MG Road: Chai Pani team opens new downtown lounge Thursday


The Chai Pani team takes on a whole new side of life in the new bar from owner Meherwan Irani, MG Road. While Chai Pani focused on casual street food and drink (with some nice wine pairings), the team’s new venture on Wall Street is all about nightlife, cocktails, munchies and sweet treats.

Irani described the Indian food tradition of namkeen to me: Salty, snacky eats and treats eaten in a paper cone. “Munchies?” I asked, and he nodded. “Munchies.”

Go upstairs to Chai Pani for tandoori wraps and curry. Downstairs, nibble on Indian-style bar snacks like deep-fried tapioca pearls, a treat Irani called “vegetarian pork rinds.” After tasting them, I found the description perfect.

They taste like rice cakes, only more substantial, saltier and more savory. Mine came with a tamarind dipping sauce that added a welcome tang.

Irani’s also brought a pastry chef on board, making original small-plate desserts including the sweet crumb-topped sliders below. Ashley Capps was formerly a baker at Farm & Sparrow, and is an A-B Tech culinary grad.

Capps’ creations above are house-made brioche buns dipped in a mixture of Grand Marnier and a syrup made from orange flower water, with a diplomat creme filling lightly flavored with orange. About the size of a petit-four, they’re a light, sweet treat.

In India, Irani said, MG Road is more than just the main street of every city. It’s the city’s heart and the center of its nightlife.  “It’s Rodeo Drive, it’s Wall Street,” he said. It’s the place to find a city’s nightlife, bars, and movie theatres, where everything’s open until 10 or 11.

And that’s what MG Road hopes to be: An after-hours watering hole–with vintage Bollywood posters and deep-fried tapioca.

The lounge’s cocktails are created by a bartending brain trust including Mike Burnette of Cucina 24 and bartender and bon vivant Jonathan Ammons, the cocktail protege of Asheville mixmaster Ken Klehm of Rocket Club and Magnetic Field fame.

According to Irani, his mixing team makes nearly every cocktail ingredient in-house, a trademark of Chai Pani upstairs. Like Chai Pani does with food, MG road, according to Irani, does with its cocktails, focusing on quality house-made ingredients and honoring food traditions. When Irani jokes that his bartenders plan to make their own Maraschino cherries, I’m not sure he’s joking.

Irani was impressed, inspired and influenced by the approach of El Bulli-trained Asheville chef Katie Button of Curate, who makes a dessert that uses pine oil the chef  renders herself from a pine tree in her own yard. When you take care like that, Irani said, you can taste it. “You pick that up on a molecular level.”

The drink menu includes old favorites like the Singapore Sling, plus new interpretations of exotic signature drinks like the Belizaire, a recipe Ammons found in a St. Louis bar. Combining ginger, cinnamon, bourbon and lemon, it’s both fallish and refreshing. Also of note is the Chai Cobbler, a sort of Indian answer to the White Russian.

The Kewda Fizz is another one to try: Limey, floral and fizzy, it’s a cool blue-green drink with a lovely, flowery aftertaste. “I wanted to make exotic drinks without dumbing them down,” said Irani.

Part snacky tapas bar, part lounge and part Indian restaurant, MG Road opens Thursday.

MG Road
19 Wall Street
downtown Asheville
hours TBA