Asheville’s affair with spirits runs all the way back to the days of moonshine and medicinal spirits — and that artful, down-to-earth approach to mixology still shines through in this mountain town’s modern-day cocktail scene. At these twelve bars, expect an emphasis on local, often foraged, ingredients, herbal liqueurs, and fun, weird flourishes that celebrate the city’s inner oddball. And keep an eye out for secret gems: many of the city’s favorite cocktail bars are tucked away in the sleepier parts of town or hidden in plain sight as speakeasies in the more boisterous sections of downtown.Read More
12 Stops for Outstanding Cocktails in Asheville
Go beyond the breweries and find some unique libations
The Golden Pineapple
The line between shot-and-beer dive and upscale craft cocktail bar is whimsically blurred at this West Asheville neighborhood lounge. Veteran bartenders Katey Ryder and Donnie Pratt, who own and operate this tropical kitsch wonderland, sling drinks that are unprecious yet exude the stamp of a mad scientist. Take, for instance, the bar’s eponymous cocktail, a whirlpool of rye whiskey and overproof rum served out of a gleaming golden pineapple chalice — or the Space Age Miami Vice, which blends appletini and pina colada flavors into a sweet, slushie delight. Savory cocktail fans will also appreciate the liberal use of briny, spicy, and umami-forward ingredients like chimichurri, black vinegar, tajin, and Sichuan peppercorn.
Top of the Monk
Down to the shape of the ice, the bartenders at this pre-prohibition-themed lounge never lose focus of the crucial details that make up an outstanding craft cocktail, no matter if the customer needs a zippy gin pick-me-up, an old-school punch, or an 1800s-era whiskey concoction. Under bar manager Kala Brooks’ purvey, this means freshly squeezed juices and housemade bitters, tinctures, sodas, drams, and shrubs. The atmosphere is equally as sophisticated, nestled on a private third floor above the Thirsty Monk brewpub and with its own rooftop patio, which makes for a subdued, intimate respite from the crowds that frequent the brewery below.
The Crow & Quill
Whiskey fiends, this is the spot. Look carefully for this blank-faced speakeasy; the reward is a part-Victorian, part-gothic, hodge podge of vintage furniture and ornate lamps, decked with walls of dried flowers and animal skulls. Bar owner Casey Campfield created the space as a testimony to her passion for cocktails and fine whiskey — and that’s apparent with a selection of more than 600 whiskeys, plus fun and freaky spins on the classics, such as the Old Fashioned smoked with Cavendish tobacco. For those with cash to spare, there’s also a separate menu of top-shelf cocktails that show off the bar’s towering and niche collection of spirits.
Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge
This late-night staple of Asheville since 2008 — which yes, really used to be a bank vault — is tucked off a main corridor of downtown and attracts a wide cross-section of the city with its potent margaritas, specialty martinis, and reliable mixed drinks. The interior is spacious and there’s also a small sidewalk patio that’s great for people-watching. Warning: Both spots do tend to fill up with a rowdy crowd in the late hours. It’s advised to sop up all that liquor with one of the Vault Burgers, which routinely wins recognition as one of the best burgers in Asheville.
Antidote at Chemist Spirits
The gin doesn’t flow far from the tree at this cavernous, three-story vintage apothecary-themed lounge and rooftop bar. Rose, barrel-rested, and navy-strength gin — all distilled next door at Chemist Spirits by mother-and-daughter co-owners Debbie Word and Danielle Donaldson— inspire the menu. The gimlet and Bee’s Knees are choice selections, but there are also fun rum and tequila drinks, plus more experimental options like the garden martini, which uses olive-oil washed gin infused with fresh tomato.
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The Montford Rooftop Bar
Those who manage to snag a seat here around sunset should consider themselves lucky. This cozy rooftop lounge offers expansive, unparalleled views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains — and the drinks are great, too. The Montford Mule, livened with Devil’s Foot Beverage Co.’s Fuego ginger beer, is a popular choice, and recently, the bar has expanded more into the world of whiskey with specialty barrel picks of Knob Creek Rye. Reservations are recommended, as the rooftop area fills up quickly.
This mahogany-adorned, copper ceilinged 1920s-era building is the only cocktail bar in Five Points and thus exudes the calm refuge that only a sequestered, warmly lit neighborhood bar can offer. Take your time with the menu, which centers on classic and reimagined renditions of Old Fashioneds, negronis, and gin and tonics — plus a special drinks-for-two service (complete with accouterment) for the Japanese highball, Manhattan, and Havana. Most days of the week, visitors may enjoy plenty of elbow room at the bar — but on Monday night the weekly jazz band performance transforms the space into a packed, standing-room-only nightclub.
From the curb, a solitary, flickering lantern is all passers-by initially notice of this seemingly shuttered hole-in-the-wall, which used to be a dingy basement until owners and artists Anna Toth and Brandon Skupski revamped the space with the mission of celebrating local artists. While the dark and moody interior offers its own charm, it’s the playful and affordable drinks like the lemongrass gin and tonic and Mekong mai tai — the latter of which pulls off a wild combination of pad thai and peanut brittle flavors — that keeps locals coming back. In the wintertime, this bar grows particularly cozy with its signature hot toddies, which are served in mismatched artisan mugs made by local potters.
The Times Bar & Coffee Shop
This cocktail lounge opened in 2017, but the space’s vaulted ceilings, gold-leaved walls, and velvet red curtains transport you back to the Roaring Twenties — the era when this historic building (formerly the S&W Cafeteria) was designed. As for the menu: it’s balanced and creative, with seasonally-informed choices and an impressive collection of fresh fruit. As part of a 2020 pandemic pivot, owners Ashley Williams-Faber and Chris Faber expanded the bar into a craft coffee bar, meaning one can also count on this team for a mean Irish coffee, espresso martini, or bourbon-orange-rosemary latte.
Session Cafe & Bar
This cocktail lounge, cafe, vinyl-pressing plant, and record shop is stationed in the grand mezzanine of a three-story Art Moderne building that formerly housed offices and production facilities for the Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper. In 2020, the newspaper scaled back to the second floor, and now, rather than ringing phones and clacking keyboards, the first floor is alive with the sounds of vinyl swaying seamlessly from Dolly Parton to Ella Fitzgerald to Outkast. As for the cocktails: the Amari drinks are the darling of the menu, from the classic negroni to the Bitter Giuseppe to the coconut cold brew Aperol Americano. There’s also rotating and imaginative specials like the pineapple milk punch and bergamot pisco sour that keep the menu fresh, seasonal, and interesting.
This dimly-lit intimate loft, perched above the lively Zella’s Deli, prides itself on its selection of mezcal and agave spirits — but smooth, heavy pours of classics like the paloma and daiquiri beckon service industry workers and tourists. The menu is accessible yet fantastical, with special touches like edible glitter in the 24 Karat Spritz and a scintillating selection of sotol. As it gets later in the night, the crowds and music are known to become rowdier with plenty of dancing and lively chatter.
Storm Rhum Bar
The sweet, toasty rainbow of rum is meant to be celebrated at this unfussy and reliable late-night lounge, which offers flights of everything from añejo to British navy rum, plus drinks like the mai tai, mojito, and Horned Screamer (made with pineapple rum, Campari, and lime). Perched on a quiet street near the South Slope neighborhood, Storm is a popular hangout for third shift and service industry workers, and after the nearby Orange Peel wraps up a show it also tends to fill up with a crowd of concertgoers and musicians.