Bar Beat: The Rankin Vault

The newly opened Rankin Vault in downtown Asheville is modeled, albeit loosely, on the bars of the 1920s and ‘30s. The place is mostly wood and red velvet—an admirably simple decor that makes good use of the space. There’s even a Prohibition-era (dated 4/20/30) whiskey prescription up on the wall.

Photo by Jonathan Welch

Fortunately, the same approach has carried over to the drinks: most of the regular offerings but many old standbys whose time has come again. Rankin Vault makes a mean Old-Fashioned (very possibly the original cocktail), with both the fruit and the bitters handled just right.

Few places in town even make a Mint Julep, let alone one this good (smooth, fresh and quite powerful). If one’s tastes are more on the sweet side, the Cilantro Drop and Ruby Bliss (pomegranate and gin) are made with the same simple but careful approach. One can hope the Vault will continue on this route: cobblers, flips and fizzes are all begging for a proper revival too, and Asheville’s drinking culture would be the richer for it.

But the single best feature of the Vault might be that it’s reasonably within budget for those of us who don’t own three homes or have trust funds backing up our social drinking. At a time when far too many bars are charging double digits for the elegant but minimal appetizer, this establishment keeps costs within reason. The Vault’s top-shelf cocktails still run safely in the single digits, making this one of the better bargains for those with discriminating tastes but a tight budget.

The food offerings (salads, appetizers and paninis mostly) are light but tasty—and they don’t skimp on the portions. The $4 bruscetta offers enough to serve two people. The emphasis seems to be on keeping the food fresh enough to retain its flavor: It lacks much of the grease often found in bar cuisine.

Then there’s the vault itself, a real former vault (the building was an old insurance firm), which has the potential to be one of the more interesting conversation spots in Asheville. Step inside the swinging door to find comfortable couches, red and tan velvet lining the walls, and subtle lighting. The room, one of several nooks and crannies in the bar, feels blessedly secluded.

I should mention that there’s also a massive television inside the vault room, disrupting the atmosphere a bit and giving it a nuclear-family-by-way-of-Twin Peaks feel. No matter: In the rest of this bar, more traditional themes rule the day.

The Rankin Vault is located at 7 Rankin Ave. and opens at 3 p.m. daily. For more information, call 254-4993.

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