In case you missed the previous installments in this series, here they are:
- Day 1: Toronto, Ontario to the Customs and Border Protection Office in Buffalo, New York to Morgantown, West Virginia
- Day 2: Morgantown, West Virginia to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to Asheville, North Carolina
- Day 2 addendum: Pigeon Forge, Smoky Mountain Knife Works, and the Wicked Weed Brewing Company
I’d refer to the feeling I had the next morning as “the wrath of grapes”, but Eldon and I had drunk nothing but beer the previous night, and “the wrath of malted barley” just doesn’t have that ring to it. I was still in last night’s jeans, and in the pockets, stuffed all hodge-podge, was an extra forty-something dollars that I’d made at the pub by playing raucous accordion tunes, and singing increasingly off-key as the night had worn on.
“We’ll make it a mellow day today,” said Eldon groggily. “Some looking around town, not too much driving. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds good to me,” I replied.
The previous night, the group of people we ended up drinking with in the basement bar of Wicked Weed Brewing Company told us about a place that served an amazing brunch. Our start to the day was rather late and slow, so by the time we got there, the Sunday crowd had lined up around the block. We decided to drive a little farther to see if there were any other interesting places, as the street had that “this street has interesting places” vibe. Our hunch proved to be correct, as a few blocks away, we happened upon an oddly-painted building and I said “Now that…looks like my home planet.”
BattleCat Coffee House is, to put it in Toronto terms, a Parkdale coffee shop that just happens to be located in Asheville. Built from a house, with its various rooms as well as the front porch and yard converted into various cafe lounges, it’s the kind of student-y, art-y, hangout filled with yard sale furniture, charmingly mismatched bric-a-brac, and local artists’ works where you’re likely to find me (in fact, I need to find an equivalent in my new home in Accordion Bay).
They make a mean mocha, which I found reviving. I looked around and said “We’re in a college town in the mountains, all right. We may be the cleanest-shaven people in this entire cafe, and I’m including both sexes.”
The neighbourhood in which BattleCat is located is full of interesting things that lend themselves well to photographs, from the whiskey bar next door (alas, we’ll have to save a visit for another time) to the nearby garage, which had this magnificently rusting old Buick. I loved its hood ornament, which is straight out of the imagery of Gernsback-era science fiction:
Around the corner was a sculpture garden made out of found household and industrial objects:
…and when we walked closer, we found that its creators and owners were perfectly fine with people coming in to get a closer look, as the sign by the entrance indicated:
In the center of the garden was something I call “Truckhenge”:
I couldn’t resist posing with this little artifact:
Across the street from the garden was this sign, which I thought might be a funny way of announcing to the world what my new job in the U.S. was:
A few doors down the street from the Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism was Harvest Records, a great indie music shop with a great selection of music, friendly staff, a computer set up so you can see what Pitchfork said about the tunes you’re about to buy (or hear what they sound like), and even a comfy place to peruse the books or magazines they hope you’ll eventually buy:
While checking out the posters at Harvest, we noticed that a place downtown called the One Stop Deli and Bar had a bluegrass brunch with a live band that let people join them on the open mic. A short drive later, we’d ordered our brunches — I had chicken and waffles and a Bloody Mary, while Eldon got a local brew to wash down his “redneck benedict”, made of poached eggs on biscuits, covered in biscuit gravy and chicken tenders. We certainly weren’t going to win any healthy eating awards that day.
Before I had a chance to get a bite of brunch, one of the guys in the band saw the accordion and waved me over to the stage. I took a quick swig of my custom Bloody Mary — they give you a glass with a lot of vodka, and you assemble the rest at the Bloody Mar fixings bar (mine had extra pickle juice and sriracha) — and on the stage I went. A few quick introductions and a quick walk through the chords later, I was playing with the band.
The guys in the band were talented, friendly, and fun to play with. If you’re ever down Asheville way and are looking for both brunch and people to jam with, I can’t recommend the Bluegrass Brunch at One Stop Deli and Cafe enough.
Afternoon Outdoor Beer
Asheville has an arts district just outside its downtown area, by the French Broad River. This area of about two dozen former industrial buildings turned out to be the perfect location for artists’ studios, and it now is the work area of nearly 200 local artists. The center of it all seems to be the Wedge Brewing Company, which is where Eldon and I headed after Bluegrass Brunch.
Despite the fact that it was still the first week of March in North Carolina, the day was bright, sunny, and warm enough that some people were fine wearing just a T-shirt. The place was crowded with people enjoying the sun and craft beer, which meant birthday celebrations, which in turn meant…accordion!
I have no idea what the Wedge is like in the dead of winter, but if I lived in Asheville, I’d be a regular here in the spring, summer, and fall.
We got into conversations with a number of locals, including a doctor who spent half her time in Asheville doing consulting work, and the other half of her time at home in San Francisco, who in turn introduced us to her friends, a mechanical engineer of Asian descent and his Czech wife who met while both were on vacation in Thailand. We talked to students, artists, bikers enjoying the first warm Sunday ride of the year, young families, and more.
More accordion, too:
As the afternoon drew to a close, Eldon and I had one last pint (he kept it to a minimum, as it was his turn to drive)…
…and we made our way to Georgia: