#86 of 98 Asheville Restaurants


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The Imperial Life - Upstairs Cocktail Lounge in Asheville
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Excellent craft cocktails and access to a full menu of delicious dishes from the downstairs restaurant, Table, The Imperial Life is great for a round of drinks or a complete dining experience. With live music and DJs nearly every night of the week starting at 9:00pm, The Imperial Life's atmosphere can vary depending on when you arrive, so plan accordingly to ensure you get the energy and volume level that suits your mood.

- The SmokyMountains.com Local Expert Team

While Asheville won’t shake its moniker as “Beer City” anytime soon, it’s clear that a renaissance in mixology is well underway, and Imperial Life holds a lofty spot at that table–literally. Located upstairs from an award-winning farm-to-table fine-dining spot, Table, Imperial offers an intimate setting with impeccably-crafted cocktails for a range of palates.

The experience at The Imperial Life depends in part on whether you come for drinks or dinner, and if you’re looking more for late-night entertainment or an early cocktail hour. We enjoyed our experience so much, we let the latter option slide into the former. That’s right: happy hour turned into dinner, and we even got a good glimpse of the lively late-night scene at this upstairs cocktail bar.

Our evening started with expertly mixed drinks at the bar, plus a taste of The Imperial Life’s small plates menu. One of the coolest things about the menu is that each drink has a note about the author of the beverage, which, sometimes, is one of the knowledgeable, talented bartenders at work. Not so for the refreshing Peach Switchel, however, which was crafted by New England Farmers in the 1700s! These nods to history are balanced by The Imperial Life’s commitment to the best trends in modern mixology. The menu offers a range of flavors, so you aren’t just stuck with one flavor profile.

When it came time to nibble, we were pleased with the offerings. An inspired charcuterie platter, plus fresh, raw oysters and expertly deviled eggs. We were also tempted by the pork rinds and boiled peanuts, which we saw several other patrons devour.

After round two of cocktail hour, however, we made the decision to switch over to wine and a menu from Table. Full dinner service is available most evenings, and you can enjoy your meal right at the bar or at one of several upstairs tables.

The plates at Table are incredible–James Beard nominated goodness down to the last bite–but I can honestly say the small plates were their own form of satisfaction, and a great stand-alone choice if you’re simply looking for a snack to enjoy while you sip.

The cocktails at The Imperial Life are made fresh to order and change with the seasons, but these are a few of our favorites that were on offer during our visit:

Cabana Banana
Like a vacation in a glass, this is the perfect drink for someone craving the fresh tropical flavors of pineapple and lime, with the almost surprising heft of blended whiskey. Use caution on those stairs if you have a couple of these!

Barrel-Aged Negroni
A true classic and Imperial Life does it to tart perfection.

Rum, honey, and sparkling wine? Yes, please! This one made us feel like we were ready to board first class for somewhere luxurious.

For a great evening out that gives you an intimate vibe with a bit of a nightlife buzz, The Imperial Life is a solid choice for drinks, and maybe dinner and a little dancing! We stayed long enough to bop our heads, but the cocktails and wine had us heading, carefully, down the stairs shortly after the festivities got going. Until next time!

Insider Tip:
-The cocktails at The Imperial Life go down super easy, and may lead you to discover one of the hidden gems of this spot–the bathroom! No joke; locals love the cool artwork that decorates these easily overlooked functional spaces, so be sure to take the time to freshen up to fully enjoy all that The Imperial Life has to offer, including a custom-made handwashing sign.