ASHEVILLE — Four months after a devastating fire, nearly $200,000 in property damage and more than 100 canceled shows later, and the Sly Grog Lounge reconstruction has not started, say the owners.
The fate of the building itself is unknown. The likely six-figure structural damage was not included in the initial property damage calculations, and engineers are still determining whether the 1950s squat building, which has housed the locals’ much-loved bar at 271 Haywood St. since 2016, is a total loss.
Whether the building is leveled and rebuilt or gutted and remodeled, co-owner Theodore Crouse-Mann said the Sly Grog is coming back.
On April 16, Sly Grog will host its first event on site since the fireone of a series of upcoming spring shows.
Housed away from the building, which has been emptied of everything but the bar and stage, the shows will take place in the parking lot — complete with a stage, an outdoor bar and killer lineup, Crouse-Mann said.
Asheville Fire Department spokesman Kelley Klope said in December the cause of the fire was a failure of a natural gas heater. The fire started in the back corner of the building, spread through the office area and outwards and caused a partial roof collapse.
“It’s kind of an exercise in patience,” Crouse-Mann said of the past few months. Stuck in a pattern of waiting for insurance, still assessing the extent of the damage and working to continue supporting staff, the process has been frustratingly slow.
But it’s inspiring, he said, to see how the community continues to come out and support them.
“It makes us feel like we have no choice but to keep going,” Crouse-Mann said. “We need to bring that space back.”
“Lack of open stages for real weird art”
From the outside, it is difficult to assess the extent of the damage. But Spring Pearson, Sly Grog’s other co-owner, said she tries not to look at the building at all.
“We are in limbo,” she said. “We don’t know if we’re going to tear it down or fix it. I’m not watching until we know what the plan is.”
It’s upsetting and it’s sad, she says, but above all, “it’s entertaining”.
For now, she’s focusing on what she can control.
“What’s not flimsy is that we know we’re going to move on and the Sly Grog is going to reopen,” Pearson said. “There are a lot of questions about how we will get there right now, but we will.”
Pearson said people from all corners of the Asheville music and arts scene have come forward to show their support. Unconstrained by genre or niche, she said Sly Grog tries to provide a stage for everyone.
“It almost makes it a community-owned space…a space that everyone feels they have a stake in,” she said. “I think that’s why we’re important.”
Continued: ‘All wheels are welcome’
It’s also why she thinks so many people have stepped up.
Several organizations and individuals have emerged to champion fundraisers and benefits, such as John Kennedy of Holy Crap Records, who launched a GoFundMe page that raised $9,820 to cut bar staff checks.
Several venues and artists staged benefit shows — raising nearly $4,000 in total — to fund operations and stage new events, like the parking lot series.
Crouse-Mann said he felt almost every site in town offered support.
the Asheville Fringe Arts Festival was among the organizations to launch a benefit, and Crouse-Mann said the Fringe show was indicative of the importance of the space and why they work so hard to conserve it.
The Fringe Arts Festival, which celebrates and cultivates work outside the mainstream, was full of artists who felt “there was no place for them anymore,” Crouse-Mann said.
Sly Grog was one of the stages in town that offered a home and had long been the venue for the festival.
Erinn Hartley, artistic director of the Asheville Fringe Arts Festival, said Sly Grog was “a cozy place for so many artists who aren’t so traditional”.
“We are grateful to have a place in our community to support people who work or simply exist outside the norm,” Hartley said. “Asheville can’t afford to lose a place that supports local artists who push boundaries like Sly Grog did.”
Crouse-Mann said there was a ‘lack of open stages for real and weird art’ that makes Asheville what it is – showcasing performances for the community, rather than catering to tourists .
“Everyone’s Grandparents’ Basement”
A signature of the Sly Grog was its collection of accumulated memorabilia, tokens from hundreds of shows – vintage toys, signs and miscellaneous kitsch.
“It’s hard to quantify the loss,” Crouse-Mann said. “It happens organically. (We) have to have faith that it will happen again,”
He has a storage container full of burnt items they could salvage, and several offers from the community to help start the collection over.
Already ‘massive’ donations have set the stage for the resurrection of Sly Grog,” Crouse-Mann said – as Orange peela downtown Asheville concert hall, which donated its entire old sound system, “a blessing that will pay off in the future for years to come,” he said.
Eric Controne has been coming to the Sly Grog for years, even stepping in at the start to offer a sound system – the same one that was lost in the fire. He hosted events at Sly Grog and DJ’s on site. He said the past few months have been heartwarming.
“Sorry if I’m babbling about the Sly Grog,” Controne said. “It’s not that it’s my baby, but it’s like my grandparents’ basement.”
Home base. Understood. A safe space. He said it’s where a lot of artists get their start, the first chance to hit the stage, even if your legs are shaking and you haven’t perfected your set.
“It’s only a matter of time,” he said of Sly Grog’s return. “We can’t wait to see everyone on the dance floor.”
Events to come
A fourth show is in the works, but the wait allows it, Pearson said. Proceeds from the shows will benefit the rebuilding of Sly Grog. A GoFundMe to help finance the reconstruction is also ongoing, with approximately $390 raised as of April 6.
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Current advice? Email [email protected] or message on Twitter @slhonosky.