So here we are: back at gems. Real metaphorical gems this time, by which I mean the kind that you can’t find by smashing open rocks. Instead, we’re focusing on all the Asheville hotspots and hangouts that deserve more attention than they’re given; the kinds of places a local guide might take you to, if you had one. As it happens, you do have one. Its me. I may just be a disembodied voice floating through the internet like a loquacious jellyfish but trust me: I take the integrity of your Asheville experience as seriously as my own. So, without further ado, here’s five of the best hidden gems in Asheville.
Sitting on downtown’s Wall Street, Trade and Lore strikes me as the kind of place you could easily walk by without noticing, unless someone directs your attention to it. Its no fault of the café. Trade and Lore’s broad street-side seating and obvious signage should make it easy to pick out but I find I’m usually using Wall Street to get from A to B, whether that’s the Grove Arcade or Well Played.
As a matter of fact, this quality is half of what landed Trade and Lore on this list. Although it lies on a crossroads between several downtown highlights, it feels tucked away, preserved from downtown’s hustling bustle. Wall Street itself looks lifted from a small Swiss resort-town and passes for the closest thing to a pedestrian street in all of downtown.
The other half of what landed Trade and Lore in this list of the best hidden gems in Asheville are its weekly events. Usually kicking off around 7pm-8pm, these affairs range from live music to poetry nights, and are an excellent way to tap into Asheville’s vibrant art scene. If you’re interested, I advise you to keep up with Trade and Lore’s events calendar.
Local Etiquette: As with all sufficiently local institutions, I am told Trade and Lore actually has a secret knock—like the speakeasies of the past—without which you will not be allowed entrance. The pattern is two rapid knocks, a pause, and then ten more.
Longtime readers of Asheville Cottage’s blog may assume from the frequency with which I mention Abeja’s, it couldn’t possibly be a hidden gem of Asheville. Well, while its true that getting a table here for Sunday brunch is good practice for the waiting-game, I have few qualms in drumming up even more appreciation for this Latin American café. After all, Abeja’s lies beyond the districts best-known to tourists, while having some of the best food in South Asheville.
From the grits to the huevos rancheros, I’d suggest just about everything on the menu. Their rotating selection of specials shows off the chef’s apparently inexhaustible skill and creativity and gives us locals a good reason to keep on coming back. For a hidden gem in Asheville that gives you a taste of one of the staples of South Ashevilleian life, look no further than Abeja’s.
Local Etiquette: Feel free to admire the painting and photographs hung on the wall. Any local who notices your studious stares will recognize you as an individual of class and artistic insight. They will assuredly reward your good taste by letting you in on their own secret knowledge of hidden gems in Asheville.
I know what you’re thinking: are all of these hidden gems in Asheville going to be cafés? Well no. Just three out of five of them. In any case I consider this suggestion far from redundant, as Ivory Road’s character sets it apart not only within this list, but from all other cafes in Asheville.
Situated on the unassuming Brevard Road, away from Asheville’s primary routes, Ivory Road’s lush property and homey construction create an atmosphere of contained comfort. Outdoor seating sprawls from their porch to the yard, where a book-exchange post allows you access to whatever locals are reading.
Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea, you can fit Ivory Road into most any schedule as it is. But on top of all that, Ivory Road lies on the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway from the south side of town, and their drive through makes an excellent stop on the way to your Asheville hiking adventures.
Local Etiquette: Throughout Asheville, donuts are actually known by their tradition Dutch name, “oliebol.” If, like me, you’re uncertain on how to pronounce that, you can communicate your desire for a donut by making an “o” with your fingers. This stand both for “oliebol,” and the unbreakable cycle of nature’s life-and-death.
This hidden gem in Asheville is often overlooked in favor of the Asheville Museum of Art, but I’d argue that downtown’s Black Mountain Art Center might actually be one of the most important museums in the area.
Speaking as an art student, if I had a dollar for every time my professors mentioned that this or that 20th century icon was connected to Black Mountain College, I might be able to afford my class supplies. Half of that is a joke, but all the same, it would be hard to overstate just how important Black Mountain was not only to the local art scene, but to national and international movements.
The Black Mountain Art Center’s huge, rotating selection encompasses works of former faculty and students and a visit here is somewhat like getting a bird’s-eye view of post-WW2 American visual art as a whole. Even for those not too interested in the specificities of pop-art and tensional integrity, this hosts such a variety of pieces that I imagine you’ll find something to pique your curiosity.
Furthermore, this museum lies just around the corner from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. This has little to do with abstract expressionism, but it does mean good chocolate.
Local Etiquette: As it happens, all pieces on display here are secretly for sale. The cheapest, I’ve heard, goes for but a single penny, accompanied by a performance of your favorite spoken-word poem. The curators will be happy to listen to you, I’m sure.
The final step in understanding the hidden gems of Asheville, as I see it, is coming to understand that the gems are all around you. This two-hour, freeform, self-guided “trail” takes you all across downtown, bouncing between statues made by local artists and historic sites—both of which I use for my own navigation of downtown.
On the way, your mental map of Asheville’s center will be honed to a razor-sharp edge, and you’re bound to pass by shops, restaurants, and miscellaneous establishments that you’ll want to revisit later. In effect, the Asheville Urban trial gives you the tools you need to discover your own hidden gems in Asheville, while also serving as a good way to test your pedestrian stamina.
If you’re interested, the link above contains an interactive map and other resources to plan your own tour of downtown.
Local Etiquette: I undertook the Urban Trail myself as a Middle School field trip. I still fondly remember when my jaywalking English teacher was apprehended by a motorcycling traffic cop. I suppose the etiquette lesson here—if there is one—is to use the crosswalks.
Trade and Lore
37 Wall St, Asheville, NC 28801
Abeja's House Cafe
1550 Hendersonville Rd #116, Asheville, NC 28803
Ivory Road Cafe and Kitchen
1854 Brevard Rd, Arden, NC 28704
Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center
120 College St, Asheville, NC 28801