By now, you’ve probably heard about the bars, breweries and grub hubs that are planning to open in the old Standard Paper Sales building on the South Slope. Perhaps you’ve suddenly caught yourself daydreaming about Vortex Doughnuts or salivating at the thought of the eagerly anticipated Buxton Hall Barbecue. And surely, you’ve thought about how nice it’ll be, after a few ESBs at Green Man, to just walk around the corner and sip on a White Zombie or a Firewater IPA once Catawba Brewing opens its new facility there.
For my part, I’d hoped I could already be enjoying the patio at Public School, the newest watering hole set to settle into 32 Banks Ave. Driving by, you can see construction workers carrying equipment in and out and hear the sounds of loud machinery. But Vortex had originally planned to open in June, and subsequently, all four businesses were definitely setting their sights on September. So, as the summer slips away, you can’t help but wonder what’s holding up those projects.
“My understanding is that the building itself requires what they call the shell permit, which needs to be granted first before the individual tenants can be issued their certificates of occupancy,” says Meherwan Irani, who co-owns Chai Pani and MG Road and is working with chef Elliott Moss to launch Buxton Hall Barbecue.
Knowing they’d probably be the last of the four to open, Irani and his team have quite easily come to terms with the situation. Considering how much hype Buxton Hall has already generated, opening in winter shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem for them. But what about the other three?
“All these other businesses aren’t relying as much on the weather as we are,” says Mike Piroli, one of Public School’s three partners. “We’re a bar with a big patio: If we open in January, that isn’t a good look for us!”
Although Buxton Hall has dominated the advance talk, Public School also seems to have garnered some attention. “There’s a real need for just a down-home locals bar here that isn’t ‘divey,’” notes Piroli. “I love to go sit in the dark at a great dive bar, but I think we need something that feels a little lighter. I want to go someplace where I can just be comfortable, that’s quiet and cool.”
Piroli, who came to Asheville five years ago, has a background in marketing and journalism, with stints at the noteworthy hip-hop magazines Elemental and XXL. And though he’s partnering with LAB General Manager Benjy Greene and Scandals bartender Scott Thomas, Piroli warns future patrons not to expect the LAB’s high ceilings and glossy façade. The space, he says, “has all this exposed brick, hardwood floors, skylights and old windows. It’s a really exceptional space as is, and we just want to let it ride like that. … We want to open a bar that is, first and foremost, for people who are from here and not for out-of-towners. I just think there’s a need in Asheville for a bar that’s for us.”
Accordingly, continues Piroli, Public School will also be decidedly more blue-collar. “So many of us here are service industry people,” he explains, “and when you’re in the service industry, you just don’t have the money to pay $10 for a cocktail, even though that cocktail may be the most delicious thing you’ve ever had in your life.”
The shell permit was expected to be issued by early September, but, as Irani explains, “I think that has been pushed back a bit. … I know that a lot of the other tenants have actually been struggling to get open within a certain time frame, but for us, it feels good to be in a position where we are not under the gun to open.”
Meanwhile, despite the frustrations, the city, the landlords and tenants do seem to have found common ground. “From my understanding, they could have split the building in the beginning if they had wanted to,” Irani continues, “but they chose not to, because they really are committed to revitalizing the South Slope, to preserving an historic building, and to building something that is going to last for a while, and I think the rest of us are on that same page.”
For now, however, it appears that eager patrons will just have to stay patient, even though, as Tom Petty put it, “The waiting is the hardest part.”