Quietly unassuming, the Burger Bar has stood the test of time in its spot on the corner of Craven Street and Haywood Road. And while the business has changed hands a few times, it’s managed to maintain a local vibe where everyone is welcome to stop by to drink a cold one, engage in lively conversation or play a game of pool. If you’re lucky enough you may even happen upon a random group of musicians spontaneously starting a jam session — because they can. As Celeste Adams, the bar’s co-owner, says, “Things just magically happen here.”
Adams, a third-generation Asheville native, runs the place with Chris King who moved here from the Boston area about 15 years ago. They both have industry experience — Adams worked at the Double Crown in West Asheville and King worked as a bartender at the Rankin Vault downtown. But since 2014, they and a small staff have run the historic bar.
Xpress recently talked with Adams and King to find out a little about the Burger Bar’s past and what it’s doing now.
Mountain Xpress: Tell me a little about the bar’s history.
Celeste Adams: From 1931 to 1954, it was the Bridge Service Station. It then sat vacant from 1955 to 1957. In 1958, it began its restaurant/bar career. Starting as Joe’s Place, it changed hands and was called the Haywood Bar and Restaurant and then was dubbed the Burger Bar in 1960. A few more ownership transitions took place between 1960 and 2014.
What’s the deal with the name? You don’t serve any food, right?
Correct. In 1975, the place stopped serving burgers, but they continued to serve a popular beer called Burger Beer, so the name stuck. [Burger Beer was manufactured in Ohio and was known as the beer for the Cincinnati Reds.] They stopped making it for awhile, but I think it’s back in business now. We don’t currently carry it. We do offer domestic, imported and craft beer, and we try to keep our cocktail menu under $10 per drink. We have something for everyone.
What changes have you made since you owned the place?
Chris King: We’ve added liquor and outdoor seating. We also have nightly events. For example, Mondays are Honky Tonk nights, Wednesdays are reserved for karaoke, and Friday is bike night. On most Fridays, you can see some pretty cool choppers or ’70s-style bikes in here. Thursdays are open mic nights, and you’d be amazed by some of the talent that passes through. Quite often, we’ll get musicians from the Grey Eagle who want to stop by to play a song or three.”
Can people bring food?
Adams: Yes. We have picnic tables, and there are often food trucks or food buskers here. We also have several takeout menus so people can call for things like pizza when they get hungry.
Tell me about your clientele. Locals? Visitors? A mix of the two?
King: Everyone is welcome. I’d say, we’re more of a local place, but often a visitor will pop in and say, “Oh yeah, this is what I’ve been looking for.” It’s not unusual to strike up a conversation with a local at the bar who has some old Asheville stories to share.
If you had to describe the place, what would you say?
King: Simple and honest. In some ways, the Burger Bar reminds me of a place you’d see at the beginning of a Quentin Tarantino movie. We’ve just got that local vibe, but we’re not too cool. In a nutshell, the Burger Bar is short on frills, but long on character. It’s a dive bar in every sense. We want to keep it that way.
The Burger Bar is at 1 Craven St. Hours are 3 p.m.-2 a.m. daily. The bar closes only on New Year’s Eve. Look for the Burger Bar on Facebook and Instagram.