#TBT: The S&W Cafeteria

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The S&W Building
The S&W Building

Designed + built by Asheville resident Douglas Ellington in 1928, the iconic S&W Building (56 Patton Ave.) is considered to be the architect’s greatest contribution to the Art Deco style. That’s a big deal – since he also designed City Hall + First Baptist Church in the same decade.

But the building has a rich history beyond being a pilgrimage spot for architecture fans. During its time as the S&W Cafeteria (between 1929 and 1974), 3,000 to 5,000 people walked through its doors every day. Since the cafeteria closed, the space has hosted several different businesses, plus residences + more.

Currently, it’s the home of The Times Bar, which serves up classic craft cocktails and might just transport you back to the Gilded Age with its chandeliers + gold leaf. By early next year, a food hall-style eatery + market with a Penny Cup Coffee location, tacos, charcuterie + more and a taproom will open.

A jazz club and cocktail lounge, Save Me the Waltz (named after the novel Zelda Fitzgerald penned while living in Asheville) will host live music four nights a week and will feature Prohibition-era classic cocktails, wine + craft beer. It should open by the second week of October. Follow their Facebook page for updates.  

Explore the full history + what’s planned next (including Save Me the Waltz) for the famous building here.

Need a refresher on Art Deco? This design, architectural + art style, popular from 1920 to 1930, includes luxurious materials, both natural and manmade (think jade, silver, glass + crystal), as well geometric shapes, stylized patterns, symmetry + repetition of elements.

Interior of the S&W Cafeteria
Interior of the S&W Cafeteria

The S&W still includes many of the original Art Deco elements that made it so striking – including wide, marble steps, large arched windows, crystal chandeliers, and gold leaf embellishing the walls. Ellington used chevron shapes, a favorite of his, as well as stylized fountain + urn shapes and blue terracotta tiling, to decorate the ashlar stone exterior. The four-story structure also has a lavish penthouse on the top level that’s available to rent (if you want to pretend like you’re living in the Roaring 20s).

But while the aesthetic of the building hasn’t changed, the businesses inside its walls have. Follow us through 89 years of history at the S&W.

From cafeterias to craft cocktail bars

  • 1929: The S&W Cafeteria opens its doors in its namesake building. The cafeteria is part of a larger chain of eateries owned by Frank O. Sherrill of Flat Rock and Fred R. Webber of Charlotte, and serves between 3,000 and 5,000 people daily, depending on the time of the year. The Asheville location is the third to open in the state (it had previously been at a smaller site on Patton Ave. when it opened in 1922).
  • 1974: the S&W Cafeteria moves to a new location at the Asheville Mall to house a contraption called a carousel buffet, which was reportedly able to serve 19 people in under 50 seconds. Sherrill and Webber hoped the carousel would increase their profit margin by serving people faster + eliminating long lines.
  • 1981: S&W Cafeteria at the Asheville Malls closes shop.
  • 1976: Dale’s Cafeteria moves in to the vacant S&W Building.
  • 1977: Dale’s Cafeteria closes after just one year of business.  
  • 1979: The S&W Building is added to the National Registry of Historic Places.
  • 1983: Walter Ploeger, Jr., an architect based out of Arden, buys the building for $204,000 (half a million dollars in today’s currency) and spends countless more dollars renovating it.
  • 1996: Preferred Catering opens to host wedding parties, receptions + galas, but they close within a year.
  • 1997: The S&W Building is home to Shotzy’s, a live music venue open for a short time.
  • 2007: Steve Moberg purchases and renovates the building, adding a bar on the second level + condos.
  • 2008: Moberg opens S&W Steak and Wine and a coffee shop called Corner House.
  • 2011: Both S&W Steak and Wine and Corner House close
  • October 2017: Ellington Underground, a live music venue, opens in the basement of the S&W
  • December 2017: The Times craft cocktail bar opens  
  • 2018: Theodore Kondylis, Sakis Elefantis and Douglas + Kenneth Ellington (descendents of Douglas Ellington) open the S&W Artisanal and The Mez, a restaurant, bar + eatery serving Greek food
  • May 2018: Ellington Underground, the Artisanal + the Mez close

Looking ahead

  • October 2018: Save Me the Waltz, a new cocktail bar + jazz venue with live music four nights a week, is scheduled to open in the lower level. The spot is named after Zelda Fitzgerald’s novel, which she penned in Asheville.
  • 2019: A new food hall-style space that will feature local fare (including Penny Cup Coffee, tacos, charcuterie + more) and a taproom are scheduled to open on the ground level + mezzanine.

The S&W Building might be my favorite in all of Asheville. I love the detail that went into each stone, and I feel transported to another era every time I step through the doors.

And I love the fact that one of the most beautiful buildings downtown had beginnings rooted in the community, when it served thousands of people from all walks of life as a cafeteria. That’s why I’m especially excited for its next phase, when it will once again become a gathering space as Asheville’s first food hall-style eatery. Plus, I got a sneak peek at Save Me the Waltz and I’m so ready to put on my flapper dress and see some jazz.

What memories do you have from the S&W? Let us know by commenting here, or write us over on Facebook  or Instagram.

– Ali  + Stephanie (AVLtoday intern)