The Global Barfly’s Companion #18 by Jeremy DaCruz
Bar: The Mothlight
Location: 701 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
Asheville has been called by many names: Portland of the South, Land of the Sky, A Cesspool of Sin, Mustacheville, Beer City USA, a New Age Mecca, and others. It’s a strange and beautiful oasis nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. A dot of blue in a sea of red. Bumper stickers read “Keep Asheville Weird” and “Buy Local,” but now that the secret is out about this town of just over 80,000 people, the artists, hippies, yogis and others of their ilk are getting forced out of downtown by rapidly rising rents and home prices. Enter West Asheville, initially a separate town that has since been incorporated into The City of Asheville, with it’s own collection of historic buildings, a walkable main street, and lower housing costs, it has grown rapidly in the last few years. Struggles with gentrification have persisted but for now West Asheville is buzzing with local life.
Bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and artisan grocers abound surrounded by old baptist churches and southern style homes with wraparound porches. On Haywood street, across from Grace Baptist Church, sits The Mothlight.
On this particular night I’m at the Mothlight to see a local band, Erica Russo and The Good Sport. I’m greeted by the doorman and I pay the cover, $5. The Mothlight is a staple in the local music scene. It hosts a diverse and fascinating range of styles and genres of music, everything from jazz, soul and folk to chillwave, metal and big band. The band tonight is a blend of jazz and folk with inflections of grit and vulnerability.
As the set progress people alternate from watching the band intently, murmuring quietly at the bar, or chatting on the couches. The front of the bar, near the couches, has large windows that in the warmer months are opened to the street fostering a connection between The Mothlight and its environs.
The final act begins a set of what I can only describe as keyboard-centric experimental pop. By now The Mothlight is about halfway full and the energy of the room has lifted to match the energy of the band. About midway through their set a pair of professional ballet dancers begin improvising to the music. One has attached a large piece of fabric to the ceiling. Aerial acrobatics in sync with the music followed. The Mothlight, and at its best Asheville as well, is a place wonderfully open to artistic experimentation.
The bar itself has a nice range of craft beer, mostly local, at reasonable prices and an average choice of liquor. For the more cash-strapped lush, like myself, they usually have a beer, National Bohemian or PBR, and shot of whiskey, Jameson or Old Crow, for under $5.
The back left of the space is occupied by the stage and a standing area for those who wish to watch the band. The bar is situated along the wall on the right side of the room with pub style bar stools running it’s length. It’s a warm and inviting space and service is quick and efficient.
The energy varies based on if there is music that night and (if so) what style the music is. It can be a quiet local watering hole perfect to catch up with an old friend or a raucous dive bar filled with sweaty bodies and blaring music.
Amongst the uncertainty that looms about Asheville’s future The Mothlight reminds one of what really makes Asheville special. The vibe is great and so is the music. The drink is reasonable. The characters you will meet are as unpredictable as they are endearing. Here’s to hoping that as Asheville’s popularity grows, its soul stays intact.
Jeremy DaCruz (Episode 154) is a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida and is currently living with his mother and his dog in Asheville, North Carolina. His time is divided between carousing about in Asheville and the surrounding countryside, reading books, and writing in anticipation of his move to Managua, Nicaragua in December of 2015. There he will be doing humanitarian work for the next two years.