layers of walls and flooring to reveal the space's original wood and brick. Questions about the former inhabitants persist, but Reis is prepared for such queries: "When people come in and ask about the wigs, I tell them that the only hair left now is the hair of the dog." Photo by Thomas Calder
HISTORICAL SOCIETY: To turn the former Kim's Wig Shop into the Asheville Club, general manager Trevor Reis and his business partner, Sal Membreno, removed layers of walls and flooring to reveal the space's original wood and brick. Questions about the former inhabitants persist, but Reis is prepared for such queries: "When people come in and ask about the wigs, I tell them that the only hair left now is the hair of the dog." Photo by Thomas Calder

For many supporters of the local beer scene, there’s a good chance the man behind the bar of the Asheville Club will look familiar. The friendly face belongs to general manager Trevor Reis, who’s lived in Asheville since 2002, won the inaugural Asheville Beer Masters Tournament in 2011 and was employed at Highland Brewing Co. for eight years, most recently as one of its bar managers.

Working for founder Oscar Wong, whom he calls “essentially the godfather of Asheville beer,” Reis learned a great deal about the local brewing business. “Quality, integrity, respect are the three words there,” Reis says. “But mostly what it taught me is that it’s fun, it’s a really fun industry to be in and that I wanted to stay in it. I had some other offers to do other things here in town and elsewhere in entirely different fields, but this is what I enjoy doing.”

Officially open since May 8 in the former Kim’s Wig Shop space at the corner of Battery Park Avenue and Haywood Street, the Asheville Club takes its name from the all-male, nonpolitical organization that inhabited the Miles Building from its construction in 1901 until 1915. Reis’ sister, Ashley Membreno, had lined up the spot for a candy store. But when her partner backed out, her husband, Sal Membreno, came to Reis — who’s worked in the food and beverage industry since he was a 16-year-old busboy and filled growlers part time at French Broad River Brewing before working at Highland — with the idea of putting a bar there.

The brothers-in-law had been talking up the possibility of such a partnership for nearly two years and developed a serious interest in making it a reality in July 2017. Having briefly looked around town for a location without finding a standout option, the two jumped at the opportunity thanks to Sal’s enthusiasm, without which Reis says he’d probably still be working at Highland.

Remembering the past

Intent on honoring the building’s history, the two spent hours sifting through photos and articles in the North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial Library to establish the business’s look and feel. Among their findings was a roughly 100-year-old postcard with lettering that became the Asheville Club logo, part of the bar’s throwback vibe that Reis notes largely came about naturally.

After serving as a wig shop for decades, there were some challenges to converting the space for its new purpose. “There’s not a right angle in here, and trying to get accurate measurements and do the necessary repairs was tough because the space itself is oddly shaped and has a lot of character and nuances to it,” Reis says.

“And I didn’t know we’d be playing 1920s to 1940s jazz all the time,” he adds. “But it’s just kind of happened that way. It’s almost like the building itself has been steering the path of the theme here.”

Reis lauds Sandy Kanupp, owner of Kim’s Wig Shop, for leaving the space “nearly spotless,” albeit with four layers of tile and carpet on the floors and “slat board on top of wood paneling from the ’70s on top of plaster” on the walls.

Once all the layers were removed, there was significant damage to the original wood flooring. But after repairs, those floors now complement the original brick walls. Though Reis is happy with the redesign and is receiving positive feedback from the public on the Asheville Club’s historical nods, memories of the space’s previous inhabitant persist.

“We probably should have named it The Wig Shop, actually. I’m sure that name was available, and everyone just calls it The Wig Shop anyway, or The Old Wig Shop,” Reis says. “Someone actually came in and gave me this line, but when people come in and ask about the wigs, I tell them that the only hair left now is the hair of the dog.”

Tapping a customer base

The Asheville Club has 20 taps for its maximum capacity of 48 people, featuring a mix of beers from self-distributed breweries (e.g. Hillman Beer, Wedge Brewing Co., Archetype Brewing and, in its downtown tap debut, Blue Ghost Brewing Co.) and rare offerings from those with a larger shipping footprint, such as Green Man Brewery’s The Dweller Imperial Stout.

“I’m hoping to bridge that gap here where somebody who is coming to town to go to breweries will come here because they didn’t have enough time to go to all the breweries they wanted to,” Reis says.

Along those lines, Reis also has offerings from Sylva’s Innovation Brewing and Franklin’s Lazy Hiker Brewing Co., but the best-seller recently was Urban Orchard Cider Co.’s Tainted Love Raspberry Cider and Ginger’s Revenge Lime Agave was in the top five. With help from a one-man, Charlotte-based distributor, he’s additionally curated a global wine list, featuring eclectic, harder-to-find varieties from world-class winemakers at affordable prices.

So far, sales have come from an even mix of locals and tourists, a pleasant surprise that Reis says has given the Asheville Club “a real neighborhood bar feel.” While that balance has included many knowledgeable craft beverage drinkers, he’s careful to include one particular option that’s a pragmatic tribute to the local scene’s history and his own past.

“For a tourist walking in who knows nothing about Asheville beer, I usually start them with a [Highland] Gaelic [Ale]. It was the first beer in town. Just start with that, and we’ll work our way up from there,” Reis says. “It’s arguably still the best beer in town. It’s the gateway to Asheville beer.”

Regarding how he’s cultivated relationships with local brewers and breweries to have exclusive or near-exclusive accounts, Reis points to his Asheville Beer Masters championship. Similar to Philly Beer Geek and Denver-based Wynkoop Brewing Co.’s Beer Drinker of the Year, the contest — which he’d like to help resurrect — involved rounds of beer knowledge and tasting. Reis says he “remarkably” won the event “just by dumb luck” but through it made lots of contacts in the local beer industry that he’s maintained in the interim.

“A lot of the people involved with [Asheville Beer Masters] are now involved with some of the newer and up-and-coming breweries as well, and the North Carolina beer scene in general,” Reis says. “The Asheville beer community is pretty tightknit and really a very friendly scene, so it’s really great to work with these people. It’s not like some of the other industries that everybody’s trying to undercut each other, and it’s real cutthroat. Everybody’s friends. It’s like a big family.”

Asheville Club is at 20 Haywood St. and opens daily at noon.

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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