“Oh wow, this is amazing,” said one patron. “I can’t even believe what they’ve done in here,” remarked another. Standing on the second level looking down at the main stage inside Isis—the new restaurant, bar, and music hall in West Asheville—highly favorable comments from customers was common.
The venue cranked out remarkably good sound for musical guest, Jim Arrendell and the Cheap Suits, while fun-loving folks danced and drank on a weeknight along Haywood Road. What stands out, though, is that Isis offers a considerably different vibe from the funky, bohemian feel that has become the hallmark of the area.
What was originally a movie theater and later home to restaurants now offers the kind of sophistication that might be found in a much bigger city. Downstairs, its gray walls with white trim combine with black chairs and stools and wood tables built from the old flooring of the Isis Theater. The downstairs dining area seats around 50 people. The kitchen staff, servers, and bartenders all wear black. A long corridor takes you down the bar, which seats roughly another 24 folks, to the area housing the main stage. More tables and chairs reside there along with enough room for dancing.
Upstairs, a second bar awaits with more casual seating areas, a second small stage—perfect for a jazz trio or a singer/songwriter—and a baby grand piano. It has more of a lounge feel with red walls and lots of varied seating options. From the second level, you can look down on the action below with a great view of the stage. A large patio offers additional seating on warm days.
“It was a huge undertaking,” says Josephine Woody, whose family took on the project of opening Isis. Scott (father), Lillianna (mother), and Harris (brother) were vital cogs in bringing together what they call the “Isis experience.” Josephine says that Isis makes a great venue for a date night and is perfect for dinner and a show.
The Woodys purchased the building in 1998 while Scott was still practicing veterinary medicine in Atlanta. Isis Theater, built in the 1930s, had long since seen its days end, but the building was a desirable business location. When the building’s tenant, Pastabilities, decided to close its doors in 2011, the Woodys thought the time might finally be right for a restaurant and music hall.
Scott had dabbled in bluegrass music and was looking for new challenges after closing his veterinary practice. Josephine and Harris were still pondering the burning question of what they wanted to do with their careers. “It just all came together,” Josephine says.
Executive Chef Mike Mahoney was in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, but was dating someone in Asheville, so he was looking to move to the area. He connected with the Woodys and ended up bringing Chef Jon McGregor with him. The guys hope to change menus around every six weeks, using local produce and seasonal products whenever possible.
Woody family members all shared a big-picture vision of what they wanted to Isis to become. Josephine says, though, that the devil was in the details. “It took two months for us to figure out what we were going to do in the dining room, especially the decor,” she says. “Aesthetically, we all had different ideas. It was definitely a collaboration and a mix of compromises. We had disagreements but at the end of the day we knew we would still love each other. That’s one of the benefits of being a family business.”
After a long, arduous process, Isis had a series of soft openings in early and mid-October before fully opening its doors later that month. Now getting its sea legs, the venue is preparing for its first big music shows. The Claire Lynch Band performs Friday, Dec. 7 and a big night of electronic music and multimedia wizardry happens on Dec. 15. Buckwheat Zydeco is booked for February and other national acts are in the works. That said, the Woodys insist that Isis will always showcase local talent, too.
The kitchen serves dinner and late-night fare seven days a week with plans for weekend brunches coming up. Entrees are typically in the $15-$18 range and include dishes such as grilled pork tenderloin stuffed with gouda, chorizo, and spinach, garnished with blueberry hoisin barbecue sauce and served over a house mash. The bar offers 24 local and regional beers on tap plus around 50 wines and full cocktail service. With appetizers at $8-$10 and desserts at $6.50, Isis isn’t the cheapest date venue in town but it offers a memorable experience.
Thus far, Scott says almost all of the clientele has been locals from the West Asheville community. “We expected that to be the case,” he says. “We guessed that people who live and work right here in West Asheville would notice we are open and would come in to check it out. Now we need to make those folks regulars and get the word out to the rest of Asheville.”
With the kind of experience Isis offers, the rest of Asheville will soon find out about this West Asheville gem.
Isis Restaurant & Music Hall is located at 743 Haywood Road in West Asheville. Parking is available on the east side of the establishment, accessed from Dunwell Avenue. For more information, contact IsisAsheville.com.