Xpress is pleased to present Bar Tab, the revival and revamping of the Bar Beat series, a column that’s been sleeping it off for a while. We found a few fearless reporters who are willing to sacrifice their bright and chipper mornings to bring you the very best — and sometimes the very worst — of Asheville’s barfly culture, shaken not stirred.
Pete Lutz is a local filmmaker and apparent martini connoisseur who’s been known to mistake his own reflection for an unkempt hooligan after a few sidecars. Here, he tells us what happens when one over-imbibes at Travinia Italian Kitchen.
There is a place on I-26 you may not have any real reason to visit. Is it a park? Is it a town? Is it a square? It’s all of those things, and at the same time, none of those things. Biltmore Park Town Square is a bustling little shopping/living/entertainment complex, conveniently planted between Bent Creek and the airport. Because of an unhealthy addiction to stale popcorn and stadium seating, I frequent this pop-up community often. Its Regal Biltmore Grande Cinema is one of the nicest movie theaters in Asheville.
One night when I had an hour to kill before my movie, I discovered the restaurant next door, Travinia, and their Wednesday special: half-priced martinis.
In contrast to the cold concrete feeling of the rest of Biltmore Park Town Square, Travinia Italian Kitchen is surprisingly warm and inviting. Initially put off by the fruity martinis, like strawberry with a splash of Prosecco, I decided to play it safe and order a dirty martini. To my delight it was garnished with blue cheese stuffed olives, and that dirty martini brings me back to Travinia week after week.
The bartenders are great to talk to and are happy to bring you steaming garlic bread with every new round of drinks. If I time it just right, I can finish a bowl of pasta and my third martini just in time for whatever late movie I eventually stagger into.
This was my routine for a few months until one week when everything changed. Last Wednesday, I missed the beginning of all the late movies, so I decided to make more of an evening out of it. As I ordered another Side Car, my bladder knocked.
Averting my eyes from the blinding shine of the open kitchen, I stumbled into the bathroom. In the mirror, I saw a man with a beard — my beard. I realized with a start that it was the first whiskered face I’d seen in a few hours. I strained for mental snapshots of previous Wednesdays, and it occurred to me that Travinia Italian Kitchen — and the Biltmore Park Town Square itself — is a beacon for strange outsiders.
I leaned out of the bathroom and surveyed the dining room. It felt like I was seeing the restaurant for the first time. Ties were pulled tight to men’s smooth necks and foundation was laid thick on middle-aged women’s faces. I started to panic as two young men in polo shirts took pictures of each other holding full pint glasses next to their smiling faces. A well-groomed gray-haired man gently kissed a much younger and marginally attractive woman. There wasn’t a single tattoo peeking out of a single sleeve, not one pierced face, not a stray whisker. Hundreds of questions raced through my mind and I caught two of them: Why would this many people drive all the way from Charlotte for half-priced martinis? Is this the kind of place where you eat when you’re afraid of the Admiral?
I found my way back to the table outside by the fireplace, my fresh drink waiting for me. I found it easier to breathe closer to the neon lights of the movie theater. A woman approached as I sat down. I was shaken and disturbed and had trouble deflecting her. She dove into a slurred lecture about a place she wants to open in town that would serve “Italian dishes you couldn’t dream of.” I asked her what the house specialties were. She rattled off a menu ripped straight from the Olive Garden. My heart burned. My mind drifted. How had I gotten so far from home?
Travinia Italian Kitchen is located at 264 Thetford Street at Biltmore Town Square, Asheville. For more information, visit traviniaitaliankitchen.com.
— Pete Lutz is a local filmmaker who wants to make your movie/video if you will pay him. Contact him at petelutz.com