By Christopher McCollum
Halloween and the days preceding it is the busiest time of year for me, and as such, my energy was sapped to the point that I actually developed a mild cold and then a less-mild fever, in rapid succession. The weather was awful, I was outside for most of it, and eventually it wore me out so much that I felt like just crawling up in a ball under my covers on my luxuriously soft bed, and simply hiding away from the world for a couple of days. That is precisely what I did, and after getting a little bit of video game time in on my Xbox 360, I recuperated fully and I am now back to swinging for the fences, so to speak. Here’s what’s on my mind today, as I allow it to become re-immersed in the sophisticated culture that we value so highly.
Asheville’s newest bar has opened, and it’s called the Asheville Sazerac. It is located on Broadway Avenue, across the street from Hearn’s Bicycle shop, and it has only been open for a little over a week, and I’ve so far made one visit to the location. The Sazerac, of course, is a very classic cocktail, the Official Cocktail of New Orleans, to exact. It is on Anvil’s 100 List, and the original recipe called for a mixture of Absinthe, Rye, and bitters. Upon hearing the name of this new bar, I was immediately intrigued, because it’s not often that a new bar opens up that doesn’t cater to the somewhat less sophisticated crowd. I read up on it, and it’s being touted as a fine cocktail bar, specializing in the classics. My curiosity finally got the best of me, and I decided to spend the dinner hour there this evening.
The building itself is in one of the older sections of downtown Asheville, in a block of buildings that are over one hundred years old. Entering through the front door, the first floor is narrow and very long. The Bar is just as long and has a cool, modern look to it, while at the same time having a quasi-vintage feel to the lighting overhead, as the lights are set into a wood slat frame. There are nor beers on draft, and behind the bar on the back wall, the selection of fine liquor is rather impressive. Several varieties of top shelf Scotch, along with Bulleit and Woodford Reserve Bourbons. The cocktail menu is impressive, if small. The featured cocktails are the Sazerac, of course, along with the Old Fashioned, French 75, Negroni (featuring the classic Campari), Champagne Cocktail, Gin Fizz, Sidecar, and another that I can’t remember off the top of my head.
The wine list is exclusively French, and the food menu is primarily French, also, but with some American classics “done French.” As I alluded to earlier, the Asheville Sazerac is two stories. The first floor is long and narrow, and it is the same for the second floor. Going up the stairs, you see a much smaller, but just as classy looking bar. The lounge in that area outside of the second floor bar is cozy and warm, but then the best part lies just outside… literally. Stepping out the doors, you walk onto Asheville’s newest (and only) rooftop bar. It is not incredibly spacious, but that’s okay, because this type of bar is most likely not going to be incredibly crowded. There are tables and chairs set up, and a fire escape stair case that can be lowered by a wench. It offers a decent view, and seems to have a very nice atmosphere. People sitting and quietly chatting, while they dined on fine food and classic cocktails.
I decided to set up shop at the first floor bar, so that I could speak with the bartender. I ordered the Sazerac, which unfortunately does not go by the original recipe of Absinthe and Rye. Instead, we get Herbsaint, the anise liqueur that is often times used as a substitute for Absinthe. It was mixed with the house Rye which is Jim Beam, and then a dash of Peychaud Bitters, a bit of sugar, a twist, and served in an iced glass. The resulting concoction had a particularly unique scent and flavor, and I still am not sure if I truly enjoyed it, or if I just liked how different it is from other cocktails. The price was $8, which I consider to be a reasonable price for more upscale bars.
The highlight for me was definitely the food menu, and I was starving upon going on. I had failed to eat lunch and it was going on dinner time, so my eyes were frantically in search of something to appease my stomach. Immediately, my attention was drawn to the Escargot appetizer for $11, but I decided that I needed something a bit heartier. I was torn between the roast beef au jus, or the “American in Paris,” which was a turkey sandwich on French bread, smothered in melted Brie and served with a homemade Creole mustard. Obviously I went with the second choice, and it was delectable. My only complaint was that it was not twice as big, but hey… we Americans are used to eating portions that most others in the world consider to be scandalously large. The thinly sliced turkey breast was of great quality, and the Brie was a delicious touch. I wished for a second sandwich to finish off my hunger, but at $8, I figured my tab was already expensive enough for an early Sunday evening, while flying solo.
Rest assured, when Micah and I get together to examine the Asheville Sazerac more closely, we will find out exactly how well made the rest of the classic cocktails are, and perhaps we’ll also discover if the Escargot is as palatable as it should be. I predict this will be the case, and look forward to the next adventure at the Sazerac.