Asheville goes by many names. “Paris of the South.” “San Francisco of the East.” Even “Prague of the West.” But I think most people remember Asheville as “Beer City.” The breweries and tasting rooms here are indeed plentiful, I’ll give you that. Yet I fear that in all this fervor for yeasty ferments, people forget entirely about the cocktails.
Just like any self-respecting tourist town, Asheville boasts some of the best cocktail bars for miles around. And in truth, they’re worthy competitors to the city’s best breweries. So that you too may enjoy the fruits of my hometown’s eclectic cocktail scene, I invite you to read on and discover the five best cocktail bars in Asheville.
I mention this entry first because I think it perfectly illustrates my point. Nestled within the South Slope brewing district, Chemist Spirits formulates not beer but gin. And some pretty good gin at that. Award wining.
Their tasting room, Antidote, serves gin-focused cocktails in a Prohibition-inspired setting, spanning an indoor dining area, a rooftop terrace, and a patio. This season’s libations at Antidote include a gimlet, the “Bee’s Knees” (infused with house-made honey syrup,” and “East Meets West” (oolong gin, lime cordial, and umeboshi).
Pair your drink with some of their gourmet popcorn, and you have yourself a gin-sipping experience of unsurpassable sophistication.
Hours: 4pm-10pm, weeklong.
This downtown taproom, located just a couple blocks west of Pack Square, prides itself on a full menu packed with fresh, local ingredients. With salads, tacos, nachos, and a burger voted best in the city several years in a row, the Rankin Vault is a solid choice for those seeking not only drinks, but dinner.
Speaking of drinks, the Rankin Vault's house margarita and cucumber martini are something of the talk of the town. More adventurous cocktail enthusiasts will be pleased to find a variety of creative beverages, such as their “Apple-at-Cha" (Rum, allspice dram, black tea cider syrup, and pineapple).
Hours: Noon to midnight, Monday through Thursday. 12pm-2am Fridays and Saturdays. 12pm-11pm Sundays.
Another downtown cocktail bar, Sovereign takes its name from the old home-treatments Appalachian families used to develop to deal with their everyday illnesses. Whether these curatives usually included whiskey is unknown.
While Rankin styles itself as a more casual kind of place, Sovereign goes for more of a chic, haute cuisine feel, with seasonal menus. This winter, they’re serving duck poutine, beef tartare, hand-cut pappardelle, and butter-poached NC shrimp, to give you an idea. The winter cocktail list contains “Old King Junior,” (tequila, banana lacquerer, and long pepper) a “Root Daiquiri” (Sarsaparilla-dandelion-burdock), and my personal favorite, the Appalachian Hot Butter Rum, which our ancestors once used to cure the common cold.
All these sparkling options can be enjoyed inside, on their patio, or atop their private mezzanine, overlooking the bar.
Hours: 4pm-11pm, Monday through Thursday. 4pm-12am Fridays and Saturdays. 4pm-11pm Sundays.
I’m something of a coffee connoisseur myself, so if you tell me you’ve found a way to infuse coffee into just about anything—be it birthday cakes, clamshells, or cocktails—you have my attention. Here at the Times Bar, attached to the historic S&W Cafeteria, they take this culinary breakthrough to its logical conclusion, with espresso martinis, Irish coffee, and “The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle” (vodka with dark chocolate, raspberry, and espresso).
If you’re more in the mood for a straight pick-me-up, their non-alcoholic coffee menu is nothing to sneeze at, with raspberry mochas, coconut-cardamom espresso, and a hot buttered pecan late.
I’d like to conclude this entry with mention of their “beer-mosa." Its orange juice and pilsner. Zero-percent coffee. One hundred percent one of the most dastardly concoctions I have ever heard of.
Hours: 430pm-11pm, Mondays and Tuesdays. 10am-11pm Wednesdays and Sundays. 10am-1am Thursdays and Fridays. 10am-12am Saturdays.
Finally, we leave downtown for West Asheville. Somewhat off the beaten path, but certainly worth it, as the Golden Pineapple stands out as one of the most Ashevillean of the best cocktail bars in Asheville. What do I mean by this? Eclectic taste.
The Golden Pineapple’s namesake drink is a rye whiskey with overproof rum, lime, amaro, tepache, and almond orgeat. Maybe you'd imagine that this cocktail bar is on the tropical side of things. Well, yes and no. They also serve ice-cold Japanese highballs, the “Benne Conspiracy” (Whiskey, sesame, shitake mushrooms, and milk stout), and a slew of other fascinating admixtures, all across the map in terms of flavor-inspiration.
If that hasn’t yet wet your whistle, let's talk about their food. Szechuan spiced peanuts, chicken wings, Spanish tinned fish, a smoked meatloaf sandwich, and east-Asian noodles. If you’re looking for a pattern here, I’ll tell you: they serve whatever tastes the best. That’s Asheville for you.
Plus, they’ve got quite a selection of beers. Again: that’s Asheville.
Hours: 5pm-12am Sunday through Thursday. 5pm-2am Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Wednesdays.
Antidote at Chemist Spirits
151 Coxe Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge
7 Rankin Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
29 N Market St #105, Asheville, NC 28801
The Times Bar & Coffee Shop
56 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
The Golden Pineapple
503 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806