Chai Pani is expanding, says owner Meherwan Irani. But don't worry, the Indian street-food restaurant that's made a big splash (appearing in the New York Times and GQ Magazine, among others) isn't going anywhere. The restaurant's owners are also taking over the floor below them (the two levels are connected by a back stairwell), turning it into a cozy late-night lounge and cocktail bar with sophisticated-but-accessible small plates coming out of an additional, brand-new kitchen. The entrance to the lower floor will be located at 19 Wall St., directly across from The Market Place.
Chai Pani has recently added a dinner menu to its service, and opening the new venue (which is still unnamed) allows the restaurant to keep moving in an ever-more sophisticated and diverse direction. "This isn't going to be just Indian street food — it will also be Southeast Asian street food, a lot of Vietnamese influence, a lot of Thai influence," Irani says. "It's definitely not going to be Chai Pani 2.0." Irani says that the lounge will also offer desserts, like cardamom-custard filled doughnut holes that will be served in paper cups, for a fun street-food vibe.
The new venture will feature local, craft beer on tap, along with "amazing signature cocktails that are really affordable, and a great selection of affordable wines from the Americas by the glass. We're going to create a really neat, cozy, comfortable ambiance and make the food the draw. We're going to try to create a vibe that I haven't seen in Asheville much," says Irani. "Not over-the-top sophisticated, just comfortable. Not a bar — a lounge with food."
Irani expects to be open in late spring or early summer. "Wait until you see it," he says. "We're going to make it everything that we wanted upstairs to be, but couldn't afford."