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Mar 4, 2014 06:14 AM

The Nightbell, Asheville

We stopped in Katie Button's new speakeasy Saturday night, and it looks like she has another hit on her hands--the place was packed at 8:30 p.m. It's a gorgeously retro storefront on S. Lexington near the back entrance to Mast General Store. You enter through what looks like a glamorous antiques store and are escorted upstairs to a wonderland of food, drink, and pretty people dressed to the nines. Cocktails are arranged in four taste/spirit categories with some overlap. We had a bourbon cocktail (whose long name I have forgotten) with just the right amount of sweet and sour to balance out the booze. Several craft brews--including local--are offered. Since we had already had dinner, we settled for dessert, was the best dessert I've had in downtown AVL, a sort of molten peanut butter cake with a crispy dark chocolate base alongside a dollop of blood orange sorbet. Again, the combination and balance of flavors--sweet, sour, and salty--was masterful. They also offer a menu of "bites" that includes everything from oysters with various spray "tinctures" to playful updates on such pub grub standards as fish and chips and a philly steak sandwich. We definitely want to go back and try some of these. Our server was lovely and very helpful--in fact, the whole staff couldn't be friendlier. My only real quibble is that the music (played by a live DJ) was all warmed-over Euro-pop, but as I said we were there early. Maybe things get more raucous later on. No matter: The Nightbell is the kind of sophisticated cocktail lounge downtown Asheville has long needed. Cheers to Chef Button and crew.

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  1. We've been - wanted to love it but damn the music in there is horrible! Enjoyed my creative (and expensive) drink - and could see myself staying there for more than just one or two if they lowered prices per by just a buck or two. And I am ALL FOR some GOOD house/techno/club music (which is why we went - really wanted to check out the DJ I had read so much about) - ugh. Unlistenable. It was teeny-bopper pop...I felt like I was at the gym. We were outta there after one drink. It's funny you mention the crowd as "dressed to the nines" as again - this is what I was hoping for - a cool place to get a little dressed up and dance - but we experienced the same old Asheville crowd - jeans, T-shirts, sloppy-casual. It's like the concept is there...but to me...execution is off, especially since a big part of what they want to be driving the place is the music. To us is wasn't sophisticated it all...but rather super cheesy because of that god-awful music! There is some really great electronica out there right now that I know Ashevillians would appreciate getting to experience in a modern cocktail lounge over some delicious small bites. I know me and my friends were hoping this would be that place. To us, it severely missed the mark. I guess I should go back to comment fairly on the food, but I may have to wear earplugs.

    4 Replies
    1. re: miss piggy

      Hmmm...people were pretty dressed up the other night. I did hear one group say they were in from Atlanta, so maybe that explains it. I agree about the music, though, which is why we want to go back late and see if it's any better. I'm also wondering if they clear out the tables up front for dancing later. Do you know?

      1. re: Jeff C.

        There was definitely an open space in front of the DJ booth...we were at that end of the long bar so I'm sure it was open...but there may have been a few tables off to the side? We were there around 9:30-10. So I'd say there us a small"ish" dance area but not a big dance floor by any means.

        1. re: miss piggy

          Gotcha. If they don't get some better music, they may not even need that.

      2. re: miss piggy

        My friend went for their grand opening on 2/5 and said the music was mostly "Indie" stuff (which I like). Sounds like it may be different now? Of course a "grand opening" might present some different things. But you would think they would want to show off what they will be doing on a regular basis. ??

      3. I finally tried this Saturday night. When I stopped in earlier in the day to look at the menu, the staff encouraged me strongly to go ahead and reserve something even though I was honest about having no clue if I would actually be able to get there at the time I selected. I was glad they did, because it was full at 8 pm with only a couple of seats at a communal table on offer to the ladies who walked in before us.

        Jeff had a no-alcohol shrub that was interesting and delicious, I had prosecco served in a coupe, which I always enjoy. 1/2 glasses of wine are available, btw, always a plus.

        The food was all very good. We had the Ceasar salad "taco", the Waldorf salad (which really needs quotes as well), the quail, and both the lobster roll and oyster po boy. Loved the candied fennel on the salad, loved the delicate flavors of the lobster roll. Quail was also delicious.

        We enjoyed watching the time/labor intensive desserts being made at the bar area. Liquid nitrogen in use quite a bit. Our dessert was good, but I wish I had tried the freaky "root beer float" that the guy next to me got. It was served on a plate.

        The interior is gorgeous and I loved the blue velvet banquet w/ lumbar bolsters. What are my quibbles? Mainly that I was still hungry. Normally it's only my husband that needs more food after "fine dining", but in this case, I was ready for more food too. Yes, we could have ordered more, I know. I wish there had been bread. We could hear the table next to us debating where to go to get more food as well, and thought that was pretty funny.

        It's a lovely spot, though, and I'm sure I'll be back, especially if I'm just looking to drink and hang out, and not particularly hungry.