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Woolworth Walk, a co-op gallery with more than 150 artists
Western North Carolina tends to be quite conservative, but the progressive college and arts city of Asheville is a decided exception, with one of the most tight-knit, dynamic, and visible lesbian and gay communities in the South. Comprising a hip and funky downtown loaded with galleries, cool restaurants, and splendid art deco buildings, Asheville also abounds with romantic B&Bs and opportunities for hiking and outdoor recreation. Here's a photographic journey through Asheville.
Also be sure to check out my article on the Top 5 Attractions and Activities in Asheville, from visiting the Biltmore Estate and Gardens to craft-beer-hopping around this vibrant city., and the Asheville Gay Bars Guide, which also includes popular restaurants and cafes.
One of Asheville's more intriguing readaptions of vintage buildings is Woolworth Walk (25 Haywood St., 828-254-9324), a circa-1938 art deco stunner on Haywood Street that was beautifully restored in 2001 and now contains a co-op... gallery featuring the work of more than 150 artists living in western North Carolina. Apart from being a cool building to wander through, the art sold inside - photos, jewelry, paintings, crafts, and so on - is of an exceptionally high quality. For art lovers, shoppers, and fans of old buildings, this is a must, and it also contains a handsomely restored soda fountain, where you can enjoy a light meal or snack to break up the art exploring. This natty Woolworth's building is one of many fine structures in downtown Asheville, including the Grove Arcade, Kress Building, Pearlman's Furniture Building, Public Service Building, and Flatiron Building.Continue to 2 of 35 below.
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Early Girl Eatery, on Wall Street
Who says you gotta eat fatty, heavy fare when dining at authentic Southern restaurants. The funky and hip Early Girl Eatery (8 Wall St., 828-259-9292), smack-dab in the middle of downtown Asheville, pretty much always has a line out the door, because its farm-to-table super-fresh cuisine and quirky ambience combine for one of the most enjoyable dining experiences in the city. Lesbians and gays flock to this vintage building whose dining room radiates with natural sunlight from breakfast through dinner. Owners John and Julie Stehling work hard not only to prepare high-quality, reasonably priced Southern dishes with plenty of creative twists, they also go to great lengths to support local farms and purveyors.
If you're here for breakfast, don't miss the traditional shrimp and grits, or the famed Early Girl Benny (grit cakes topped with tomato, spinach, poached eggs, tomato gravy and avocado, served with toast, and best enjoyed with country ham). See if you can find room for a side... of pumpkin-ginger bread, too. Seriously, it's enough to get you through until dinner. Nevertheless, lunchtime has plenty going for it, too - pan-fried catfish, barbecue pork sandwiches, and, for veggie-heads, tempeh Reubens. You can also dig into meat-and-three combos, and many days there's a fried chicken special (sometimes a platter, sometimes a salad). Same food is offered at dinner, plus plenty of ever-changing daily specials - if you're lucky, they'll be serving the stellar fried-chicken salad with addictively good grits croutons). There's a nice selection of regionally brewed beers, too, and a respectable wine list. Why would you let yourself miss this place?Continue to 3 of 35 below.
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Tupelo Honey Cafe breakfast of eggs, fresh biscuits, and such
A delicious breakfast at Tupelo Honey Cafe: (clockwise starting at upper-left-hand corner): fresh-baked biscuits with jam and whipped butter, Eggs Crawley (plate of poached eggs, asparagus, and crabcakes topped with homemade hollandaise sauce), sides of local hormone-free sausage and bacon, and Eggs Betty (two poached eggs on a biscuit with ham, homemade hollandaise, and creamy cheese grits). There's superb coffee in that mug barely visible to the right.Continue to 4 of 35 below.
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an hour west of Asheville
Asheville is an excellent base for exploring the dramatic, mountainous coountryside of western North Carolina, including the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, which cuts through the east side of Asheville, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, whose North Carolina (Cherokee) entrance lies about an hour west of Asheville via I-40, U.S. 19, and U.S. 441.Continue to 5 of 35 below.
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Malaprops Bookstore and Cafe, on bustling Haywood Street
A local legend for their fantastic selection of books and a cool, gay-friendly cafe serving healthful and affordable victuals and designer coffees and teas, Malaprops (55 Haywood St., 828-254-6734) might just be the most famous shopping destination in downtown Asheville - the store has been going strong since opening in 1982. The expansive store has one of the best sections for gay, lesbian, bi, and otherwise queer literature, plus lots on cooking, Southern lit, gardening, architecture, art, children's titles, and antiques/crafts/furniture. There's an outstanding section on North Carolina local lore and history. The cafe appeals to a decidedly arch, artsy, and gay set - sometimes it's more cruisy in here than the gay bars in Asheville.Continue to 6 of 35 below.
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Smokey's After Dark gay bar, on Broadway
Smokey's After Dark is a fun and laid-back neighborhood gay bar in downtown Asheville. Visit the Asheville Gay Nightlife Guide for a detailed description.Continue to 7 of 35 below.
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Chocolate Fetish boutique and chocolatier, on Haywood Street
Downtown Asheville's favorite source of sweet inspiration, Chocolate Fetish (36 Haywood St., 828-258-2353) may be housed inside a diminutive little storefront, but this places packs plenty of flavor. I'm partial to the milk- and dark-chocolate-covered salted caramels, which I ate a bag of while strolling around town one afternoon with a friend. But there are all sorts of tempting sweets at this groovy little chocolate boutique on arguably Asheville's coolest little lane, Haywood Street. Consider dark-chocolate ginger rounds, milk-chocolate cashew "frogs", a wide range of artisan truffles. Both Ecstasy Truffles (Grand Marnier, Mocha Magic, Hazelnut Gianduia) and Americas Best Truffles (Triple Chocolate, Milk Pecan, Raspberry) brands are also sold here.Continue to 8 of 35 below.
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Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa, on Sunset Mountain
If the Arts and Crafts movement is something of a religion in Asheville and western North Carolina, the stately Grove Park Inn (290 Macon Ave., 828-252-2711 or 800-438-5800) is its high temple. The magnificent 1913 hotel was designed by Fred Loring Seely and his famed father-in-law Edwin Wiley Grove, a pharmaceutical magnate initially drawn to Asheville because of its cool, health-inspiring climate. The hotel has seen a dramatic expansion and restoration in recent years, and also has one of the South's most impressive spas, making it a favorite luxury getaway - or simply a must-see for architecture and design buffs.
The 510-room hotel sits on the lower western slopes of Sunset Mountain, which is part of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountain chain. It's carved right into the hillside, with an entrance you approach from the top, so that the lobby, restaurants, and grand public areas are on the upper floor of the hotel, and rooms tumble down the hillside beneath. At the very... bottom is the snazzy Grove Park Spa, and access to the historic golf course designed by legendary designer Donald Ross. From most parts of the hotel, you're treated to views of the golf course and verdant grounds, and from upper floors you can see downtown Asheville's modest but attractive skyline - plus dramatic sunsets.
Rooms and suites contain both authentic and reproduction Arts and Crafts furnishings designed by the likes of Roycroft and other luminaries. The most interesting and authentic rooms are in the main 1913 inn, with newer but still traditionally furnished units in the two more modern wings. Even if you don't stay here, at least drop by and have a cocktail in the lobby's Great Hall, with its 14-foot stone fireplaces, or enjoy your beverage on the terrace overlooking the countryside. There are also several fine restaurants to on-site.
The Grove Park is one of the city's most famous attractions, so it tends to book up early and because of its extensive facilities and considerable reputation, it draws plenty of families, tour groups, and crowds.Continue to 9 of 35 below.
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Sante Wine Bar and Retail Shop, in Grove Arcade
At the northeast (corner of Battle Square and Page Avenue) end of the iconic Grove Arcade, you'll the stellar (and partly gay-owned) Sante Wine Bar (828-254-8188), which is actually much more than a place to sip wine - it's an exceptional wine shop, carrying dozens of hard-to-find vintages at extremely fair prices (you can buy a bottle at the retail price and open it up and drink it here - there's just a tiny $5 corkage fee). Sante bottles its own signature wines from Sonoma County, and these are a terrific value. But you can also do wines by the glass and flights of a wide range of well-chosen vintages, both New World and Old World - there's a good focus on places like Portugal, New Zealand, Spain, Argentina. The wine menu is enticingly global and fun, and per-glass prices are a reasonable $5 to $9 or so. The staff is quite knowledgeable and very friendly, too.
The kitchen also turns out a fantastic array of cheese and charcuterie platters, and very good salads.... There's no baking or cooking done here - so all food is of the room-temp variety. But you can still absolutely come away having enjoyed a full meal here, as the different platters (goat cheese board, chunky pesto dip with baguette slices, salmon-cucumber salad, carrot cake, etc.) are quite generous.Continue to 10 of 35 below.
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Corner Kitchen restaurant, in Biltmore Village
On a charmingly quiet corner in Biltmore Village, near the grand Biltmore Estate, the aptly named Corner Kitchen (7 All Souls Crescent, corner of Boston Way, 828-274-2439) occupies a cozy stucco-and-beam house fronted by a redbrick sidewalk and a small green lawn. A number of chain restaurants and shops have popped up in Biltmore Village in recent years, but Corner Kitchen retains a one-of-a-kind, homey air and serves some of the best food in Asheville - maybe the best in this neighborhood.
Open nightly for dinner and daily for breakfast and lunch (along with a very popular Sunday brunch), the Corner Kitchen makes a perfect stop before or after touring Biltmore Estate. The dining takes place in a series of cozy, informal dining areas with hardwood floors, Oriental rugs, and paintings on the walls - it all feels a bit like dining at a good friend's house. Upscale but not unreasonably priced contemporary America fare (with decidedly Southern and Caribbean accents) is served -... specialties like pecan-dusted quail with roasted-root vegetables and honey-mustard glaze; and peppercorn-grilled fillet of beef with smashed potatoes, asparagus, and a smoked-tomato butter (the latter is one of the few dinner entrees that costs more than $25 - most are around $18 to $22). There's well-thought-out wine list, too.Continue to 11 of 35 below.
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Asia Inn and Spa, on Hillside Street
Gay-friendly Asia Spa-Inn (128 Hillside St., 828-255-0051), which is set on a quiet residential street roughly a 15-minute walk north of downtown Asheville, represents a bit of a departure from the usual B&Bs in the area, which tend toward Arts and Crafts or Victorian. The aesthetic here balances minimalist Far East Asian with Western (suites have names - and related decorative themes - like Java Journey, Paris Flea Market, Silk Route). The adults-only retreat is by definition a B&B, but the sense of serenity, privacy, and artful elegance - plus the fabulous on-site spa treatments - give it more of the feel of a small, upscale spa resort.
Rooms have such plush amenities as pillow-top beds, two-person Jacuzzi tubs, and fireplaces, and the adjacent spa has a sauna, steam shower, couples massage suite, and a variety of treatments provided by well-trained massage therapists. This is a good choice for a romantic, relaxing getaway, with its serene Japanese-style garden in back, an... expansive buffet breakfast included, and first-rate spa facilities. If you're not much for spas and not likely to book spa treatments as part of your stay, this probably isn't the best choice for you - it's really geared toward the full spa/overnight experience.Continue to 12 of 35 below.
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Zambras, a Spanish tapas restaurant on West Walnut Street
Zambras (85 W. Walnut St., 828-232-1060), a lively and sophisticated Spanish tapas restaurant and bar. See the Asheville Gay Nightlife and Dining Guide for more details.Continue to 13 of 35 below.
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Scandals gay nightclub, at the historic Grove House
Scandals is the largest gay nightclub in western North Carolina and a fixture of the Asheville gay scene. For more on this club, visit the Asheville Gay Nightlife Guide.Continue to 14 of 35 below.
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Flatiron Building, at Battery Park Avenue and Wall Street
A cousin to the iconic building of the same name and style in New York City, Asheville's Flatiron Building - at 10 Battery Park Avenue - is shorter (eight stories, or about 130 feet, vs NYC's 285-foot Flatiron) and also newer (constructed in 1925, about 23 years after the NYC building). It's nonetheless a prominent landmark in Asheville, and one of downtown's tallest historic structures. Across the street, there's a sculpture of...surprise...a flat iron.Continue to 15 of 35 below.
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Scandals gay nightclub's smaller side bar
The back bar, beside a small boutique (it's to the left of the guy in the red hoodie on the far left of the photo) selling gay-relevant gifts, cards, and such, inside Scandals gay nightclub.Continue to 16 of 35 below.
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Asheville art deco architecture - the Pearlman's Furniture Building
Asheville has one of the best collections of noteworthy art deco buildings in the country, many of them having been beautifully preserved and re-adapted to new uses (perhaps most famous is the Grove Arcade). Pictured here is the Pearlman's Furniture Building (now home to Kimmel & Associates, an executive search firm). The three-story, Art Moderne building at 78 Patton Street dates to 1940 and is one of many Deco stunners you'll see around town. The neo-Romanesque Public Service Building skyscraper, which slightly predates true Art Deco, is another notable structure in the city, as is the distinctive Asheville Flatiron building, which dates to 1926 (and has a giant sculpture of an iron in front of it!). Also check out the late 1920s Kress building, and Woolworth Walk gallery and art co-op, which occupies a vintage Woolworths store that was built in the 1930s - one of the most stunning deco structures in the city.Continue to 17 of 35 below.
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Kress Building, on Patton Avenue, a neoclassical landmark
The neoclassical Kress Building, which now contains condos and a crafts gallery, dates to 1928 and is one of Asheville's most celebrated architectural landmarks. The building is just off Pack Square, at 19 Patton Avenue.Continue to 18 of 35 below.
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O'Henry's, the longest-running gay bar in North Carolina
O'Henry's and the neighboring Underground gay club, the longest-running gay bar in North Carolina. For more on this establishment, check out the Asheville Gay Nightlife Guide.Continue to 19 of 35 below.
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Public Service Building, one of the city's iconic skyscrapers
Erected in 1929, just before the Stock Market Crash, and executed with a beautifully ornate terra-cotta exterior, the Public Service Building (89 Patton Ave.) is a fine example of neo-Spanish Romanesque design. It's one of the most notable structures in downtown Asheville, which is known for its considerable trove of early 20th-century architecture, making it one of the nation's better small cities for strolling around and gazing at buildings. Also see the Pearlman's Furniture Building, Grove Street Arcade, the Kress Building, Flatiron Building, and old Woolworth's.Continue to 20 of 35 below.
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Grove Arcade market building, with restaurants and shops
Opened by Grove Park Inn founder and pharmaceutical magnate E.W. Grove, the Grove Arcade (1 Page Ave., 828-255-0775) stands out among downtown Asheville's many striking buildings as arguably the most visually dramatic - the Art Deco beauty was built in 1929 takes up a prime city block. Following a complete restoration in 2002, the three-story market building contains a number of offices, boutiques, restaurants, and residential units within its elegant interior, which features long corridors with soaring atriums and glass-paneled ceilings. It's also a focal point of such popular downtown events as First Friday.
Every day at the Battery Park Avenue end of the building, there's an outdoor crafts and produce market, called Portico Market, which is a fine place to look for locally made artwork as well as fine regional foods and goodies. Off of this, you'll find the Grove Corner Market, a gourmet-food shop; and the dapper Carmel's Restaurant and Bar. Venture inside the... arcade's entrance, and you'll find a number of additional enticing enterprises, such as Burgerworx, Chorizo Spanish restaurant, Sante wine bar, Mountain Made crafts gallery, Alexander & Lehnert jeweler, Bath Junkie soap shop, and Mission at the Grove furniture shop (a fantastic assortment of Arts and Crafts pieces) - and that's just to name a few.
Foodies, design buffs, and shoppers shouldn't miss this place!Continue to 21 of 35 below.
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Tupelo Honey Cafe, on College Street
Cheerful and sunny Tupelo Honey Cafe (12 College St. 828-255-4863), in the heart of downtown Asheville, has become almost as legendary for its loooong lines, especially at breakfast, as its delectable organic-driven Southern fare, but hey, that's not their fault. They simply turn out impeccably delicious, mod-meets-homestyle cooking that locals and visitors can't get enough of. The gay-friendly restaurant has a simple, narrow inside dining room plus a few tables on the sidewalk out front (they're sheltered in winter).
You can't really go wrong with anything on Tupelo Honey's menu, and there are always plenty of daily specials based on what's fresh and available - chef Brian Sonoskus personally chooses many of the ingredients from nearby Sunshots Organics farm. This is true farm-to-table cuisine, prepared with both creativity and integrity. At breakfast, whatever you order, be sure to try some fresh-baked biscuits with whipped peach butter, or better yet a side of... candied-ginger cornbread. Worthy dishes include Eggs Betty (two poached eggs on a biscuit with ham, homemade hollandaise, and creamy grits (be sure to add cheese). Free-range eggs are used, and there are always plenty of good veggie substitutions available. The Eggs Crawley, over crabcakes, also turn out nicely, or go with a sweeter sweet-potato pancake.
Later-in-the-day fare (Tupelo also serves lunch and dinner) includes Southern-style spring salad with dried cranberries, crumbled Gorgonzola, and ahi-tuna salad or marinated organic chicken; smoked-turkey Reuben sandwiches; veggie black bean burgers; pork tenderloin with root-beer-molasses glaze smoked jalapeno barbecue sauce; and cheesy-mashed cauliflower, and blackened, Cajun skillet catfish topped with housemade salsa, and served over goat-cheese grits. Dessert specials change over, but consider banana pudding with whipped cream, or buttermilk cheesecake with raspberry sauce. Yes, the lines are long here, but understandably so. (If you need to kill time, wander around the corner to the exceptional indie bookstore, Malaprops.)Continue to 22 of 35 below.
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Fresh Quarter Produce, inside Grove Arcade
At the south (Battery Park) end of Grove Arcade, overlooking the daily, covered Portico Market, the Fresh Quarter Produce (828-252-0023) is downtown Asheville's best little source for fresh veggies, fruit, and other tasty bites.Continue to 23 of 35 below.
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Carmel's Restaurant & Bar, at Grove Arcade
An elegant but informal spot with both indoor and outside (sidewalk) seating at Asheville's famed Grove Arcade, Carmel's Restaurant and Bar (828-252-8730) is the domain of noted local chef Carole Bowers, whose sophisticated American fare places an emphasis on fresh farm-to-table ingredients and sustainable seafood. The bar here is notable, too, for its impressive selection of beer, wine, and fine cocktails. In warm weather, you can often listen to live jazz as you dine at one of Carmel's outside tables.
Open for both lunch and dinner, Carmel's has an oft-changing menu - but typical are such artful dishes as chipotle-fried oysters with buttermilk slaw and a housemade blue-cheese dipping sauce; and brown-butter-roasted sea scallops with mushroom ravioli, fried asparagus, roasted beets, bell pepper oil, and pomegranate molasses. At lunch, nosh on one of the best burgers in town, or a pizza topped with brie, baby spinach, candied tomatoes, and fresh rosemary. With its swanky... vibe and rarefied cuisine, this is one of Asheville's best restaurants to celebrate a romantic occasion, yet you'll also do fine here wearing nice jeans and a T-shirt.Continue to 24 of 35 below.
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Big Cheese gourmet and artisan cheese shop, in Grove Arcade
At the Battle Square end of Grove Arcade's northern corridor, the Big Cheese (828-350-8044) is a terrific source of gourmet goodies - not just artisan cheese but charcuterie, locals honey and jam, ethnic foods, and pretty much anything you could want to pack a picnic for a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or perhaps a lawn near the Biltmore Estate.Continue to 25 of 35 below.
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Flat Iron sculpture, across Wall Street from Flatiron Building
Appropriately across Wall Street from the eight-story Flatiron Building, you'll find this enormous sculpture of a black flat iron.Continue to 26 of 35 below.
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Grove Park Inn's view of sunset over downtown Asheville
From the terrace outside the Grove Park Inn's famed Great Hall, guests are treated to panoramic views of the Donald Ross-designed golf course, downtown Asheville's modest but attractive skyline, and the sun setting over the Blue Ridge Mountains that surrounded this beautifully situated, gay-friendly city.Continue to 27 of 35 below.
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Grove Arcade, interior corridor
The inside of Grove Arcade comprises two long, open corridors lined with shops and eateries.Continue to 28 of 35 below.
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Smokey's After Dark's pool tables and juke box
In the larger of the two rooms at Asheville's convivial Smokey's After Dark gay tavern, patrons can shoot pool and listen to retro tunes on the juke box.Continue to 29 of 35 below.
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Woolworth Walk Soda Fountain, on Haywood Street
The old-fashioned, restored soda fountain at Woolworth Walk co-op art gallery is a fine place to grab a tasty lunch, flavored latte, or dish of ice cream.Continue to 30 of 35 below.
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Eleven on Grove, gay lounge at Scandals nightclub
Upstairs at the Grove House, which contains Scandals gay nightclub, you'll find a special-events space as well as a quieter bar and lounge called Eleven on Grove, which you can reach by heading up the stairs from the side bar off of the main dance area.Continue to 31 of 35 below.
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Grove Arcade skylights, balconies, and ornamentation
Panels of skylights, ornate wrought-iron balconies, and pilasters with ornamentation and gargoyles rise above the Grove Arcade's two main corridors.Continue to 32 of 35 below.
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Early Girl Eatery's fried-chicken salad with grits croutons
Early Girl Eatery always offers plenty of intriguing specials - a particular favorite that comes up rather often is the fried-chicken salad over fresh greens, served with the restaurant's famed "grits croutons" (they truly make this dish stand out).Continue to 33 of 35 below.
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Sante Wine Bar and Retail Shop, interior
Sante Wine Bar, inside the Grove Arcade, is not just a bar and restaurant but also a full-service retail wine shop with a superb selection of both old- and new-world vintages.Continue to 34 of 35 below.
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Kamm's Frozen Custard Shop, in Grove Arcade (closed)
Kamm's has closed.
For a dessert treat in the Grove Arcade building, drop by Kamm's Custard Shop (in the west side of the building, off Cherry Avenue, 828-253-7464). The flavored (honey-vanilla, cinnamon, pistachio, eggnog, and quite a few others) scoops of custard can be "smashed" with a variety of mix-in toppings (blueberries, marshmallows, M&Ms, hot caramel sauce, pecans, sprinkles, and more).Continue to 35 of 35 below.
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Club Hairspray has closed
Club Hairspray had been a well-known gay bar in Asheville but it's now closed.