“It’s illegal to have a happy hour in Asheville.”
The bartender is dead pan serious, and even more so when I laugh a little at the idea. “No, for real, in all of North Carolina, it’s illegal to have a drink special for only a few hours a day. If you want to run a special, it’s got to go on all day long.” North Carolina is a little funny like that. The liquor laws are tighter than most states, both in that you can only purchase liquor from state-run stores, called ABCs, and apparently you’re not legally allowed to have more than one shot in front of you at any given time. Still though, the happy hour rule seems a little strange.
“It’s the good government of North Carolina trying to keep bars from pulling in a few extra customers during the slow hours. It’s ridiculous.” I agree, but I guess there’s more to a happy hour than just cheap drinks. There’s atmosphere, company, good service…oh, and cheap food. I knew there had to be something cheap about the experience.
“Yeah, we’ve got food specials though, so that works against the whole system I guess.” The bartender begins telling me what’s on the menu, “truffled deviled eggs, crustinis with our house made pimento cheese, …” he goes on with a few more specials, though a pretzel is as close to typical bar fare as anything he mentions. I can’t say exactly what it is about the place that makes me think it’s a raunchy establishment, everything screams class—the walls all around me wearing classy black and gold vintage floral wallpaper, the bar long, large and wonderfully wooden, the servers all dressed in black—but still I feel like a biker brawl could break out at any moment. I look around, no bikers in sight. All stays calm on this particular front.
As good looking as the Southern is inside, both the main room and “The Dirty South”, the pool table wielding back room open after 8pm loaded with a different special every night, including a “Dirty Bingo” night hosted by someone named Hug Buzzard, the real appeal is the front porch. Wrought iron fencing holding in several tables worth of after work types smoking, drinking and generally a-carryin’ on, the porch is the best I’ve seen in Asheville. I grab an IPA and take a seat in the corner, spending the next hour watching the traveling circus that is Ashevillians on their way up and down Lexington Avenue. Illegal or not, this is what happy hour is all about as far as I’m concerned. Sitting under the wild blue yonder trying to drink your troubles away more quickly than the shining sun can warm your glass, complaining about your boss to coworkers, your roommates to your girlfriend or your girlfriend to your best friend.
Here’s to hoping the word doesn’t get out to the fat cats in Raleigh that happy hour is alive and well at the Southern, even if the modern day speakeasy is a wide open porch in plain view of anyone fortunate enough to find themselves wandering through Asheville on a sunny afternoon.