The Imperial Life aims to be Asheville’s top shelf.
The craft cocktail and charcuterie bar that opened last week above Table serves a selection of specially sourced liquors from all over the world, with a particular focus on bourbon.
But even amid the sashimi, lobster and shrimp fra diavolo, house-cured meats and high-end liquors, The Imperial Life maintains a certain levity with casual offerings such as pigs in a blanket, popcorn and s'mores cake.
“I think the menu in general is geared toward playful,” says Jacob Sessoms, who co-owns The Imperial Life, Table and Tod's Tasties with his wife, Alicia Sessoms. “Our idea was to do a charcuterie bar, but we weren't going to serve solely charcuterie, and people want a little snack when they drink.”
The Imperial Life follows swiftly on the heels of MG Road, the cocktail bar that opened below Chai Pani in October, and precedes Nuns On Top, the forthcoming craft liquor exploration from Barry Bialik of the Thirsty Monk.
Bar manager Jesse Ratliff has created draft and barrel-aged cocktails as well as hand-cut ice. He also plays with oft-overlooked liquors, such as mezcal, and house-made mixers, such as orgeat and tonic of quince.
The Vida Imperial features Del Maguey Vida mezcal, black tea, Amontillado sherry and house-made grenadine. “It's not for everyone,” Ratliff says. “It's very smokey and rich, but it's definitely intriguing.”
Each drink comes with a specifically sized ice cube. The bar buys the ice in 300-pound blocks from a local ice sculptor, and the staff breaks them down with saws in Table's basement. They keep a hammer and chisel behind the bar, so they can cut ice to size for each spirit.
The Imperial Life is equal parts cocktail bar and charcuterie house, Sessoms explains, so he hopes the cured meat program will stand on its own. He employs a full-time charcutier to produce country ham, salami, coppa, lomo, brizola and terrine, among other cured, smoked and emulsified meats.
“The idea of the menu is raw and cured,” Jacob says. “We'll play with everything. The menu will be done monthly, so the tartare will change to a different animal. It will be lamb or antelope or venison through the winter. In the summer, it will be veal or steak. The selection of raw fish will broaden as the weather warms.”
Right now, the small plates menu includes raw oysters accented with sake and juniper; sunfish sashimi with fennel apple salad, charred lemon puree and paella ice cream; and lamb tartare with miso and mustard.
The wine list focuses on unusual, European varietals. In fact, there isn't a single American wine on the menu. “Generally speaking, both Jacob and my palates lean toward Old World wines as opposed to New World wines,” Alicia says. “I think that, traditionally speaking, with charcuterie and some of the things we're doing, French and Italian wines pair very well. And also, we were trying to go with some fun, interesting things that you don't see.”
The wine list is one of many reflections of the way the Sessoms’ craft a restaurant. “This menu is geared toward what we want to drink and what we want to eat,” Jacob says.
The Imperial Life, 48 College St., opens Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 4:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. The bar is closed on Tuesdays. Food is served throughout those hours.
Cocktails range from $10-$12, and snacks and small plates run from $5-$15. For more information, visit theimperiallife.com or call 254-8980.