With additional reporting by Edwin Arnaudin
It’s not every bar that lends its outdoor space to a monthly summer-season yard sale, hosts regularly occurring vintage markets and medieval-themed bazaars or houses a museum of curiosities. But The Odditorium — as its name suggests — is not every bar.
“We always say, ‘It takes a village to run this place,’” says Amy Marshall, who owns the West Asheville venue with her partner, Tamy Kuper. While many other local watering holes benefit from large budgets and staffs, The Odditorium receives support, in part, through random acts of kindness from its community.
“One of our patrons put up speakers in our lounge,” says Marshall. “We’ll come in, and somebody’s fixing our picnic tables or installing doorstops.” For those small assists, Marshall and Kuper want to thank Asheville, but they’re also celebrating the major business milestone of The Odditorium’s fifth anniversary, which happened on April 1.
All that glitters is not beer
Among the festivities is a forthcoming beer collaboration with UpCountry Brewing Co., located just across Haywood Road. The two businesses previously dreamed up a popular brew made with edible glitter that sold out quickly and is slated to be back on tap in time for AVL Beer Week. The second beer will be a modified version of an existing UpCountry beer with glitter addition.
“We’ve always had a great relationship with The Odd. Since we’re the closest place to get food, and a lot of our employees like to go over there for a drink after work, it’s a good situation for both of us,” says Zac Voeller, field rep for UpCountry. “It’s not bleeding-edge craft innovation, and most brewers will probably groan if you bring up edible glitter, but we really wanted to do something special for our closest neighbors.”
Calling glitter beer “such a perfect fit for [The Odditorium] that there was no way our brewers could say ‘no,’” Voeller says UpCountry experimented with a light Kölsch and a dark, malty Schwarzbier, choosing the latter for its superior ability to hold the glitter.
“We’re going to keep making it just for The Odditorium. No other bar or pour room will have access to anything glitter-related from us,” he says. “The naming process is still underway, but with ideas like Dark and Not So Normy and Tears of the Last Dying Unicorn, you can tell how much fun we’re all having with it.”
The Odditorium and UpCountry will also co-host a collaborative dance party during AVL Beer Week on Wednesday, May 30, during which patrons of both establishments will be able to walk back and forth enjoying the vibes at both dance floors. “I think it’s great that an outdoorsy, jam-band-oriented brewery and a punk music, burlesque-showing joint can get on so well,” Voeller says. “We’re really thrilled to be working with such a unique and beautiful place that so well embodies the fun and freedom of West Asheville.”
Odd ones in
The Odditorium’s calendar includes an array of rock, punk and alternative shows (Cloud City Caskets and The Shrunken Heads on Friday, May 25; Chew, Gostdog and Luxury Club on Saturday, May 26) as well as recurring events. There’s Tuesday night comedy, hosted by Tom Peters since the venue’s inception, and Risque Monday Burlesque, hosted by Deb Au Nare. A weekly drag night will launch in July, and a monthly community yard sale, held the last Saturday of each month, kicks off May 26.
But the clientele drawn to The Odditorium — a mix of regulars, adventurous newcomers and occasional tourists — come for more than the bands.
An older British couple, who traveled to Asheville after the Masters Tournament, “ended up here for storytelling night,” says Marshall. Swing dance nights bring out seniors, too. “You saw our building and got out of your car and are in? That makes me warm,” Marshall jokes.
In fact, with its sideshow-themed murals and quirky art, The Odditorium is living-room cozy (albeit, with an unorthodox aesthetic). And there’s a growing group of fans (including the bar’s staff, some regulars and a few visitors) who’ve gotten The Odditorium’s logo — a hand with an eye on the palm — tattooed on their bodies. Those who show their ink to Marshall or Kuper are rewarded with free entry to The Odditorium’s shows.
But early on, the vibe — left over from dive bar The Get Down and Cowboy’s Nightlife, both of which previously occupied 1045 Haywood Road — was rougher. Marshall and Kuper decided to take over the space because they were looking for a project to do together. At The Odditorium they were able to honor their roots: “the odd, the unusual, the queer,” says Marshall. “That includes the gay community.”
The couple, both from creative families, also put their artistic skills to work in the museum — a series of displays in the venue’s lounge that hold curios such as skulls, creepy dolls, fetal animals in jars of formaldehyde, old photos, masks and magical implements. “Because we both love art and the strange and curious we wanted to … not just have a bar or an event space,” says Kuper. “We wanted to bring in things that make us smile and have a story.”
Marshall adds, “They create conversations. People who [came in] just to tour the museum stay for a drink and to talk about our Chinese binding shoes.”
These days, The Odditorium’s art and collectibles are mostly curated by Justyn Travers of Dark and Deviant Oddities, and most items are for sale. Travers also sells his wares online and at The Odditorium’s yard sale
Early on, Kuper and Marshall imagined taking long weekend trips to search for curios. But, “It’s hard to go out into the world and collect while you’re trying to do payroll and manage the bar,” says Marshall. But relinquishing that bit of creative work has freed up time to introduce other fresh ideas to the venue.
Cannabidiol oil will also soon be available, and a line of medicinal tinctures is about to be launched. “You can add them to any drink or concoction,” says Kuper. There are remedies to address anxiety or promote wellness and love.
This particular initiative has been in the works for three or four years. “We want to do it like an old-school apothecary,” says Kuper, because “bartenders are like therapists a lot of time.”
It’s the kind of touch that will likely create more of a feeling of magic and belonging to the loyal-if-disparate crowd that already frequents The Odditorium, and will attract more of the sort of visitors who gravitate toward queer bars and oddities museums and, some might say, are honorary Ashevilleans.
In fact, when such visitors find their way to the Haywood Road watering hole or purchase something from the museum or strike up a conversation about the human skull in the display case, “it reminds me of why we did this,” says Kuper. “We just wanted our little piece of Asheville.”
“And our little piece to give back,” says Marshall. “It has stayed true to that.”