Six years ago, when “Worst Asheville” still seemed an appropriate if damning nickname, there were no pubs to speak of along Haywood Road, West Asheville’s main artery. Sure, there were establishments that had long served the locals, but they were grittier places whose patrons tended to speak in heavily accented English and wore Wrangler jeans, rather than the Fidel caps and fitted T-shirts the neighborhood favors today. Toby Keith was on the jukebox; Miller Genuine Draft was served without irony.
Then, in April 2002, Westville Pub arrived, transforming a spot within the newly renovated Bledsoe Building into a mainstay meeting place and a refuge for West Side newcomers.
“The night we opened, there was a line out the door and down the block,” recalls Lu Young, who founded and still owns Westville with her partner, Greg Turner. “To be honest, it was kind of scary.”
The watering hole’s popularity is understandable: It serves nearly 20 beers on draft and considerably more out of the bottle, as well as pub-grub staples. Two years ago, the pub acquired a liquor license and sales rose. (It should be mentioned that other places along Haywood, including Burgermeister’s Kitchen & Tap and the Lucky Otter, also serve cheer by the glass.)
Meanwhile, West Asheville has grown up around Westville, in part because of the vitality the pub brought to the neighborhood. Now, apparently, a threshold has been reached: During the past year, several would-be bar owners began focusing their attention on the area and its possibilities. At press time, at least three new pubs were planned along Haywood Road. If they go forward, West Asheville will have a beer-and-liquor presence to rival an Irish village.
A taste of the “ould sod”
Former Skyland Distributing employee Chuck Brown may have grown up in Franklin, but his roots, however distant, lie in Ireland. “One side of my family is from the Republic, and the other from Northern Ireland,” he says, standing in the dark interior of his pub-in-the-making, Tolliver’s Crossing. Many will remember the 733 Haywood Road address as the former site of the Ideal Market Cafe, which closed after suffering a kitchen blaze last year.
Brown has always admired the snug and convivial feeling of British Isles pubs, and he hopes to bring the same turf-fire-and-boiled-cabbage atmosphere to the Haywood strip.
“Our food is going to include Irish stew, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, Cornish pasties, Marmite sandwiches, cream tea and Sunday roasts,” says Corina Round, Tolliver’s promotions manager, a native of England.
Brown says Tolliver’s draft-beer selections will include Guinness, Beamish and Murphy’s stouts, Fuller’s London Pride ale, as well as brews from this side of the pond, including selections from Oregon’s Rogue Brewery and Asheville’s Highland Brewery. The atmosphere will be dark and cozy, with mahogany-stained bead-board walls, parlor-style couches, and murals depicting the skylines of Dublin and Belfast.
“West Asheville is growing so fast, but the beautiful thing is that it’s still local,” Brown says. “It’s a lot of walking traffic and young families. We want to be a neighborhood pub for these folks and just add to the flavor of the place.”
Community response has been “unbelievable,” says Brown. “Every day we get 20 or 30 people stopping by, asking, ‘When are you going to open?’” Brown expects that to happen in late July.
Fill ‘er up
Just across the road from Westville Pub, at 784 Haywood Road, stands a whitewashed brick building with a skirt of cracked concrete in front. In rough outline, it resembles an English cottage with a roof tiled in royal blue. Built as a Pure Oil station in the 1930s, it has also housed a string of auto-repair shops since then, most recently Johnson’s Brake Shop. Now, however, it appears slated for pubdom. The Decatur, Ga., restaurant Universal Joint bought the building a year and a half ago and plans to convert it into a pub under the same name.
“Right now we’re trying to get a design plan together and the necessary permits,” says Marc Brennan, a Universal Joint partner. He expects the pub will open near the turn of the year.
Brennan says his company plans to “keep as many of the historic lines” of the original building as possible, while creating a 50-seat restaurant within. “We’ll mold to the feel of the neighborhood,” he adds. “It’ll be a casual, laid-back place to get an affordable burger and a beer.”
Lost in space
It scored a front-page story in the Asheville Citizen-Times last year, which heralded the arrival of a 600-person-capacity club on the part of Haywood Road closest to Asheville. And while the Rocket Club still maintains an Internet presence (www.therocketclub.net), including a description of its planned sound system, the project seems to have burned up upon entry. The phone number is not operative. Neighbors don’t seem to know much. Rocket Club, where are you?
Longtime Asheville residents will be familiar with the Root Bar #1, a Tunnel Road landmark with an admirable beer selection and its own patented game of physical skill (“Root Ball”).
Later this year, Root Bar #1 owner Max Chain and Jason Rector plan to turn the former site of Haywood Road’s Red Diamond gas station into a “real, sustainable green business.”
“The feeling will be sort of Euro café, with Root Ball out back,” says Rector. Plans call for an enclosed courtyard, on-site parking and plenty of outdoor seating. The “green” element, Rector says, could include everything from a sod roof to solar panels. “We submitted a plan to the city’s Planning and Zoning office and have gotten it back with recommendations,” he says.
The property is located near the Haywood Road Ingles. On weekends, it currently serves as a flea market of modest proportions.
“It’s a great location,” says Rector. “The West Side wants this, and we want to give it to them. We hope to add to the neighborhood feel and the walk-up business that West Asheville is known for.”
Asked about the opening date, Rector is more circumspect. “As soon as possible,” he allows. “We’re working as hard as we can.”
Meanwhile, back at Westville, Lu Young—while conceding that she’s “maybe a little apprehensive” about the arrival of so much competition—says she isn’t especially concerned about other pubs spiriting away her clientele.
“I think the neighborhood can support them,” she says. “When you look realistically at patterns of growth here in Asheville, I think it will be a good thing to have them. And I think we can take it as a compliment that people even want to try it here.”
Young does have a word of advice for would-be publicans, though: “I’d tell them to make sure they don’t have to make any money the first few years,” she says, smiling playfully. “I’d tell them to make sure they have another source of income.”