When the original Thirsty Monk opened in 2008, it was in the basement of 92 Patton Ave. downtown. As it became known as one of the nation’s best beer bars, it took over the ground floor. In 2010, a Monk popped up south of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Gerber Village. Just two weeks ago, Monk opened the top floor of 92 Patton — there’s now a bar on every floor.
And things are only moving faster from here on out. If all goes according to plan, by the end of the year Thirsty Monk will double in size by adding Biltmore Park and Reynolds Village locations.
If that kind of growth sounds impressive, it is. Not many places rapidly expand during a recession. What makes the feat even more notable is the size and scale of the new projects.
When Thirsty Monk’s Biltmore Park spot opens in the next few days, it will cover more than 2,000 square feet, with a capacity to hold about 150 patrons — as much as all three floors of the downtown Monk put together. But there’s more: The south location will have both an outdoor beer garden and a “secret” back room.
The best of the Monks
About that back room: It wasn’t ready at press time, but General Manager Dylan Mandeville described it this way: “If you go to the back of the main room during the day, you’ll just see a hallway and bookshelves … but around 4 or 5 p.m., one of the bookshelves will slide open and there will be a speakeasy-style bar.”
The beer list will be another thing borrowed from downtown. Forty-eight taps will flow with a mix of Belgian and American craft beers. And the small outdoor porch from downtown will get a major upgrade. “We’re doing the Biltmore outdoor area with big tables like a beer garden,” says Mandeville. “And we’re extending the bar outside, so when the weather’s nice, you won’t even have to go inside to order.”
The brewery component, on the other hand, will remind folks more of the one-barrel system at the Gerber Village Thirsty Monk. While the plan was to move the entire brewing operation to Biltmore, the realities of commercial renovation mean that the brewery will, in fact, be split between the two locations. Tanks will be at both for fermentation and aging, but a larger four-barrel brewhouse will be installed in Gerber Village. “It was a challenge to get the Biltmore Park space up to code for everything we wanted to do,” says Mandeville. “We had to make the decision between having a full kitchen [with a hood] or the full brewery down there, and we chose the kitchen.”
Food fit for beer
That the food vs. beer decision swung in the direction of food will surprise even the biggest devotees of downtown’s Thirsty Monk, where the food options have always been minimal. But it’s clear that the whole team is excited about stepping up the menu.
“We’ll be doing big plates, small plates, desserts. … You’ll be able to do a four-course meal if you want to,” says Mandeville. “But we do not want to be a restaurant. We want to be a pub.” So the atmosphere will always be casual, the signature dish will be fish and chips, and almost every other menu item uses beer in some way (like chili that features New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk stout).
To spearhead the massive expansion to the menu, a new chef has been brought in: Lisa Payne, a former head chef at Sunny Point Café. In addition to the food, she’s already putting a twist on the nonalcoholic beverages, with plans for a hopped lemonade and fresh barley tea.
What’s on tap
Of course, Thirsty Monk still remembers where it came from. With a larger brewhouse, head brewer Norm Penn will be brewing more beer than ever and sending it to all Monk locations. Collaboration brews with Wicked Weed and Natty Greene’s will be on tap at opening, and more exciting projects will be right around the corner.
While the grand-opening beer list is certain to be grand, Mandeville already has other events on the docket worth noting. Bell’s, a local favorite, will do a tap takeover in October. Anderson Valley has its own event on the books for December. But the biggest star on the horizon is “40 and a Firkin,” an event with Stone Brewing in December. It will be the largest tap takeover by Stone outside of San Diego, and owner Greg Koch will be one of the half-dozen Stone employees making the trip to Asheville.
Mandeville says, “It’s been a lot of hard work, but we’re going to enjoy being Thirsty Monk for a while when this place opens.”
The opening day was not yet finalized at press time. Check www.monkpub.com or Thirsty Monk’s Facebook page for updates.