After almost four decades in the postal service, a former McDowell mail carrier and longtime historian turns her sight toward birds-eye views and regional history.
Kaye Bentley, a former Marion mail carrier for 33 years, currently operates Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours, which offers a skyline view and comprehensive background into the Buncombe County city.
“I guess I’ve always had a soft spot for history and wanted to be able to share that with people,” said Bentley.
Originally a Boone native, Bentley moved to McDowell in 1985 and began working as a carrier for the Marion Post Office on Main Street, working the same route for the P.G. area for the bulk of her time.
“I’d been on the same route for 33 years, so I knew everyone very, very well,” said Bentley. “It was a great career, the best people I could imagine on my route, people in P.G. I have known forever.”
After moving to Asheville five years ago, Bentley continued to work in Marion until this year, officially retiring after 38 years in the postal business – five spent in Boone, 33 in Marion – on June 1. However, it was during the last year of her time in McDowell that she was hit with a lucrative idea.
“I was telling a friend of mine at work, back in October, I told them, ‘I went to a rooftop bar with a friend of mine and it was amazing. The views are incredible’,” said Bentley. “And I started thinking about it later that day, because Asheville has a tour for everything. I mean, there’s walking tours, history tours, beer tours, everything. So, I went online to see if anyone was doing rooftop bar tours and no one was.”
Seizing the chance to build a niche investment, Bentley called and bought the domain name for Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours that day and has been crafting the tour for over seven months, going through the Western Women’s Business Center at AB-Tech along the way.
“I’ve been quietly working on it,” she admits.
Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours was officially launched on July 3 as a three-person team, with Bentley, tour guide Jody Lane and company driver Ben Whitaker taking over operations.
According to Bentley, a 12-person company van drives guests between multiple hotels and rooftop bars, where they spend between 45 to 50 minutes at each location, 5 to 10 minutes of which is dedicated to a history lesson on the significance of each bar, before circling back around to the first location.
“We do 12 tours a week, seven days a week, so five of those days would be two tours a day, and then each one of those has three rooftop bars on it,” said Bentley. “And then on Fridays and Sundays, we do one extended tour.”
With each hotel and bar, Bentley says guests not only have the luxury of a beautiful skyline and view of the city, but ample time is dedicated to images and information on the location itself, with Bentley’s knowledge on the region seeming endless.
“I’ve dedicated probably close to 100 hours’ worth of research at the Pack Memorial Library and the North Carolina room in particular,” said Bentley. “The amount of information they have there is incredible. I’ve also done research at the Ramsey Library at UNCA with their special collections. These people are preserving all this history.”
In terms of the overall purpose of the tour, Bentley says that although the tour itself does not offer drinks on the ticket – focusing primarily on being an educational tool for each location – guests are still encouraged to purchase drinks at each designated hotel or bar and/or return at the end of the tour if they wish to.
“This is not a drinking tour and it’s not a pub crawl,” said Bentley. “There’s a lot of drinking tours in Asheville and this is not the case. But people can purchase drinks if they’d want to. We want to give people an introduction, so if people want to go back there that day, there’s a couple of restaurants that offer discounts for people coming back, so they can show their wristband that they’d been wearing and they could get a 15 or 20 percent off discount off their meal.”
For McDowell residents who either travel to Asheville or have considered visiting the city, Bentley says the tour provides a chance to broaden their perspectives and explore beyond their regular hot spots.
“We’ve had people from Marion come up there – we actually have a group of eight coming there this Sunday – and one of the things they find interesting, is the history, so a lot of these people that’ve been going to Asheville from this county for years have a sort of beaten path that they go to; they eat at certain restaurants and everything, so this really opens people up to see more of the city. And we take them around so they don’t have to worry about how to get there, so when you see a lot of these old historical photos along Biltmore Avenue and you see how it is now, people are saying, “Y’know, I never knew we had electric street cars in Asheville.’ I think a lot of it is the history that we’re showing. It’s breathtaking. And we talk about the Blue Ridge Mountains, Pisgah, so we try to cover everything and we want people to feel comfortable scaling a lot of these high-rise hotels.’”
As far as the locations themselves, Bentley says they and the surrounding space offers a variety of historical context, ranging from hotels, bars and streets built in the late 1800s to 1900s to places as recent as 2017.
“Each one really has its own unique skin,” said Bentley. “We have a location built in 2016 or 2017 and a friend of mine said, ‘But there’s no history there. It’s brand new!’ I said, ‘Yes, there is. That used to be Three Brothers Restaurant and I have pictures,’ and it shows what all the houses used to look like.’”
At this time, six specific locations are offered in the tour, including Hemingway’s Cuba, Wxyz Lounge at ALOFT Hotel, SkyBar at the World Coffee Café, among others. At the moment, the tour itself accommodates 10 guests, ages 21 and up, with plans to expand to 11 to 13 guests in the foreseeable future.
Ticket price for a 2.5 to 3 hour tour and three stops is $36, and a 3.5 to 3.75 hour tour with four stops is $44.
According to the current schedule, tours are scheduled Monday-Thursday at 2 p.m. & 4:30 p.m. at 2.5 to 3 hours long apiece, Friday at 2 p.m. between 3.5 to 3.75 hours hours, Saturday at 12 p.m. & 3 p.m. at 2.5 to 3 hours and Sunday at 2 p.m. at 3.5 to 4 hours.
For more information on Asheville Rooftop Bars or to book a tour, contact Kaye Bentley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (828) 774-7785.