It’s time again to address one of my favorite subjects: coffee. But not just the drinking of it. As every caffeinated individual knows, presentation and ambiance make up at least half the battle. Heck, sometimes I walk on into a café not because I’m after coffee—although usually I am—but just for the delight of the atmosphere.
And with temperatures in Asheville this January still staying at coat-and-scarf levels, I’ll take any excuse I can find to get off the street, and go inside some place nice and cozy. The steaming hot beverages? That’s just icing on the cake. And the cakes themselves? That’s survival food; shivering burns calories.
Downtown’s got some of the best cafes in the business, and I’ve rustled up a few suggestions here that’ll pair perfectly with Asheville’s best indoor amusements. Museums, shopping, and the like. Remember: no matter where you are downtown, the perfect café may be just around the corner.
I’ve been coming here ever since I started drinking coffee. Matter of fact, its Old Europe where I became the advocate of caffe americanos that I am today. I looked up at their menu, saw the word “Americano,” and thought, “That sounds cool,” and I ordered one. Those were the days.
Since then, Old Europe’s moved across the street from their original haunts into a shiny new storefront with expanded seating. All the better to dig into their smorgasbord of dynamite deserts. From delicate macarons to rich slices of expertly-crafted cakes, the sweets are the real stars of the show here.
Hours: 7am to 10pm Monday through Thursday. Open until 11pm Friday through Sunday. Keep in mind that the secret’s out on this place. You’ll have your best luck at beating the crowd in the morning, and on weekdays.
Now on the west side of downtown, nestled within the historic Grove Arcade, this here coffeehouse brings the flavors of the Big Easy on up to the Paris of the South. Très magnifique is what I say to that.
If you guessed we’re talking beignets here, you guessed right. Beignets with honey, beignets with chocolate sauce, egg-and-cheese beignets. By golly, even BLT beignets. And sometimes that’s all the soul really needs. That and a chicory-infused latte enlivened with your choice of house-made cane syrups.
Now they don’t got a lot of tables—especially considering just how much of a hit this place has been—so you may want to take your beignets to go. Just mind the powdered sugar. I’ve learned that the hard way.
While you’re in the Grove Arcade, be sure to check out some of my favorite local boutiques and gift shops, all found inside, out of the grips of the nefarious winter winds.
Hours: 8am to 5pm, every day of the week.
Speaking of fried dough, no list of the best cafés anyplace would be complete without some respect paid to coffee’s notorious partner-in-crime: the one, the only, the donut.
Stay Glazed can be found right on the corner of Pack Square, making this another great café to visit after a little encounter with fine art. From the Asheville Art Museum, head east and look for the black sign marked “Underground Café.” Down the steps, enter the earth, and you’ll find yourself in donut paradise.
Like any Asheville confectionary, the master bakers here are always on the hunt for the next great flavor. Lychee lemon sesame, for example. Or granny smith and cheddar. It's always something new with these kids.
And if savory’s more your speed, they got you covered too, with a selection of breakfast plates, perfect for starting off your day’s journey through downtown Asheville, or as the first course in your donut jubilation.
Hours: 10am to 3pm, Thursdays and Fridays. 9:30am to 3pm Saturdays. 11am to 2pm on Sundays.
Off the side of the S&W Market—Asheville’s one and only art-deco food hall, resurrected from the 1920s—the Times Bar does double work, serving up coffee by day, and cultured cocktails at night.
In the warmer months, I couldn’t imagine anything better than a little culinary exploration in the food hall, followed by a laid back cup of joe out front of the Times, with a perfect view for people watching on Patton. But winter weather’s a great excuse to stay inside here, enjoy their vintage décor, and plan your next expedition.
Their seasonal menu has got everything you need to brace yourself against the cold, from gingerbread lattes to hot ciders to boozy afternoon coffee-cocktails, perfect for unwinding after a day’s adventures.
Hours: Cafe hours: 10am to 4pm, Wednesday through Sunday. Cocktails: 10am to 11pm, Wednesday through Sunday. 5pm to 11pm Mondays and Tuesdays. Twenty-one and older after 4pm, every day.
You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that it's not just the coffee, and not just the ambiance that makes a café, but it's the stuff you pair your coffee with. Donuts. Beignets. Pastries.
But there is something you can pair with coffee that you can’t eat: books. Yes, it's the delight of introspective types everywhere, I imagine, to curl up with a coffee and a book, usually in some cozy corner.
Now if you’re visiting Asheville, you might just find what you’re looking for at the Battery Park Book Exchange, on the corner of the Grove Arcade. Like the Times Bar, they also serve alcohol—namely champagne—as well as seasonal small bites and pastries. But the real joy is their labyrinthine bookstacks, sporting more than 10,000 volumes, spanning the classics to contemporary popular fiction.
The Battery Park Book Exchange is your one stop shop: literature, wine, coffee, tea, and a heck of a place to enjoy them in.
Hours: Noon to 8pm Wednsdays and Thursdays. Noon to 9pm Fridays and Saturdays. Noon to 6pm Sundays. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Note that the afternoon crowd on the weekends can get pretty thick. I suggest a weekday visit, or towards the evening.
Old Europe Pastries
18 Broadway St, Asheville, NC 28801
Bebettes: A New Orleans Coffeehouse
1 Page Ave #111, Asheville, NC 28801
Stay Glazed Donuts and Cafe
22 S Pack Square, Asheville, NC 28801
The Times Bar & Coffeehouse
56 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar
1 Page Ave #101, Asheville, NC 28801