A steamy summer Saturday night in July. A local waves farewell to his friends at the River Cleanup, jumps on his bike and heads to The Wedge for a sunset beer on the patio with the gang. Visitors from far and wide are finishing up at the Biltmore House ascending on Wicked Weed. The line out the door does not mean it is the only brewery in town. The mugginess of this July day is swept up by a mountain breeze whipping across Lexington Ave up along Woodfin Ave and over Broadway. I lift my head back to take in the cooling relief while gazing up at the whisping straw of the tiki umbrella.
As darkness ascends I take a drag of my cigerrette, smile and nod toward the bar keep signaling I am ready for another. Stephanie, the Lazy Diamond’s afternoon bartender is the gatekeeper at this locals favorite starting point. Diamond is my preferred choice to begin an evening of downtown debauchary and I know she will be their at closing time, for a final drink and lively tune.
Your Bar fly is in a mood tonight. The breeze brought with it a sense of adventure. Quickly folks gather and I find myself chatting up everyone on the patio; trading stories of our favorite new places and sharing spots in Asheville we have yet to visit. It is amazing how fast bars, breweries and pubs pop up around here. Each of us had a new spot to share. My suggestion was to take an away team from Lazy toward the south slope to check in on Public School, a new joint on Banks Ave. My two favorite gals quickly volunteer to flag an Uber and head to school.
South Slope is becoming the brewery district and you will get no complaints from me about that! South Slope is fun, easy to find and has so many hidden gems that Barfly will be a busy, tipsy chick for months to come. Public House is the newest place I’ve yet to visit so off we go.
I lived in Portland another lifetime ago and remember fondly McMinnimins Kennedy School, a popular bar and restaurant. The detention room was the smoking lounge, they had soaking pools, a jazz bar in the library and open air courtyards. It was a magical. Owners transformed a long abondaoned elementary school into the North Sides favorite place to meet and drink. The Asheville Public School was neither public, nor a school. Our Uber dropped us out front where we were met with a cheerful young lad taking membership dues. So Public School is a social club. No complaints, however I am not sure how many more vistaprint bar membership cards my little billfold can hold. It might start to make people question my alcohol dependency.
Bars to me are like sex… Even when it’s bad, it’s good. The last thing I want to be with this column is some trite whiney tart spitting jager on my readers’ dreams.My immediate thought as I walked up the steps toward the door? “My, there are a lot of polo shirts and boat shoes.” When I think back to my public school days I think of black heavy metal t-shirts and scary chicks with big hair and a ton of eyeliner. Second thing I noticed was the music. The Cure. Yes, The Cure is great; The Cure helped form me as a jaded young girl. The Cure was dark, mysterious. The clientele here, however, was not. A plethora of “pink pop” polo shirts, kakhi shorts and an overwhelming smell of chlorine combined with the wailing of Robert Smith was disorienting to say the least. Add to that the brightly lit large cavernous bar area echoing with at least a dozen conversations at once. I realized, it must be the cafeteria at public school they are going for?
It’s not you, Public School, it is me. My expectations were from another time, another place, another wing of the school. I must have misinterpreted what the owners were going for. Atmosphere is only a tiny factor in the overall grade. While I give it a C, the true test is the bartender and the pour. Public School got an A on both. The bartenders were spot on, light flirtation yet high professionalism. It has to be said though, if the decor is the cafeteria the lead bartender is the Phys Ed teacher. Damn baby you are built! My companions and I were taken by his physique and boyish good looks. We stopped short of cat calling because that is sexist. The drinks are strong and served up fast. This just isn’t the place for me to linger. I think Barfly is more comfortable in a less sanitary drinking establishment. Time to head off.
Now what do you picture when you think of a Yacht Club? Miami Vice white blazers, boat chases and drug cartels? The Kardashians? Mr. and Mrs. Howell? Yeah me too; however in Asheville nothing is as you would expect. Truth be told I have been to the Yacht Club many times. It is a favorite. Just enough dirty biker dive bar to keep most tourists away but accessible enough for locals and visitors with a clue.
This particular Saturday night was a mixed bag. A group of rowdy rocker types at a booth, a gaggle of kakhi short frat boys at the bar and then my favorite shady, bearded bad boys at the door. The music was loud, the smokers guarded the sidewalk and the servers had just enough attitude to keep the place interesting. It is the Yacht Club: the interior looks like an old pirate ship, there is a crowd at the bar almost the entire night. My companions and I ordered Vodka Tonics all night and did not pay for a single one. A male tourist across the room did his best to impress us by paying our bar tab and asking if we would hang with him if his date didn’t return. Hey that sounds reasonable, so bottoms up! Go to the Yacht Club for the atmosphere and stay for the strong pour and and zero ego. The Yacht Club gives zero shits. If it wasn’t situated in the mountains it could easily be a salty pub serving sunburned sandy patrons at the docks.
Two different bars, each with a name that does nothing to describe what they are really made of. Both score high on staff attentiveness, drink potency and benign patrons. Yacht Club eases way ahead on atmosphere and music. Public School is perfect for when your parents come to visit, or after a vigourous game of disc golf. Both had clean well appointed bathrooms as well.
Yacht Club- 4 out of 5 Barflies | 87 Patton Ave Asheville
Public School- 2 out of 5 Barflies | 32 Banks Ave. Asheville