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Richmond’s Renaissance – From Historic to Hip

Jordan Wright
October 14, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times

Richmond is getting a lot of ink from around the country as it blossoms into a desirable destination for seasoned travelers.  On a return flight from Ireland last month I was seated next to young German headed to Richmond for the 9-day UCI Road World Cycling Championships.  He wasn’t a journalist, or even an athlete (for emphasis he patted his expansive belly), this was his first trip to America and he was off to our state capitol for a world-class sporting event.

Change comes quickly to a place when creative minds are firing on all cylinders and Richmond’s renaissance began in fits and starts in the 1980’s with the careful restoration of historic portside factories into airy lofts, galleries and restaurants.  Today young entrepreneurs have seized on the affordable rents for their fledgling businesses and the city has exploded with new life.  Even the film industry is onto the stunning architecture of this historic city.  Spielberg’s epic drama Lincoln was shot here, as was the soon-to-be-released PBS Civil War drama, Mercy Street.  This is not your buttoned up Southern city any more.

Once seedy Broad Street is humming with new activity, in part due to the more than 31,000 students attending VCU located in the heart of the city.  Now formerly overlooked neighborhoods like Church Hill are grabbing the spotlight.  Across the city the trend shows no sign of slowing down with historic buildings being preserved and rehabbed into stunning contemporary living spaces.

New restaurants open every week – – some doing tasty riffs on Southern classics, others drawing from exotic cuisines.  Many pair their food with Virginia wines or any of the thirteen Richmond-area microbreweries.  Next year California-based Stone Brewing Company will open its eastern U. S. brewery operations and World Bistro & Gardens along Gillies Creek in the historic Fulton Hill neighborhood.

As for the Arts, apart from major international touring art shows at the prestigious Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, there is also a flourishing local art scene with galleries and colorful murals dotting every area of the city.  Look for the new VCU Institute for Contemporary Art to open a 43,000-square-foot museum showcasing innovative exhibitions, performances and films by 2017.


(L-R) Swan Bed  -  Italian Garden at Maymont

(L-R) Swan Bed – Italian Garden at Maymont

Maymont offers 100 lush acres of breathtaking gardens, a nature center, and a Romanesque Revival-style manor house chock-a-block with Victoriana reminiscent of the Gilded Age.  Take time to stroll through Japanese, Italian and Victorian gardens or ride a horse-drawn carriage through magnolia-lined allées.

Lewis Ginter Garden

Lewis Ginter Garden

Ranked No. 2 among America’s Best Public Gardens, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features themed gardens including the Children’s Garden, Healing Garden, Rose Garden and Victorian Garden and the South’s most magnificent domed conservatory filled with hundreds of exotic specimens.  Both are part of the Richmond Garden Trail as are six other sites.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Along with more than 33,000 works of art from around the world, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts houses a collection of beautiful Fabergé jeweled eggs.  “Rodin” arrives in late November with over 200 works from the Musée Rodin in Paris.

The Virginia Historical Society featuring a fascinating and comprehensive collection of Virginia history from 16,000 BCE to the present.  Opened this month “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” features 36 costumes from PBS Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey series.

The Valentine Museum tells the story of Richmond’s early history including the women’s suffrage rights, the slave trade and civil rights.  A current show, Classical Allure: Richmond Style, features select gowns and artifacts from their Costume and Textile collection of over 40,000 pieces, the largest of its kind in the South.

The Science Museum of Virginia

The Science Museum of Virginia

Science is cool at the Science Museum of Virginia.  Housed in the grandiose former Broad Street Union Station, designed by architect John Russell Pope in the neo-classical style, explore tons of interactive exhibits on space, health, electricity and the earth.  A new exhibit, Alien Worlds and Androids features early TV and film robots up to present day outer space heroes.  Be sure to check out the 76-foot Dome theatre – – the largest screen in Virginia.

Stroll Cary Street for cute shops – vintage clothing at Bygones; gifts and more at Mongrel; and great consignment shops such as Ashby and Clementine.


(L-R) Sub Rosa Bakery - Plum tarts from Wood-Fired Bakery

(L-R) Sub Rosa Bakery – Plum tarts from Wood-Fired Bakery

Breakfast – Sub Rosa Wood Fired Bakery in Church Hill where a brother-and-sister team, Evrim and Evin Dogu, use a German-made mill to grind organic flour to bake into their crusty breads, yummy cookies and rustic tarts served on eclectic plates from Tree Hill Pottery in Richmond.

Brunch – Sunday Champagne Brunch at The Jefferson hotel is prepared by Chef Patrick Ehemann and served in the Rotunda lobby.  It is the pinnacle of Southern haute cuisine.  Be sure to try the soufflé-like spoonbread.  Reservations recommended.

Lunch – Tucked into a residential neighborhood, Stella’s serves modern Mediterranean and Greek dishes; The Savory Grain for New American comfort food with a large selection of microbrews and craft beers; and a perennial favorite, the French-inspired Can Can Brasserie in Carytown.

Ardent Craft Ales brewery

Ardent Craft Ales brewery

Sips – The bar at Lemaire; Saison Restaurant cum gastro pub, or The Roosevelt for craft cocktails in a two-story red clapboard house; on-site brewed quaffs at Blue Bee Cider, Virginia’s only urban cidery in the Old Manchester district; the cool scene at Ardent Craft Ales, a brewery in the burgeoning Scott’s Addition neighborhood.  Best Autumn saison, Sweet Potato & Sage.  Check their calendar for open brew days.

(L-R) Roasted Beets with beet mousse and navel oranges - Sable Fish with Maitake mushrooms, charred scallions and dashi broth - Espresso Chocolate Mousse, with orange, hazelnut, and anise hyssop at Maple & Pine

(L-R) Roasted Beets with beet mousse and navel oranges – Sable Fish with Maitake mushrooms, charred scallions and dashi broth – Espresso Chocolate Mousse, with orange, hazelnut, and anise hyssop at Maple & Pine

Dinner – A tough call with so many to choose from.  The intricate fusion dishes by Executive Chef Lee Gregory at the sophisticated and hip Maple & Pine in the glamorous new Quirk hotel; Comfort for locally-sourced, meat-and-three contemporary Southern from Rising Star-awarded chef, Jason Alley; The Roosevelt for three-time James Beard Foundation nominee David Dunlap’s snappy Southern cuisine; Mamma Zu for old school Italian; and Perly’s for serious Jewish deli.

Meat Loaf, squash casserole and cheddar cheese grits at Comfort

Meat Loaf, squash casserole and cheddar cheese grits at Comfort


Hotel Rotunda

Hotel Rotunda
With 70-foot-high ceilings and a staircase long rumored to have appeared in Gone with the Wind, The Jefferson Hotel’s Rotunda lobby is one of Richmond’s most sought after spaces for important events. In his 1987 nationally broadcast Sunday morning segment for CBS News, Charles Kuralt described it as (arguably) the most beautiful (public room) of any hotel in the country

Luxuriate at The Jefferson – The Queen of American Beaux Arts hotels, this opulent jewel of an historic hotel has cut the number of their rooms down from turning the remaining guestrooms into expansive suites.  For the ultimate stay, book a Grand Premier Suite that features a lavishly appointed marble-tiled bathroom with a television invisibly incorporated into the mirror, soaking tub and separate dressing room.

Quirk Hotel and Gallery – The new kid on the block.  Recently opened and lovingly restored, this hip boutique hotel had a former life as a swank department store.  Sip handcrafted cocktails on the rooftop terrace.


Fire, Flour & Fork – October 28th – November 1st – A four-day culinary gathering with tours, special dinners, classes featuring local chefs, cookbook authors, culinary historians and beverage experts.  A foodie’s wet dream.  Fire, Flour & Fork

On November 13th from 7pm till midnight revel in InLight Richmond.  Organized by 1708 Gallery, enjoy a free, public exhibition of light-based art and performances to be held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  Watch the Community Lantern Parade along with performances, sculpture, video, and interactive projects that illuminate pathways, walls, sidewalks, green spaces, trees, benches, building facades, and more, in and around the VMFA campus.

November 27th – January 11th 2016.  The nightly holiday extravaganza Dominion GardenFest of Lights: H2Whoa at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features over half-a-million twinkling lights, hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, holiday dinners, firepit with s’mores, hot chocolate (for purchase) and more.  This year’s “H2Whoa” theme showcases water in all its forms.  Experience a dazzling 30-acre light and botanical display of magical, whimsical water events.  Stroll through twinkling “rain storms” as crystal raindrops and fluffy storm clouds float overhead while you marvel at a thunderstorm of lights.  In the Conservatory you’ll see a wintry wonderland, rainstorms and rainbows, and even a tropical rainforest.

For more information on upcoming events go to

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