Best of The River Arts District—A Local’s Perspective
Asheville’s got a lot going for it. You’ve got hiking, restaurants, a vibrant downtown. And on top of all of that, the arts. A whole district dedicated to the arts, in fact: The River Arts District
I daresay the RAD (as locals call it) is integral to Asheville’s urban character. With its mural-covered walls, iconic “Good Vibes” silo, and of course, the river itself, no visit to Asheville is complete without the River Arts District. So that you can enjoy the delights of this most aesthetic of the city’s regions, I invite you to read on and discover the best of the River Arts District.
1: Visit the Galleries at Riverview Station
At different points in Riverview Station's long history, it's been used as a tannery, tobacco warehouse, and several species of textile plant. Today, it’s home to over a dozen artist’s studios, galleries, and shops, wrapping up the River Arts District’s history in a nutshell.
Some of my favorite places in Riverview Station include Akira Satake Ceramics, Antiques at Riverview Station, and Art Garden AVL, a combined plant-and-art shop at the complex’s northern edge. That said, there’s simply too many places of interest at this River Arts attraction to mention them all by name. You’ll have to go and see for yourself.
La Vie d’Artiste: Bring paints and an easel with you so you can “copy the greats.”
2: Get Coffee at Ultra Coffeebar
If I’m savvy to some part of town, you can bet your bottom dollar I’ve got an eye open for cafes, and the River Arts District is no exception. Aside from the usual espresso, pastries, and chai lates, Ultra offers surprisingly robust breakfast and lunch menus, including vegan options. Coming from an art student, I can tell you that’s a smart move if your catering to a creative clientele.
As far as beverages, Ultra piques my interest with their iced “Orange Peel”: espresso with orange syrup, sparkling water, and candied peel. Personally, I never would of thought of blending coffee with carbonation, but then again, the espresso machine is not my tool of choice.
La Vie d’Artiste: Sport a striped shirt and black beret. Exclaim over your coffee about “l’economie” and “l’institution.” It’s the practice of cultured individuals.
3: Learn About Glassblowing at North Carolina Glass Center
I’ve always been a sucker for glassblowing. Think about it. You take sand—actual sand, like that stuff they have at a beach—and you heat it up, then boom: glass. It blows my mind. And if you ever see glassblowers at work—twirling, twisting, and teasing molten glass like its cotton candy—I’m sure you too will appreciate the craft.
Luckily, the River Arts District’s NC Glass Center offers public demonstrations every day of the week (except Tuesdays), as well as classes for those especially taken with it.
La Vie d’Artiste: Commission a custom, life-sized glass sculpture of your loved one/pet.
4: Get Dinner at The Bull and Beggar
This restaurant describes itself as a “warehouse chic new American haunt,” which is a string of words I think you’ll seldom find outside of Asheville’s River Art’s District. Definitely on the upscale end, Bull and Beggar offers dinner reservations Monday through Thursday for either their interior or open-air patio. Walk-ins are seated at the bar or outside.
Their menu changes on a weekly basis, but as of this article’s posting, it includes beef tartare, oysters on the half-shell, and “le grande cassoulet.” Warehouse chic indeed.
La Vie d’Artiste: Ask for a wine sample. Perform the retro-nasal inspection—infamous among vintners—by slurping the liquid as if through a straw, then exhale into the mixture (while it's still in your mouth). This is how one brings out a wine’s true character.
5: See a Film at the Grail Moviehouse
Movies may not be the first medium that comes to mind when people think “art,” but when you break down all the profession involved in filmmaking, it becomes clear while any self-respecting arts district should have a cinema. You’ve got visual artists, actors, writers, composers, editors, VFX artists. The lists goes on. And you can see some of the field’s best works—both cult hits and blockbusters—at the Grail Moviehouse.
As of my writing, this week’s showings at the Grail include Drive my Car, Flee, and Westside Story, just to give you an idea. I can think of few better ways to wind up a day’s outing to the River Arts District than via a showing at this funkalicious local theatre.
La Vie d’Artiste: Adopt a Continental accent. Loudly criticize the movie while it's playing. The other film-fans are sure to appreciate such enlightening commentary.
191 Lyman St, Asheville, NC 28801
242 Clingman Ave Ext, Asheville, NC 28801
North Carolina Glass Center
140 c Roberts St, Asheville, NC 28801
The Bull and Beggar
37 Paynes Way #007, Asheville, NC 28801
17 Foundy St, Asheville, NC 28801