In a city that has struggled to create an identity and persistent presence for house music, Asheville will be losing a sliver of the stronghold it had built over the last year in The Nightbell. Today, AVLHMS learned that The Nightbell will be ending its DJ sets from local House and Techno DJs to focus on its restaurant activities. The Fourth of July weekend will be the last weekend of DJ sets. Starting next week, the restaurant will focus on dinner service and close at 11 pm.
This brings to a final close a chapter that seemingly ended with the departure of The Nightbell manager, César Meana, who recently returned to Spain. César’s brother, Felix, and his sister-in-law, Katie Button operate The Nightbell as a sister restaurant to Curaté, an established Spanish-style tapas restaurant on Biltmore Avenue. While César was one of the restaurant’s managers, he also brought an electronic music focus to the restaurant, built a DJ booth, and started booking local DJs to play on Saturday nights while he manned the decks on Friday nights himself.
Last month, before his departure, César appointed Ephraim Dean, a local DJ and one-third of the crew, In Plain Sight, as curator of the late night festivities upon his departure. Despite a phenomenal programming effort, after a month, the restaurant decided to change direction and focus on what they know well, which is running a fantastic restaurant.
In discussing this with our source, there was no specific reason given, but one can surmise that César was really the driver of the DJ program. Now that he is back in Spain, it was simply a business decision to focus on the dinner crowd since they no longer have him running the DJ events.
At the end of the day, The Nightbell was a cool little spot that was growing into a destination for DJ culture. While local DJs appreciated the efforts to showcase local talent and House music, they were hopeful that The Nightbell would expand the effort and make some minor improvements to the sound system. There was no real dance floor and the venue lacked the sufficient low end bass required for playing this type of music. But overall it had a great DJ booth, expertly built by César, with all the tools a DJ needed to play.
In my early conversations with him, they really weren’t promoting the venue as a nightlife destination. It was just quietly growing as a place to feature local DJs and this kind of music with no promotion other than a few printed posters in the windows of Curaté and The Nightbell. As a music programmer, César was simply focused on creating a vibe and a sound at The Nightbell, applying his European sensibilities and restaurant prowess to crafting something unique and special.
We can completely understand the decision and know that there will soon be another venue focused on House music to take The Nightbell’s place – there always is. Cesar’s commitment to DJ culture was stronger than The Nightbell’s desire to continue in his absence. And, that’s fine, because Asheville deserves a proper nightclub and all the DJs spinning at The Nightbell should really be playing for a dance floor at that club. Someday, we’ll have that, I’m sure. But for now, we have to thank The Nightbell for giving it a chance. It was refreshing to have a venue who truly understood the culture for DJs by a DJ himself.
There’s no harm in understanding your strengths and changing direction. It’s unfortunate, as local DJs need a place to play and get paid for it. But, we truly wish The Nightbell well and appreciate all the love and support the establishment gave the community while they stayed open all of those late nights for us to gather and play the music we love. Let’s remember that The Nightbell was always a restaurant first. It silently embarked on supporting local DJ talent until it simply could not. That’s business.
I know I’ll be back to The Nightbell for eats and drinks, as it really is a fantastic restaurant with great service. Hopefully, they’ll have an exceptional music selection that matches their food and drinks. I’ll miss playing there myself, but look forward to a future in Asheville where one venue supports the House music movement.