Remember the talk of the new late-night lounge and restaurant the owners of Chai Pani are opening this year, one floor below their flagship venture? Well, that's still happening, but construction delays have pushed back the opening date a bit.
"We're hoping for an opening date of mid- to late-August or in early September," says Meherwan Irani, who runs both businesses with his wife, Molly.
The lounge, to be located at 19 Wall St., will be called MG Road, says Irani. What's in the name? "The main street and heartbeat of every city in India is MG Road," says the Indian-born chef.
When construction began on MG Road, Irani described the budding concept as "a cozy late-night lounge and cocktail bar with sophisticated but accessible small plates." Perhaps the delays will be a blessing in disguise; Irani and crew have since discussed relaxing the kitchen concept a bit. Irani replaces "sophisticated" with words like "accessible" and "comfort food" when he discusses the new direction now.
With the extra time they had to turn back to the menu, Irani and crew considered what foods they really crave late at night, when options in Asheville are slim. Before Asheville, the Iranis lived in San Francisco for many years, where evening options were plentiful; 1 a.m. meant fried chicken, food trucks selling noodles and diner runs. "So take that and add our Southeast Asian flair," Irani explains. "If we do fried chicken it would have our signature Chai Pani flair. If we do a noodle bowl, it would have a little bit of our flair, too."
However, don't expect Southeast Asian street food to dominate the menu, Irani says.
"What we realized is we are exotic enough," he says. "Chai Pani Indian street food is unique enough. We don't need to push it any further than that — we just need to take familiar comfort food that everybody craves and put our twist on it."
The menu will consist of six to eight frequently changing items and will be hand-written on a chalkboard — because who wants to fuss with menus at a bar? Those of us balancing purses on our knees don't, I can verify that.
The emphasis on the "lounge" aspect of the new venture remains very much intact, Irani says.
Late-night guests will find tables as low as the lighting. Very wide, almost bed-like bench seating is being installed along the walls — Irani actually imagines the people sitting in those cushion areas pulling their feet up to get cozy. "We'll have lots of comfortable seating, also superb service, anticipating people's needs," he says. "Not the typical bar scene where you're fighting for the bartender's attention … a little more service-friendly than a typical bar, without trying to be too fancy."
Irani says there are plenty of brewpubs and "hipster dive bars" in Asheville, but MG Road should fill a niche that few other local bars do. "As far as lounges go, there's only a couple and they're always packed and always have a line out the door," he says. "We're basically going after that vibe. At the same time, we want to capture the energy and fun of Chai Pani and bring it [downstairs]."
Also? This is a local-centric place, Irani promises.
"We're not building a space where we'll get written up [in magazines] with tourists from all over coming to check it out," says Irani, who already has plenty of that following the success of Chai Pani. "We want to build a place in Asheville where we would love to go ourselves and make it just as friendly for people who live here and serve them."