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Café Portofino Adds New Bar and Restaurant Area, Improves Its Award-Winning Customer Service

By Bailey Faulkner

Old Tweetsie Railroad maintenance station

The building that now houses local favorite Café Portofino has seen its fair share of changes over the years. Formerly the original maintenance station for the historic Tweetsie Railroad, the over-century-old building is now the site of an exciting new era in the history of Café Portofino.

Established in 2000, the restaurant quickly made a name for itself as a popular hangout for college students and High Country community members alike. Since its start, Café Portofino has won awards, hosted innumerable local gatherings and events and offered some of the tastiest dishes in the High Country.

Recently, the restaurant won the Best of the Best Restaurant Service Award for the third consecutive year, becoming the first restaurant to date to win the award three times consecutively. But like with every successful restaurant or business, success often requires renovation and expansion. Seeing a need for more space to better serve its loyal customers, Café Portofino recently set out to do just that.

Beginning on the Monday of ASU’s Spring Break, Café Portofino kicked off a week of rigorous renovations around the restaurant. Most notably, Portofino was able to put the finishing touches on its new bar and restaurant area while much of ASU’s student population was spending its break soaking up the sun away from the High Country.

Although it set out to make some relatively ambitious renovations during the break, the restaurant was able to finalize all of its updates in the span of only a week.

“Everything just fell into place,” co-owner Olga Esterson said.

Everything may have fallen into place, but that would not have been possible without a clear plan for the restaurant’s update from Portofino co-owners Esterson and her partner Joanna Sahm.

Original bar area

While it might not come as a shock to Portofino frequenters, the restaurant’s bar area would often become considerably crowded at busier times, with customers sometimes having to wait in lines of several people each time they needed a drink. One of the biggest benefits of the new bar and restaurant area is the ease with which customers will be able to quickly and comfortably buy drinks.

“The old bar will remain active, and the new area will house a full liquor bar with six additional taps,” Esterson said.

With liquor and another 12 taps at the original bar available, customers will find it much easier to grab drinks and quickly return to darts, billiards, Skee-ball, large screen televisions or any of the other fun activities that Portofino has to offer.

“Now we can take care of people faster,” Esterson said. “We’ll have two bartenders at each bar every night.”

New bar

The new bar will keep staples like Blue Moon on tap, but will also feature many local and regional brews for a true High Country beer experience. In addition to other well-known brews like those from Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewing, customers will be able to choose rotating Boone-brewed favorites from AMB and Booneshine.

The new area will also host tap takeovers from regional breweries. The bar recently featured several brews from Charlottesville, Virginia’s Champion Brewing Company.

While it will certainly alleviate crowding on busy nights, the new area is also the perfect spot for lunches, dinners, drinks during the day and time with friends and family. In addition to a wider selection of drinks at the new bar, the restaurant’s full menu will be available daily in the new area.

New bar and restaurant area

Café Portofino’s new renovations will also redefine nightlife events at the restaurant. The popular hangout has begun hosting regional music acts on Thursday nights beginning at 11 p.m.

Last Thursday, Portofino hosted regionally-acclaimed “progressive funk rock” band Porch 40. Hailing from Western North Carolina, the band has popularized itself with performances around the Southern and Eastern United States. The band recently performed at The Orange Peel, one of Asheville’s most famous music venues. Click here to learn more about Porch 40.

Rolling with momentum from last Thursday, the restaurant is excited to host The Log Noggins, another up-and-coming band based in Western North Carolina, for another evening of live music tonight. The rock and blues band will take the stage at at 11 p.m. You can check the band out here.

In addition to live bands on Thursdays, Café Portofino hosts DJ Says Who on Friday and Saturday nights starting at 11 p.m.

The best part about live music and DJ sets on the weekends? “There will never be a cover charge for music,” says Esterson.

If late night music isn’t really your thing, don’t worry! The restaurant will use its optimally-located patios to host live music on Thursdays from 5 – 8 p.m. and Sundays from 2 – 5 p.m.

Frequenters of Café Portofino will also notice new décor the next time they stop by the restaurant. One of the most striking updates is the building’s new mural painted by local artist John Pipes.

John Pipes’ Mural

While pictures can’t do it justice, Pipes’ new mural will certainly become one of the most recognizable features in the restaurant. You may not believe it, but the mural’s basketball court wood flooring isn’t wood — that is just Pipes’ talent with paint shining through. You should go check the mural out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

Considering the outcome of Pipes’ first painting at Café Portofino, you should keep your eyes open for more of his incredible artwork at the restaurant in the coming months.

Whether you want to order a five-star lunch or dinner, drink a beer with friends, see live music or enjoy a range of fun games and activities, set your sights on Café Portofino. You’ll certainly be happy to see what’s new at the already-beloved restaurant on Rivers Street.

Here a just a few of Café Portofino’s tastiest specials.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Pineapple Salsa over Caribbean Rice


Salted Caramel Bacon NY Cheesecake


Ancho Chile Lime Salmon with Coconut Rice and Asparagus

Check out these pictures of Café Portofino and some of its most recent renovations!

New bar area


New bar and restaurant area


Taps at the new bar


New bar


New restaurant area with bar


New restaurant area


Mural by John Pipes


Darts and billiards room


Darts and billiards room


Original bar


Original bar and restaurant area


Old Tweetsie Railroad maintenance station