After 13 years, Highland Brewing Co., “Asheville’s Original Craft Beer,” is returning to one of the premiere beer destinations in the country: Downtown Asheville. This morning, the brewery announced its plans to open a new taproom in the heart of downtown Asheville, located in an upcoming food hall concept in the historic S&W Cafeteria. Both projects hope to open in the spring of 2020.
When Highland first opened its doors in 1994, it was with the identity of Asheville’s first brewery since Prohibition—something that is obviously no longer the case, given that the city can now boast an ever-expanding brewery collection, with more than a dozen in downtown Asheville alone. For Highland, it all started in a rented basement, in a space that is now Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria. In that spot, Highland brewed every drop of its beer for 13 years, creating recipes like Gaelic Ale and Oatmeal Porter, which powered its growth.
In 2006, Highland moved to the site of its current production brewery in East Asheville, eventually purchasing the entire 40-acre property and turning it into the comfortable destination it is today, complete with taproom, rooftop bar and “meadow.” But they never forgot the unique thrill of operating a taproom in the middle of downtown Asheville, either. Said the brewery’s initial founder, Oscar Wong: “Highland was part of the rebirth of downtown Asheville back in the ‘90s, along with many others—to return downtown and be part of the birth of this iconic building is nothing short of amazing.”
The S&W Cafeteria, which stands at 56 Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville, is currently unused but preserved, being an entry on the National Register of Historic Places. It was bought in 2017 by brothers Douglas and Kenneth Ellington, paying homage to some family history—the building was constructed by their great-uncle, Art Deco architect Douglas Ellington, in 1928. It is noted for its “ornate Art Deco façade, wide marble stairs, soapstone walls with painted tiles, and intricate architectural details that make it one of the most notable buildings in the city,” according to Highland’s release. The planned food hall will feature four restaurant stalls, along with two Highland bars—one on the main floor, “and an expanded lineup of small batch, sour, and barrel-aged beers on the mezzanine.” Brewing will not happen on site, but the company calls the new taproom “a showcase for our small batch and limited release beers.”
“I’ve never had an interest in opening a second taproom, but this confluence was powerful,” said second generation Family-Owner and President, Leah Wong Ashburn, pictured below at the entrance to the S&W Cafeteria. “We are engaged in revitalizing a piece of Asheville’s history and working with an increidbly talented group of Asheville entrepreneurs who all believe in authenticity, family and having fun with this project. We’re returning to where we started, but with new eyes, new beers, and a unique opportunity to shape the next chapter of Highland and our hometown.”