Asheville, North Carolina has been on the tips of everyone’s tongue for the past 4 to 5 years as a place to go. From it being a foodie town, a historical destination, an artistic epicenter, to being filled with some great people. At the intersection of many roads and mountain passes, Asheville was destined to be a great mix of what the south east has to offer. Fortunately for the inhabitants of “The Land of the Sky”, “The Paris of the South”, “San Francisco of the East”, or “New Age Mecca”, and its visitors, the cream of the crop remained to settle Asheville and make us want to return to experience more.
Our visit to Asheville happened in late September of last year. We were driving south from New England, back to Florida, and since we were working from home at that time, home could be anywhere. A quick little detour inland from Interstate 95 found us traveling through some amazing mountain vistas. No panoramic shot could do the views justice, as the drive was filled with breathtaking grandeur of nature.
Pulling into Asheville was sad that I would no longer have the fun of accelerating up and down the hills, but seeing how nice the town/city/neighborhoods were, yeah, this was going to be a nice relaxing time on my 1500 mile journey.
Where to Stay –
Support gay businesses! I always try to support local and gay when I can, so when I found the 1889 WhiteGate Inn & Cottage online and found out they were gay owned, yes, the booking occurred. I know that yes, inns and bed and breakfast stays can be more than a generic hotel, but you’re not going to stay in a chain hotel. You will also not be encountering as many people as a hotel. On my trip North and and back to the South, safety during COVID was key so B&Bs were sought out.
I ended up staying there both of the two nights I was in Asheville for and the location was perfect. A simple walk down the hill and through a tree lined walking path, and bam! an 8-minute walk and you were in the heart of Asheville.
And after my afternoon or my night out on the town, I was very happy to return to my Robert Frost Room at The WhiteGate. We had a chance to talk to the owners of the WhiteGate which we will share at the end of this post.
Where to Eat –
Asheville is a foodie town is a foodie town is a foodie town. Unfortunately, everyone knows that and they go out to eat. Plan on making reservations a day ahead for where you want to eat. This was definitely the case during COVID as people were still coming to see Ashevill,e but everything during my visit was restricted to 50% capacity. In talking with locals and repeat visitors, they said the demand for dining opportunities was normal even before the capacity restrictions. I fortunately lucked out and was able to get a call back to Pack’s Tavern.
I was taken in by the great facade, the truck out front and the great wooden bar inside. I was also fricken hungry after driving in from the mountains and this seemed to be my best bet at a good sit down meal for my first night.
I’ll do the go-to french onion soup as I have found many great variations on it over the years, they were offering a flight of beers that was one of the better one’s I’ve had, the Thai Salad was a great refreshing entré, and the Caramelized Bourbon Adult Milkshake with Maker’s Mark and salted caramel ice cream finished my first night in Asheville. That 8-minute walk back to the WhiteGate Inn was perfect to let it all digest.
Before I was called back to Pack’s Tavern to enjoy my excellent meal, I had walked around Asheville to try to get in elsewhere. Seeing that there was nothing, I took the opportunity while waiting for Pack’s to make a reservation for the next day to Tupelo Honey Café.
Once again, some of my favorites were on the menu; avocado toast, sweet and spicy fried chicken, and two items that don’t seem to be in the menu right now – fried okra and a blueberry tonic drink. When I made the reservation, I prefaced a bar seat and enjoyed watching the place operate. Yes, this is a chain with 19 locations nationwide, but I had never been to one before so it was an Asheville treat and a great memory made.
What to do –
I’m not the best to ask about this as this was a different time in the world so Asheville was not fully operational. Eating and walking around town were great activities for me to do. I knew the gay bars were not open during my COVID visit, but I did walk by one of them to check it out.
The Grove House Entertainment Complex seemed to be the gay place to be. Looking at their website, it seems the Scandals Nightclub is open from 10 to 3 AM three nights a week. We hope they will be there for the community at full strength when we are all doing better as a nation.
I was unable to people watch at the gay venue, but once again, Asheville is a very walkable city. The downtown area is not that large so walk around and look at it all.
But to be honest, with the crowds and the 50% occupancy, I was striking out a little bit. So when I was walking back to the WhiteGate Inn, I was surfing for things to do in Asheville. Low and behold there was a rooftop bar tour, the Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours. For a reasonable price, I just made a reservation at three different restaurants, a complimentary drink and transportation to all the places. Throw in a tour guide with some knowledge of the history of Asheville and amazing view, this was the best purchase of the entire trip south.
If I had done my research, I would have known that this was THE tour to do for Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours Wins 2020 Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for Top Attractions:
Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours was started in 2018, and combines the stunning views of Asheville along with the history of the city, all from Asheville’s highly acclaimed rooftop bars. Ranked no.3 for Nightlife in Asheville by Tripadvisor, this award-winning tour takes visitors to iconic Asheville locations to sip and see the city from a birds-eye-view.
What was that? Support local? This definitely did that. Kaye Bentley was such a great host, so much fun, and the history she shared was just the right amount of knowledge spilled over drinks and food. I’m not the only one as she was honored with Entrepreneur of the Year Award From Carolina Small Business Development Fund and Western Women’s Business Center.
Yes, I would do this tour again in a heart beat. One, the places we went gave us breathtaking views of the city, but mainly the surrounding mountains. The complimentary drinks were some of that bar’s specialties, but we had time to order another drink on our tab and order food. Remember the 50% capacity and trying to make reservations? I was just transported around to three of the best bars in town where I ate and drank and learned and laughed without all the hassle of driving, making reservations, worrying about anything at all. Thanks again Kaye for a great experience.
I would list off the bars we went to, but the tour does change depending on size, time, reservations, and what not. It’s a must.
Other Attractions –
Feel free to check out Trip Advisor as that is where I will go to plan my next trip to Asheville. I only had two days there, I would say, if you are dedicated and plan well, you could maybe do most of what you may find interesting within 4 or 5 days. And if you don’t, then just come back. The Top 4 things Trip Advisor says one should look into are ones that will be on my list for my next visit. They are:
1. The Biltmore – the largest private home in America
2. The North Carolina Aboretum –
3. New Belgium Brewing Company –
4. Asheville Pinball Museum –
When to return –
I would love to have travel back to where it was, before COVID, before restrictions, before businesses were forced to close. But … we can still have a great time as I experienced in September of 2020, certainly not the height of COVID, but definitely not the lowest point. Returning to Asheville will happen and I will keep an eye out for that opportunity. The nice pace of Asheville, the food, the people, and the views all are strong in my mind and in my heart. We missed out on the art of Asheville because of COVID, but it does have the second largest art community in the nation, second only to Santa Fe. Miami is the only place where Art Deco is more popular, which could be seen while walking around town.
Thank you for your great southern hospitality, Asheville. See you soon.
More about the WhiteGate Inn & Cottage –
We were able to sit down with the owners of the WhiteGate Inn & Cottage, Ralph Coffey and Frank Salvo. Well, Ralph was busy recovering from breakfast so we chatted with Frank.
The couple is in the 22nd year of running the inn they bought in 1999. Ralph was a dentist in Davidson, NC and Frank worked for a health care system in Charlotte, NC. They fell in love with Asheville when they came to the city in April and July and gay pride in 1998 and to O’Henry’s which was the first gay bar in North Carolina. They began the search for a B&B to start a dream come true. they looked at 8 different properties but loved the WhiteGate as it had large rooms, sun rooms and just felt right. The location to the center of town was perfect, the size was perfect, and they were able to put their touch on the place once they owned it. Frank supervised the complete redecoration of the inn, new bed coverings, curtains, kitchen cabinets, paint, art, and furniture.
The WhiteGate Inn was again in the hands of gay owners after a 10 year lapse. gay clientele came, but with the historic touches, the refinements and the addition of more buildings, more than gay clients were coming. But the inn is still 18+.
COVID did cause a little bumps as $40k in cancellations occurred, but so many people in lodging felt the same pinch. But people are coming back as they realize that smaller buildings mean smaller groups of people. They still do serve breakfast at the bed and breakfast but instead of all at once, they do two shifts to allow for spacing.
Both Frank and Ralph still have their loves. If you see Ralph, ask him about his gardens and orchids. frank is still doing consulting with Bed and Breakfast owners and prospective Bed and Breakfast purchasers in North Carolina.