Literary City Guide | ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
Tour Guide: SUZANNE BOOTHBY
Suzanne Boothby is an author, journalist, writing coach and wellness instigator, covering everything from spiritual workouts to kale cocktails. When she’s not writing, she loves making smoothies, baking gluten-free cookies, and “flying” in acro yoga class. You can find more of her musings at suzanneboothby.com. (All photos by Suzanne Boothby.)
Relationship to Asheville: Resident for almost two years
Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Anne Lamott
Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: Alice Waters, a pioneer for local, sustainable food.
Writing soundtrack: When I really need to focus, I go for Miles Davis.
Pen or Pencil: Pen
Coffee or Tea? Tea
Paperback or Hardback? Paperback only because I like to travel light.
Battery Park Book Exchange. Does it get any better than champagne and books? Imagine a wine bar inside of a library with more than 22,000 books and then you’ll have a sense of this lovely spot. It’s great to come here with friends or a perfect date spot too. Their used books range from history and politics to poetry and cooking. Plus, they have an amazing map of North Carolina in the bathroom. They stay open late on the weekends.
Malaprop’s Bookstore. Part of the mission statement for Malaprop’s is “a place where the books are the stars,” and this store certainly delivers with an amazing selection of books, featuring many local authors. They host numerous book clubs, including meetings for LGBTQ and works in translation, each month, along with author readings and events. Located amongst the shops and restaurants downtown, this store has thrived since 1982 when the area was much sleepier than today.
Downtown Books and News. This used bookstore, also located downtown, is a great place to pop in for a poetry reading or for their vast array of exotic newspapers, zines, comics, and magazines. They feature artwork from local artists on the walls and have also been in town for 25 years.
Mr. K’s Used Books. Located in a shopping center just a bit outside of town is Mr. K’s and it’s totally worth the ride. Along with great prices and a huge collection of books, this store also CDs, DVDs, records, books-on-tape, and video games. You can definitely find some relics here and enjoy a few hours of browsing around.
Pack Memorial Library. The main branch for the county is located downtown and is the largest library in town. It’s got free wifi and photocopy services if you need them. You can also peruse The North Carolina Collection, featuring books on local history and genealogy, or check out the Thomas Wolfe Collection, which honors one of Asheville’s most famous writers.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
The Writers' Workshop. This non-profit literary center hosts many events throughout the year, including a monthly potluck on the last Friday of each month where writers are invited to share food, poems and short stories, and bring their books to sell.
Blue Ridge Book Fest. The Blue Ridge Book Fest is an annual event in nearby Flat Rock, N.C. with small group workshops for writers and panel discussions with authors.
Asheville Bookworks. This local studio has equipment for bookbinding, letterpress, screen printing, and a darkroom for processing photos. You can rent time there, take a workshop or just check out the store, which is open during public hours. They carry print and binding papers as well as tools for book and print artists. They also have a gallery.
Little Free Library. If you are walking around one of the neighborhoods, particularly West Asheville or Montford, you may come across a little free library. These free book exchanges are the perfect place to pick up a new book or drop off one that you’ve finished reading.
Vortex Donuts. This place is dangerously delicious featuring both yeast and cake made-from-scratch donuts along with some of the best coffee in town. They serve 1000 faces coffee and local Farm To Home milk.
Bomba. The “early bird” bomba roll is one of the best deals in town at $5 for a breakfast burrito with locally sourced eggs and cup of freshly brewed coffee.
Odds Café. This West Asheville spot serves Counter Culture Coffee during the day, and beer and wine at night. You can find New York-style bagels and gluten-free muffins alike to go with your drinks and enjoy hours of free wifi amongst the laptop-toting crowd.
A PROPER MEAL
All Souls Pizza. You may not think of Asheville as a pizza destination, but All Souls’ wood-fired pizzas make the cut even to the most seasoned pizza palates. Starting with the dough, they mill their own flour and polenta from organic grains. Then, they top their dough with locally sourced, high-quality ingredients. You can’t go wrong with the sausage, kale, and mozzarella pizza, but the nightly special never disappoints. Polenta pizzas are available for the gluten-sensitive. Closed Mondays.
Buxton Hall Barbecue. No visit to the South is complete without some barbecue, and Buxton is the place to get it. Head chef Elliot Moss moved to Asheville in 2007 and has become a local legend known for his creative fare and nominations for Best Chef from the James Beard Foundation. Buxton features whole-hog barbecue cooked low and slow for 18 hours over hardwood coals with pasture-raised pork from local farms. The menu has plenty of Southern side dishes like hushpuppies, coleslaw, and collard greens to round out the meal. Most importantly, leave room for dessert. The pies are heavenly and made with lard.
Nine Mile. Picking up on the local Bohemian vibes, this vegetarian-friendly restaurant features Caribbean-inspired dishes over pasta, rice, or zoodles (raw zucchini noodles). Some of the dishes can certainly bring the heat, so if you like spicy food this is a must-stop spot. They have two locations in Montford or West Asheville.
White Duck Taco. You can get tacos from around the world at White Duck Taco. The menu features international flavors like Bangkok Shrimp, Lamb Gyro, Spicy Buffalo Chicken, and Banh Mi Tofu. Start with the chips and salsa trio, if you’re really hungry. They have two locations in the River Arts District and Downtown. Closed Sundays.
Wicked Weed Brewery. Asheville is known for its craft beer and this brewery has some of the best IPAs, Belgian ales, and sour beers in town. Their menu features pub food with a local slant serving up Carolina bison burgers, fried chicken and kimchi, and hot boiled peanuts. Whatever you order, be sure to get some local Lusty Monk mustard on the side.
The French Broad Chocolate Lounge. A local couple opened the lounge in 2008, after spending years in Costa Rica studying and playing with chocolate. Yes, it’s an entire restaurant dedicated to chocolate and sweets. Yes, it’s amazing. Their chocolate is bean-to-bar, meaning they source directly from cacoa farmers throughout the world. They are known for their gooey brownies and the liquid truffle, a house-made ganache melted with organic half & half. You can also tour their factory and learn all about their story and where their chocolate comes from.
Sovereign Remedies. Some of the best cocktails in town can be found at this upscale bar that looks like it could have served Hemingway in 1920s Paris. Try the root daiquiri made from aged rum, lime, sarsaparilla, burdock, and dandelion or tell the bartenders what you like and they can make you a drink to your liking. Order a cheese plate or meat board to go with your drink and enjoy the atmosphere.
Short Street Cakes. This tiny, family-owned shop in West Asheville features sweets inspired by classic Southern traditions. You can check their Facebook page for daily flavors, but past cake creations include bourbon peach, salted caramel, blueberry lemon, sweet potato spice, and more. Closed Mondays.
SUZANNE's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite bookstore: Malaprops is the quintessential independent bookstore in town.
2. Favorite place to write: I don’t drink a lot of coffee or eat many sweets, but Dobra Tea has teas from all over the world and a case full of gluten-free, raw desserts. It’s one of my go-to writing spots for a solo date or a writing date with friends.
3. Favorite museum: I love going to studio strolls in a part of town called RAD (the River Arts District), which is home to many art galleries.
5. Favorite thing about Asheville: Asheville is just magic. This city drew me in unexpectedly, as it happens to many people who live here. Some say it’s the mountains and others say it’s the weather or the people, but it is a unique sweet spot. People also call it the busiest small town in America because we have so much going on here from craft beer and coffee to dance church and farmers’ markets with tons of amazing local teachers, craftsman, entrepreneurs, and healers.