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Bottom's Up

However you get there, Richmond's walkable riverside neighborhoods are worth the visit. Canal Walk offers an easy stroll along the James River's whitewater rapids on islets once encumbered with dark industrial mills. Now its parks sport sculptures, factory remnants and historical displays, evoking Richmond's perpetual evolution. (Ironically, an elaborate flood wall was built during the 1990s to protect these neighborhoods. The wall worked; it wasn't the swollen James that demolished Shockoe Bottom. Instead, the floodwater came when storm drains couldn't handle the epic flow.)

Up until the 1970s, to walk along nearby East Cary Street was virtually to smoke, so heavy hung airborne tobacco dust. Today, Shockoe Slip's 1870s iron-front tobacco warehouses host nearly a score of mostly upscale saloons and restaurants, with a smattering of boutiques and a bookstore. Sushi and seafood complement Mediterranean and American cuisines. The scene's compact, mostly between 12th and 14th streets, Canal and Main. Jazz and blues dominate the live entertainment.


Diners fill the second floor of Cafe Gutenberg. (Jay Paul For The Washington Post)

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The Tobacco Company restaurant lit up the Slip's revival in 1973, festooned with lavish antiques and dispensing impressive happy-hour snacks. Sam Miller's Warehouse revitalizes a century-old hash house in grander style, while Richbrau brewpub pours good ales. Opened in October, in a scarce remaining vintage building, is Fusion on South 12th Street, offering live jazz Thursday through Saturday.

The deluge that descended in August rushed through Shockoe Slip without great harm before slamming into Shockoe Bottom, the proverbial other side of the tracks.

The antithesis of the Slip, the Bottom's nightlife strip on 18th Street at Main is cheaper and edgier, drawing younger, countercultural partiers, its tattoo parlors attracting people with purple hair. As short as the Slip, it's a couple of blocks of clubs, but these with names like Bottom Billiards, Club TV, Have a Nice Day Cafe, Tiki Bob's Cantina and Mars Bar.

If you do take the train to see for yourself the Bottom's comeback after the flood, the unsinkable Cafe Gutenberg, in sight of Main Street Station, is a prime perch to dine awaiting the 5:30 return to D.C. You can enjoy credible crab cakes before sauntering leisurely to the station, only to learn that the train home is still holding for some reason at Williamsburg.

Escape Keys

GETTING THERE: Amtrak schedules daily 7:30 a.m. trains from Washington's Union Station to Richmond's newly refurbished Main Street Station, arriving at 10:12 a.m. Fares start at $29 each way. There are other weekday and weekend trains. By road, Richmond is about 100 miles south on I-95.

STAYING THERE: Shockoe Bottom lodging tends to be pricey, including the boutique Berkeley Hotel (1200 E. Cary St., 804-780-1300, www.berkeleyhotel.com) on Restaurant Row, where doubles start at about $185. The stately Commonwealth Park Suites (901 E. Bank, 804-343-7300, www.commonwealthparksuites.com) housed Gov. James Gilmore when the executive mansion was being renovated; suites begin at $99. For a quirkier alternative, the European-style Massad House (11 N. Fourth, 804-648-2893, www.massadhousehotel.com) runs $85 and up.

EATING THERE: Shockoe Bottom feeders can dine near Main Street Station at book-lined Cafe Gutenberg (1700 E. Main), featuring tapas as well as entrees in the $15 range. Bottom Billiards & Grill (117 N. 18th) serves night owls "the best breakfast in the city" from 2 to 6 a.m. at standard pub-grub prices. An elegant outpost in the Bottom is Julep's New Southern Cuisine (1719 E. Franklin), a mahogany-and-brass sanctuary with $17-$25 dinner entrees.

In Shockoe Slip, upscale spots abound in roomy warehouses with exposed brick and jazz clubs in their basements. The Tobacco Company (2101 E. Cary) offers $20-$30 dinner entrees and a great free happy hour feed amid eclectic antiques. Richbrau brewpub and the new Taphouse Grill (1212-1214 E. Cary) feature Steve Mabry's jazz. The complex is so big it houses several restaurants, with a bar/sandwich-oriented dinner menu in the $7-$15 range as well as $16-$22 entrees in the more formal area. Sam Miller's Warehouse (1012 E. Cary) specializes in seafood in the $30-plus dinner entree range. Eclectic Fusion just opened at 109 S. 12th, with live jazz piping downstairs Thursday through Saturday and entrees in the $12-$18 range. Scattered nearby are: Penny Lane (421 E. Franklin), a Beatles pub with Monday karaoke and steak-and-mushroom pie ($10 and up), and cheap and cheerful Tony's BBQ (207 N. Third), with lunch for around $6.

INFO: Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, 888-742-4666, www.richmondva.org.


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