The best things can happen in a tiny white brick building set off the street.
There is something about the laid back, mountain vibe of Asheville that creates a city-wide ability to create great dive bars without requiring a Prohibition-adjacent building or bar history. Chalk it up to a vaguely hipster vibe (not a slight) and a community with a clear appreciation for beer, perhaps, but learning that The Double Crown opened as recently 2012 is surprising given the high quality of the dive bar drinking inside.
Of course, all stories have layers and the wrinkle here is that The Double Crown took over a location previously known as Mike’s Side Pocket (the building home to bars dating back to the 1960s). That establishment shut down after an altercation in June of 2012 turned fatal, three men stabbed in the vicinity. The Double Crown is not without its bit of historical infamy, it turns out, but to say the renovations here have been impressively dive bar friendly is an extreme understatement. Asheville native Chris Bower and partner Steve Mann not only took over and livened up the space but kept it in the Asheville community family, an important characteristic in a city that has seen huge growth in outsider ownership of bars and restaurants.
The building helps tell the dive bar story, of course, a small, squat building that on the outside resembles a neighborhood shack but inside is surprisingly roomy. The Double Crown is set back off of a lightly developed street, the plot between front door and road now occupied by an extensive, tent-covered patio area. Because Asheville weather is fairly friendly, the action frequently spills out here, ample space and picnic tables making for a very communal dive bar-adjacent drinking experience.
But inside is where the divey action lives, just inside the white brick front door capped with musical notes and instruments outside. Walking into The Double Crown feels like bathing in a soft, red glow, a network of Christmas lights playing off a painted roof, giving off a very dive bar-style aura difficult to create any other way. The bar and its counter are, in a word, intense, a complete saturation of small lights, liquor bottles, stickers, random miscellany everywhere and even a stuffed snake. One of The Double Crown’s two small windows allows a little natural light here through its metal bars, though the red divey aura inside seems to consume daylight as it enters.
Along the top of the bar, a small ledge lower than the roof that houses a handful of photographs that are too random to properly describe. Stationary, swiveling, padded stools with backs serve as the counter seating options, a very diner counter vibe that complements everything going on visually inside. Taking a few steps away from the bar, it’s easy to appreciate the sure visual weight of this drinking magnet fixture in one corner of The Double Crown, and that is saying something given the dive bar beauty found elsewhere in the space.
Across the checkerboard tile floor from the bar is the DJ booth that provides a first clue about The Double Crown’s strong devotion to live music. The bar hosts rotating and diverse acts, a series of theme nights and one-offs packing an eclectic schedule. A glance at upcoming concerts may include gospel, Western and DJ sets punctuated with a rotating karaoke night for good measure. The community connection can also be seen in these live music events, some of them serving as fundraisers for local causes and even individuals on hard times. And it is in these types of details, down to the musical acts booked and where they proceeds go that sets a true community dive bar like The Double Crown apart.
Beyond the dance floor, black, padded booths run along the wall opposite the bar, dark little alcoves given some additional drinking ambiance with solid walls and dark wood paneling separating each booth entirely. More photos, more Christmas lights and even a little Christmas tinsel adds character here, creating a series of individual dive bar confessionals of sorts. In the center of the space, modular seating provides flexibility for live music nights when the dancefloor must expand.
A small red bench island in the middle of the space creates a ringed community drinking area with ample view of the entirety of The Double Crown’s interior footprint. Another couch-lined alcove just off the bar adds another drinking location, the entire patchwork of seating options creating distinct, separated options perfect for sparking conversation in a small group. A wall of music posters advertising past and upcoming shows gives way to The Double Crown’s bathrooms which do not disappoint. The graffiti and sticker game is, of course, strong here, doing justice to the dive bar credentials established by the rest of the building.
The Double Crown sits on the shoulders of decades of drinking in a small, white brick building and does so in an almost perfectly-crafted way. Great dive bars are organically developed rather than intentionally built and The Double Crown seems to be walking that line well for opening in 2012. The clear devoting to the Asheville community, the commitment to live music, the updates to the space that let the building shine through, all of it creates a great dive bar experience in a quiet little stretch of southwest Asheville.