For the Orange Peel, an evolution

The Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club, Asheville’s premiere downtown music venue with a national reputation as a top music destination, is expanding.

On tap: a downstairs private club that will seat 75 to 150 people and serve cocktails on the club’s Hilliard Avenue side, and a new smoking porch of at least 400 square feet on the club’s opposite north side. On the Orange Peel’s main floor, 50 to 100 removable “box seats” will be added to stage left to allow for special seating for certain shows. Also, the long stage-left bar will be divided, with half the bar staying put and the other half moving to the opposite side of the main floor.

“To stay strong, we needed to keep improving,” says Pat Whalen, the head of Public Interest Projects Inc., a company that specializes in downtown revitalization and which breathed new life into the Orange Peel in 2002. “We want to continue to make this the best live music venue we can make it.”

To that end, the Orange Peel applied for, and won, a $300,000 loan guarantee from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority in March. The guarantee certainly helped make the project a go, Whalen says, but it was time for the club to evolve.

Liz Whalen, the club’s marketing director, adds that it was time to invest, despite the current recession.

“Asheville has a really progressive music population, and music fans that are really loyal,” she says. By bumping up the club’s capacity from 942 to about 1,200, the venue can look to draw acts that might have passed up the Orange Peel in the past. “The extra capacity puts us in the next tier of club size” on par with the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and the NorVa in Norfolk, Va., she says.

The work started a week ago and marks about a $500,000 investment for the Orange Peel. The club sits at the corner of Hilliard and Biltmore avenues in downtown. It has a long history, first as a 1950s skating rink reborn as a home for R&B clubs featuring disco and funk. The building later saw use as an auto parts warehouse and was vacant until Public Interest Projects Inc. took interest and injected it with new life seven years ago.

Rolling Stone magazine last year named the venue a top five “best club” in the U.S. Bob Dylan, the Beastie Boys, the Flaming Lips, Ben Harper and the Smashing Pumpkins have all played the Peel, an intimate space with a bouncy wooden floor and giant overhead fan.

Liz Whalen says the yet-to-be-named basement private club will serve liquor and operate as a private membership club. Douglas Maderis of Maderis Designs drew up plans for the space, she said. The porch on the opposite side of the Peel will help minimize the pedestrian traffic that can stack up on the sidewalk along Biltmore Avenue and generally improve safety, she says.

All the work is scheduled to be complete by October, Whalen says, and none of the construction should interfere with the club’s current show schedule.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor


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19 thoughts on “For the Orange Peel, an evolution

  1. jenny

    “Rolling Stone magazine last year named the venue a top five “best club” in the U.S.”

    I did not know that. I can think of five just off the top of my head that are better than the Orange Peel. Personally I do not go to many of the shows at the Orange Peel because I do not like the venue. Lack of seating, comfort, and that huge fan blowing you away from above are my main issues. Maybe they’ll address the comfort with this expansion.

  2. john r

    I like the new ideas. One complaint we have had is the necessity to stand through the whole performance.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Chairs ruin the concert experience for me

    I’ve never seen anyone actually use them at a rock concert anyway.

  4. rgvb7

    Private Club…. so what exactly does that mean? Will patrons of the private club have access to the shows upstairs? If it’s a hot show NO ONE will be in the private club. So, instead of fighting thru a crowd of 942 people, we will have to wade thru an additional 75-200 people. Does this expansion also mean higher ticket prices?

  5. Bjorn

    How exciting! Now we’ll be able see even more bands no one’s heard of!

  6. Bjorn Again

    Well, clearly many people have heard of the bands playing the Orange Peel. But it’s true that they have yet to book that multi-platinum selling act, Jimmie’s Underground Navelgaze, in favor for unheard of acts like Beastie Boys, smashing Pumpkins, Sonic youth, Old Crow medicine show, Michael franti, Hillary Clinton, Jesus, Ani difranco, toots and the maytals, Shooter jennings…

  7. billiller

    Um, I guess the obvious answer to that question is ‘The really rare exception’ The ratio of known to unknown bands is plain to see… for anyone who isn’t that interested in new music, or up-and-coming bands.

  8. Congrats to The Orange Peel. I particularly like the idea of splitting the bar between the two sides.

    rgvb7: Sounds to me like the downstairs venue will be completely separate. The “private club” designation is likely due to state liquor laws, meaning they’ll operate in much the same way as Broadways and other venues that don’t make a certain percentage of revenue from food sales. Anyone have further input?

  9. Piffy!

    billyer-what exactly would pass your test for acceptable music at the peel? Maybe if U2 opened for your band? The rolling Stones? Abba?

  10. Billiller, who would you like to see? I think the OP does a good job with diversity… you have to in this town!.

  11. T Crow

    Good move on the chairs and private club. Does this mean a full liquor license, too. Enough of beer and wine only, please!!

  12. Musoscribe63

    I would like to see them add a big smoking area. And I’d like them to build it it six blocks away, with no re-entry allowed.

    On an only-slightly more serious note, the OP is a fantastic venue, and their ratio of good acts beats most venues, most places. And their staff is frinedlier than that of most similar places. And it’s IN ASHEVILLE. Who could ask for more?

    Re. “private club”: Stella Blue and the Rocket Club are two local examples of so-called “private clubs.” A response to the silly suthin’ blue laws, noting more.

  13. who

    Good for the Orange Peel. Hate to be a bummer, but always wanted to say, every show I’ve been to there, it is always way too loud – ridiculously loud. So loud I hear noise instead of music. You shouldn’t have to wear ear plugs to listen to music. You are cutting out frequencies that block from experiencing the listening pleasure. It shouldn’t be audible assault.

  14. freddie funkhauser

    Wow, Orange Peel. I’m a recent newbie to this town but have heard so many great things about the peel (& I’m from the west coast) and now it seems that you are doing what you can to accommodate All people of All ages that drink All different things and like All music. Congratulations. On a side note, and a quick question, why do people have such negative views to what is obviously a positive addition to Asheville?? Too loud- use ear plugs and stand somewhere else in the club, too windy – move, too smokey – Not inside, too many chairs – stand, not enough – get there early, don’t like the band – don’t buy a ticket. All solutions to questions that we can deal with ourselves without blaming the peel. keep up the good work……

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