Monday, July 15, 2024
CitiesTravel Interest

Bear Asheville, North Carolina: A Good Place for Bears

Asheville, North Carolina, is a gay-friendly city with a hometown feel that sits smack in the middle of a state that has a long track record of not liking anyone who doesn’t fit the mold of a white cisgender heteronormative male. 

Actually, Ashville is on the left side of the state in more ways than one. Geographically, it’s closer to Tennessee than it is to the Atlantic Ocean. And in 2020, it overwhelmingly went for Joe Biden (by 60%) and Cal Cunningham (by 58%), the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate who lost by a razor-thin margin. 

The city is very gay-friendly, and it shows. There is no gay district or gay-bour-hood per se, but when you go downtown, there are plenty of restaurants and shops to visit and be yourself.  Independent places to eat and drink abound, and there is hardly a well-known chain established in the downtown area, which is unofficially the gay area. 

You’d be hard-pressed to feel like you are in the birthplace of The Andy Griffith Show, which, of course, is fictional. (Ted Koppel did a great piece for CBS Sunday Morning on Mount Airy, NC, which considers itself to be the real Mayberry, and it’s an eye-opener as to what these people really think.  You can view it here.)

All that’s well and good if you are a skinny gay or are taking your gal pal with you when you travel?  But what about us Bears?  

When I was in Asheville for Volkswagen, I did a little investigating, and it really was a bit like finding the last honey pot of the season. Places that looked like they would be a lot of fun like Club Hairspray or Smoky’s Tavern have sadly come and gone.  

Of course, Bears are welcome everywhere but as for having our own space in Asheville, well….

One place that has been around since 1976 is O.Henry’s. Located in the downtown area (just off the business district), it’s in a very unassuming building but not far from wherever your business meetings may be. 

All the LGBTQIA+ in the area gather there every night, including Bears.  I had the opportunity to speak with the day bartender, who gave me the skinny on how many of the local bears get together and have small dinner parties and private functions on their own, but wasn’t aware of anything formally organized (sorry, guys, that’s the best my Ph.D. research skills could produce).

Indeed, O.Henry’s is your best bet for action. Socialization.  Anything.  

Another nightclub that is gay-friendly and has drag shows regularly is Scandals. Apparently, not many bears are seen there but it is popular with The Gays. 

Grove Arcade is a big shopping mall in Asheville and many Bears like to go there and grab lunch or dinner.  So, again, ya know, this could be something that, ya know…….

Like many Southern states in the US, you cannot just walk into a bar, order a drink and start drinking.  No, that would be illegal, and this practice dates back to the days when clubs wanted to specifically keep certain types of people out of their clubs.  And unfortunately, these laws are still on the books and are, unfortunately, still enforced… unless, of course, you are in good with the sheriff and, I suspect, most gay bars are not.

What that means is this: you may be asked to pay a $5 membership fee upon entering, or something similar.  It’s draconian and outdated, to be sure.  And welcome to America.

But should you decide you want to get married while in Asheville, you can have your wedding at the very Bear-friendly Biltmore Estate, which was built by Anderson Cooper’s ancestors, the Vanderbilts.  It’s the most popular tourist attraction in the area and indeed the largest. 

Many of you might end up in Asheville on business, on a layover, or just chasing the Bear of your dreams.  Should that happen, you don’t want to be wishing and hoping and thinking and praying….

As Bears, we can always find a good time.  And other bears with whom we can enjoy the local fanfare.

Sam Gomez

Sam is a US-based veteran with a love for travel and bears, preferably at the same time!

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