BY: Michael Kaminer
FROM: NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Photo Credit: Amplified Media/Courtesy ExploreAsheville.com
Asheville, North Carolina surprised me before I even got there.
As I exited its tiny regional airport, I flicked on the radio in my rental car to hear an angry talk show host excoriate Donald Trump. A station ID followed: "Welcome to 880 The Revolution, Asheville's Progressive Talk!" And welcome, I thought, to a city that doesn't sound like anywhere else in the South.
Those first impressions turned out to define my stay in Ashvegas, as some locals call it. Though it's been relentlessly hyped -- visitors to this town of 87,000 topped 9 million last year -- Asheville can still surprise with food, culture, and even fashion that rivals bigger burgs. And its singular mix of worldliness and hominess gives it a character unique among cities below the Mason-Dixon line.
Case in point: the Bunn House, the recently-opened hotel where I unloaded my bags on leafy Clayton St., a short walk from downtown. A code I'd received on my phone opened the front gate; another unlocked my second-floor room, one of just five in this beautifully restored 1905 mansion. Inside, you'll find Frette linens, Nespresso machines, steam showers, homemade mini fridge goodies and Lencore sound-masking machines. It's both folksy and fabulous.
So is Early Girl Eatery (8 Wall St., earlygirleater.com), the downtown mainstay where I grabbed breakfast. The owner gave bleary-eyed arrivals a hearty welcome while sweet, tattooed servers poured steaming coffee. A generous sausage and sweet potato scramble ($11) looked as perfect as it tasted.
Asheville's compact and highly walkable, so a five-minute stroll landed me on Lexington Ave. and what turned out to be the city's coolest shopping strip.
I couldn't resist the windows at Royal Peasantry (80 N. Lexington Ave., royalpeasantry.com), a clothing shop where harnessy-looking leather goods shared space with tribal-Steampunk formalwear. All of it comes from local designers or the store's own label, like the edgy-elegant recycled-cotton Athena dress ($115). I asked salesperson Leanne Campagna, an Oregon transplant by way of Brooklyn, about Asheville's character. "It's a very cool community - eclectic, open-minded, and artistic," she told me.