Relaxation on the Rocks

When he moved Olive or Twist from Asheville to Hendersonville, Bill Devlin wanted to fill the niche for a classic martini bar and jazz-blues lounge. Pretty cocktails with comic names are a hallmark of the restaurant. Photo by Tim Robison

In the final shakedown, it might not be necessary to have one’s craft cocktail infused with Provençal lavender water, stirred with the root of an endangered bog plant, and named after an underground Albanian poet. When a restaurant serves no less than 60 types of mixed drinks, let’s assume that a world of experience, not foodie grandiloquence, is driving the brand.

“Olive or Twist” isn’t a unique pun. A Google search will reveal a bunch of bar/restaurants with the same name, located all around the country. And with a promise like that in the title, the martinis better deliver.

“I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing,” explains owner Bill Devlin, who focuses on well-crafted mixed drinks and serves bottled beer instead of trendy drafts — though he does note that his original Olive or Twist was heavy on taps, too. Hendersonville is the new home for the restaurant of the same name that operated for years in downtown Asheville, before Devlin moved his operations early last spring.

Fully loaded burgers is a popular item on a busily comprehensive menu. Photo by Tim Robison

In its new digs on Barnwell Street, stretching languidly through a series of rooms in a historic space, the business looks right at home. Not counting a couple of overhead fluorescent lights that ought to be 86-ed, the memory of any previous tenants has been vanquished. Instead, a deep comfort reigns, thanks to a lot of dark wood, lounge areas with overstuffed furniture, and a rather elegant hush. Devlin says he likes being in an older building because it suits the classic jazz-and-martini vibe he’s established.

The names of all those cocktails range from witty (the house-invented “Unpublished Hemingway”) to outrageous (“Banging the Captain Three Ways on the Comforter,” a seaside-resort staple featuring Captain Morgan’s rum). More importantly, they’re mixed with old-fashioned artistry. The “Oatmeal Cookie” uses a variety of liquors — including Butterscotch Schnapps, Jägermeister, and Goldschlager, plus cream — and it tastes … exactly like an oatmeal cookie. There’s a drink called a “Dirty Girl Scout,” and among the food offerings is her possible companion, the “Twisted Burger,” an Angus patty topped with fried green tomatoes, crispy onion rings, and a lovely pimento cheese made with Vermont white cheddar.

That wink of naughtiness, sly but courtly, pervades the atmosphere; on weekends, group like the 42nd Street Jazz Band tune up in Olive or Twists’s spacious piano room. The bar’s music scene has become a major draw, and the entertainment aspect of Olive or Twist will soon grow to fill the building’s back quarters; Devlin’s naming the almost 3,000-square-foot suite Kyndal’s Event Space, after his daughter. He’s picturing rehearsal dinners, parties — “Hendersonville needs more event spaces,” he notes. What he loves about being here instead of in Asheville is a mature, established clientele and the chance to offer plenty of parking.

But Devlin wants to appeal to families, too. His inclusive gestures are all over the menu, where the list of “Small Plates” and “Appetizers” seem to be the same animal, numbering everything from trendy fish tacos to fried chicken tenders. The “Carolina Caviar” is another version of the clever pimento cheese, served with warm pita points.

Classic main courses (it might be a “Large Plate” or an “Entree”) fare best in a place like this. Besides the expected Filet Mignon and local mountain trout, there’s Chicken Marsala topped with the right rich sauce. Olive or Twist is not a farm-to-table kind of experience; its trajectory is more happy-hour-to-after-midnight.

And if you want a salad, but you don’t want it dressed funny, you can still order Thousand Island here. Devlin knows it’s not always the wisest move to stir up tradition.

Olive or Twist (121 West Barnwell St., Hendersonville) is open for lunch and dinner, Monday through Thursday from 11:30am-9:30pm and Friday and Saturday from 11:30am-10pm. Call 828-513-5130, check out the restaurant’s Facebook page, or see oliveortwist.net.

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