After our tour of Biltmore on Saturday, the plan was to hang out in Asheville and do some window-shopping Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Karen and Herman had given us a list of their favorite places in Asheville, and we wanted to check out a few of them.
Asheville always strikes me as a city of opposites, but not necessarily bad ones. You have the opulence of Biltmore and Grove Park, combined with a funky hippy vibe and alternative lifestyle mecca. That’s born out by the businesses downtown, where eclectic music venues and interesting restaurants sit side-by-side with lawyers’ offices and high-end retail shops and art galleries.
This particular Saturday evening lots of people were out enjoying the milder weather. We walked through several blocks of downtown, and most of the restaurants were busy. On one street there was a long line of young adults waiting to get into some club – I’m guessing a favorite band was playing there. Other places were just about as crowded.
Asheville seems like it has a much cooler vibe than Greenville. I love my city, and think it has a tremendous amount going for it with Falls Park, etc. However, it seems to be about 10 years behind Asheville. Mellow Mushroom, Barley’s Taproom, Mast General Store and several other favorite Greenville venues got their start in Asheville, and only relatively recently have opened in Greenville. Greenville has a great music venue with The Handlebar, but the Asheville area seems to be dotted with them – places like the Orange Peel and Grey Eagle up in Black Mountain.
A place that welcomes alternative lifestyles can make some uncomfortable, and for that reason Greenville with never really be like Asheville with its more conservative leanings. And it really shouldn’t try to copy Asheville, but capitalize on those strengths it has. I think Greenville is doing a great job of that.
One thing we did notice about Asheville, though, was the huge amount of gang tagging. This goes far beyond artistic street graffiti, and seems to be pervasive throughout the downtown area. It was enough to make Laura nervous as we walked around downtown.
Sunday morning after checking out of our hotel we drove over to the Grove Arcade area and parked. We walked along Wall Street and the adjoining areas, doing more window shopping as we walked. Our goal was breakfast at Tupelo Honey Cafe on Patton Avenue. Along the way we also admired the art deco architecture. Asheville has done a great job preserving its old buildings, rather than tearing down and rebuilding.
After breakfast was more window shopping, and we walked back to Grove Arcade to browse through its shops. The Arcade is another fascinating place. Built in the 1920’s, it was also supposed to have a 14 floor tower. However, only the arcade and its upper levels were completed. The arcade now has several art stores and restaurants. On one side of the arcade are stalls for street vendors. They were just getting their wares set out as we strolled by.
We left the downtown area in search of the River Arts District. One thing I’ll say about Asheville – its streets are even more bewildering than Greenville’s. Even with a GPS we got turned around several times, but we eventually found the area.
In the River Arts District old warehouses along the French Broad River have been converted into artist spaces. Most had not opened on this Sunday morning, and window shopping was not an option with the windowless buildings. We drove through to get a lay of the area and admire the revitalization and number of galleries, but couldn’t really go into any.
From River Arts we crossed the bridge into West Asheville. Once again, here is a somewhat insular community that is developing art galleries and eateries. We only had a chance to drive through, but it was interesting to see how much activity there was in the area. It’s great that the economy of Asheville can support this many galleries and diversions, and I hope they can keep it up.
We enjoyed our trip to Asheville, and we need to make more trips up that way. It’s certainly closer than Charlotte or Atlanta, and isn’t too far for an evening’s drive for a restaurant. But, then again, we’ve got lots to do right here in Greenville, too.