Don’t be surprised if you hear a lot of people talking about going to Richmond in the next few weeks.
The Washington Redskins will hold training camp in the city for the first time this summer, at a new facility that’s expected to draw 100,000 fans — 60 percent of whom will be tourists — from July 25 through Aug. 16. A chance to watch Robert Griffin III, Brian Orakpo and the rest of the defending NFC East champions practice (free of charge) is a great reason to make the drive down Interstate 95. (It’s less than two hours from Washington or Fairfax outside of rush hour, so it’s doable as a day trip, but it’s much more pleasant as an overnight excursion.)
But football isn’t the only reason to consider visiting the Virginia capital these days. The city has rebounded from the days when the murder rate was high and it was regularly featured on lists of “America’s Most Dangerous Cities.” Now you’ll find gastropubs preparing Southern comfort food made with local produce, a restored 1920s movie theater and bustling new breweries that host food truck happy hours.
The Civil War’s sesquicentennial is in full swing in the former capital of the Confederacy, with exhibits and talks at its numerous Civil War sites. The conflict still looms large in Richmond — literally. Monument Avenue, a broad, leafy boulevard lined with stately homes, connects statues of Confederate generals J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, president Jefferson Davis and naval expert Matthew Fontaine Maury. (In 1996, the city added a new statue: champion tennis player and native son Arthur Ashe.)
The Redskins are the main attraction over the next month, but the city offers plenty to draw you back.
Comfort and Pasture
Jason Alley is one of Richmond’s star chefs, a partner in restaurants Comfort and Pasture. Comfort is the bigger brother, an award-winning destination for refined takes on soul food: crispy fried chicken, collard greens, thick-cut bacon and spinach over rice grit cakes. There’s a killer bourbon and rye collection, too, and some clever cocktails (one recent creation involved drippings from the bacon-braised collard greens). Alley’s newer venture, Pasture, has smaller plates for sharing, which regularly rotate based on seasonal ingredients, and a focus on Virginia wine and beers. Don’t miss the fried okra spears or the creamy pimento cheese, which comes with a paper bag of Ritz crackers.
Comfort: 200 W. Broad St. 804-780-0004. www.comfortrestaurant.com.
Pasture: 416 E. Grace St. 804-780-0416. www.pastureva.com.
A cozy, modern corner bar with a serious drink program, Saison offers well-chosen drafts from Finch’s and Founders and bottles from Maine Beer Company and Glazen Toren. There are two dozen cocktails and shots, from whiskey punches to tiki-style drinks. (The three-rum old-fashioned should be a summertime classic.) There’s a hearty focus on the bitter Italian aperitifs known as amaros. And the friendly bartenders are as funny as the menus, which are presented in vintage hardcover books, such as “Mammals” or “Southern Gardens,” with drink selections taped over the pages.
23 W. Marshall St. 804-269-3689. www.saisonrva.com.
You’ll find Richmond’s finest cocktail menu at this Church Hill establishment. (And they’re only $9! Outside of happy hour!) There are gems everywhere: The sublime Quoit Club Punch, with rum, brandy and rainwater Madeira, was the official cocktail of a 19th-century Richmond social club. The bright, sweet Southern Gin Fizz is made with North Carolina gin, a pecan orgeat syrup and — can it be? — buttermilk. The Scuppernong Sour, mixing wheated bourbon, a jam made from Carolina grapes, brown sugar and lemon before being shaken with egg whites, was smooth, just fruity enough for the jam and the bourbon to play off each other. These are just three of the 22 cocktails on the menu, listed next to 35 Virginia wines. I can’t wait to go back.
623 N. 25th St. 804-658-1935. www.rooseveltrva.com.
Don’t Look Back
The year-old Don’t Look Back, in the cool Carytown neighborhood, is a classic tacos-and-margaritas joint with a hip edge. There are eight taco choices ($3 each), with carnitas and rajas (peppers and onions) as the standouts. Most of the tequilas cost less than $10 a glass; pick any spirit and they’ll make a margarita out of it.
2929 W. Cary St. 804-353-8226. www.dontlookbackrva.com.
Dutch & Company
The quirky decor — lots of chandeliers, a display of herbs — makes the simple Dutch & Company feel like a neighborhood joint, as do its prices: A $28 prix-fixe, three-course menu allows you to pick an appetizer, entree and dessert, whether a rillette of cured pork belly with pig skin cornbread or rockfish with smoked bone marrow, bibb lettuce and radishes. Don’t miss the wine list; there are a lot of great bottles for $35 or less. Check the chalkboard in the back for rotating cocktail and wine specials.
400 N. 27th St. 804-643-8824. www.dutchandcompany.tumblr.com.
Capital Ale House
One of the best-known beer bars in Richmond, Capital Ale House has 51 regularly rotating taps with 200 more in bottles. You can sip away in the outdoor beer garden or the slightly more drab bar. The sprawling building is good for a group, but there’s better service at the bar, where you can also get a free taste of an unfamiliar selection. “Brews and Blues” offers live music every Friday at 5 p.m.
623 E. Main St. 804-780-2537. www.capitalalehouse.com.
Richmond’s original craft brewery is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. Legend beers can be found in the District, but there’s nothing like stopping in to check on the brewery exclusives, such as the Locomotive 231 California Common. Grab a seat in the beer garden, which has a great view of the James River and the Richmond skyline. (The food, particularly the housemade sausages, is good pub fare.) Tours are offered every Saturday at 1 p.m., but I’d rather stop in for Halfy Hour: From 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, a 32-ounce pitcher of any draft beer goes for $5.
321 W. Seventh St. 804-232-3446. www.legendbrewing.com.
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
Hardywood’s beers are all over the map: gingerbread stout aged in bourbon barrels, a Belgian white ale made with Virginia blackberries, a chocolate stout made with scotch bonnet and habanero peppers. Every single one, though, is worth trying. The Hardywood brewery, just north of the Fan district, has become a hotspot in its own right: There’s a farmers market on Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m.; 10 food trucks park and sell meals on Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m.; and bands play during the Saturday tasting room hours, which run from 2 to 9 p.m.
2408 Ownby Lane. 804-420-2420. www.hardywood.com.
It’s undeniably hipster: coffee roasted in a former service station, put into bags decorated with a Brooklyn-approved tall bike and delivered around town to restaurants and shops by bike couriers. But the coffee is very good, and you can taste it for yourself at the free Friday afternoon cuppings. The cafe has a full menu of sandwiches, including plenty of breakfast and vegetarian options.
116 S. Addison St. 804-728-2292. www.lamplightercoffee.com.
Concessions will be on sale at Redskins training camp, but fans can bring their own food or drink into practice. Get food to go from one of these Richmond staples.
Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue
The wood-smoked barbecue sandwiches start at $4.99, but you’d be wise to fill up on the “complete meal” deal, which adds two sides, such as crispy sweet potato fries or baked beans. If you’re with a group, buy pint-size containers of pork ($10.99) or brisket ($15.99) and have a DIY picnic.
1119 N. Boulevard. 804-355-6055. www.buzandneds.com.
Nick’s International Foods
This Mediterranean deli sells blocks of Greek cheese, jars of olives and liters of olive oil, but the real reason to visit is the sandwiches. A wise bartender at Saison recommended the No. 13, an overstuffed combination of sopressata, mortadella and prosciutto “toasted all the way.” I suggest you also take his advice, or order the house-specialty gyro.
400 W. Broad St. 804-644-0683. www.nicksinternationalfoods.com.
17th Street Farmers Market
If you’re trying to eat more healthfully than fried food and barbecue, swing by the historic Richmond Farmers Market, which dates to the 18th century. Producers from around the region sell fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread and coffee on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
100 N. 17th St. 804-646-0477. www.richmondgov.com/
American Civil War Center
One complex that escaped destruction during the Civil War was the Tredegar Iron Works, the large foundry that produced many Confederate cannons. Today, it’s the site of the American Civil War Center, a museum that tells the story of the causes and effects of the war through interactive films, in-depth exhibits and guided tours. It’s also the home of the visitor center for the National Park Service’s Richmond National Battlefield Park, which includes battlefields and forts at sites across the Richmond area.
500 Tredegar St. 804-780-1865. www.tredegar.org. $8; $6 age 62 and older; $4 ages 6-17; free 5 and younger.
Museum of the Confederacy
The Museum of the Confederacy, which sits next to the White House of the Confederacy, tells the story of the war from a Southern perspective — note the repeated references to “Federal troops,” with its echoes of the Civil Rights era — and is packed with such artifacts as Robert E. Lee’s full camp tent, J.E.B. Stuart’s saddle and Stonewall Jackson’s sword and cap. An exhibition space closely examines Pickett’s Charge with battle flags and other relics. The White House is accessible only by guided tours, which are offered hourly.
1201 E. Clay St. 855-649-1861. www.moc.org. $10 to enter the Museum or the White House $15 to visit both; $8 and $13 age 62 and older; $6 and $8 ages 7-13; free 7 and younger.
The war’s cost is on display at Hollywood Cemetery, a sprawling Victorian burial ground that includes the graves of U.S. presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, Confederate president Jefferson Davis and 25 Confederate generals, including J.E.B. Stuart and George Pickett. But the 90-foot granite pyramid honoring the Confederate dead is the main attraction. More than 18,000 soldiers are buried in the cemetery, including 2,000 unidentified men killed at Gettysburg. (Nearby is the famous “Black Dog Hill,” where an iron statue of a dog stands over a little girl’s 1862 grave.) Walking tours are offered at 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
412 S. Cherry St. 804-648-8501. www.hollywoodcemetery.org.
This fun and funky shopping district is home to block after block of independent stores, boutiques and restaurants along West Cary Street. Browse the bins of $3-or-less vinyl albums at Plan 9, which has been selling music in Carytown since 1981. Find something to read on the shelves at Chop Suey, which is offering 20 percent off new books and 30 percent off used books through July. Bygones Vintage Clothing is stocked with bakelite purses, flashy ’50s cocktail dresses, retro sunglasses and glittering roaring ’20s broaches. The second-run Byrd Theatre, restored to its 1928 appearance, sells every movie ticket for $1.99, and Saturday night shows are preceded by a performance on the theater’s original (and massive) Wurlitzer organ.
The entire street shuts down Aug. 11 for the annual Watermelon Festival, with music, kids activities and plenty of watermelon.
Plan 9: 3017 W. Cary St. 804-353-9996. www.plan9music.com.
Chop Suey: 2913 W. Cary St. 804-422-8066. www.chopsueybooks.com.
Byrd Theatre: 2908 W. Cary St. 804-353-9911. www.byrdtheatre.com.
Bygones Vintage Clothing:
2916 W. Cary St. 804-353-1919.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
The museum, the ninth-largest comprehensive art museum in the United States, has completed a $200 million expansion and renovation, but most exhibits remain free. (Some special exhibits — such as the don’t-miss “Pop Art and Beyond,” which closes July 28 — require tickets, which are $10 to $15.) “Comprehensive” means that there’s something for everyone: the largest collection of imperial Fabergéeggs outside Russia (though that exhibition is currently traveling), pottery and textiles crafted by Native Americans and galleries for works by Picasso, Dali and other modernists. The grounds around the museum include a fish pond and sculpture garden. If the kids need to run around and blow off steam, this is a popular place to do it.
200 N. Boulevard. 804-340-1400. www.vmfa.museum. Entrance to the museum is free, but some exhibits
Richmond Flying Squirrels
Stick around Richmond long enough and you’ll see someone wearing a cap or shirt with the logo of the San Francisco Giants’ Class AA team. (Nutzy, a squirrel wearing a superhero costume, is the popular mascot.) The Squirrels play at the Diamond, a stadium that holds 9,560 and sits a mile from the Redskins’ training facility.
The Squirrels aren’t in Richmond for the opening weekend of training camp but have homestands July 30-Aug. 4 and again Aug. 13-15.
3001 N. Boulevard. 804-359-3866. www.squirrelsbaseball.com. Tickets $7-$11.
Travis Croxton, the co-owner of Rappahannock in downtown Richmond and Rappahannock Oyster Bar in Washington’s Union Market; Wes McElroy, who hosts the afternoon show on Richmond’s Sports Radio 910 AM, and Suzanne Hall, the chief communications officer at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, offer an insider’s take on Richmond’s top spots for visitors.
After a day of watching training camp drills, what’s the best place to grab a beer or dinner with your friends and talk over the depth chart?
Croxton: Turn right on Broad Street and head to Mekong. This Vietnamese restaurant also boasts a large bar with an enormous collection of beers on tap. They took first place as the 2012 “Great America Beer Bar” (from craftbeer.com). The food is great, but the quantity and quality of beer is outrageous. And they have amazing chicken wings, so that fits the football theme, right?
McElroy: If you are down in the Shockoe Bottom, Sine Irish Pub is a personal favorite with a great feel of Ireland. Great place for lunch, happy hour, dinner or after-hours. Try the Irish Nachos. You can also grab a pint at Penny Lane Pub and get a little touch of Liverpool while hanging out with Terry, Terence and Lisa O’Neill.
Hall: Carytown. Richmond’s mile-long strip of shops and restaurants offers a wide array of options, from frozen yogurt to an upscale French brasserie and everything in between.
Mekong: 6004 W. Broad St., Henrico. www.mekongisforbeerlovers.com.
Sine Irish Pub: 1327 E. Cary St. www.sineirishpub.com.
Penny Lane: 421 E. Franklin St. www.pennylanepub.com.
Which Richmond site or attraction do you think visitors frequently overlook?
Croxton: I think people fail to check out some of the historic areas of town, such as Jackson Ward. Jackson Ward used to be known as the Harlem of the South — a thriving city within a city where African American businessmen and women created an economic powerhouse with significant cultural and social contributions. All the major entertainers of the day, from Duke Ellington to Nat King Cole to James Brown, came through the Hippodrome. Maggie Walker became the first black female to charter a bank and local businesses bolstered a great neighborhood. The revival of Jackson Ward has been great to see, and a drive through the area lets visitors check out historic homes and buildings and get a sense of Richmond tradition.
McElroy: I always recommend taking time to go to Belle Isle. Take an early morning walk or jog, pack a picnic lunch or grab a fishing rod and enjoy the James River.
Hall: Belle Isle, accessible across the James River by a suspended pedestrian bridge, the adjacent canal walk and my personal favorite, a heron rookery along the Kanawha Canal.
What’s the best place for a family to explore together?
Croxton: My family loves going to Maymont Park as well as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Both are great for small kids to older kids, and have something for everyone in the family. They’re easy to get to and are just great city escapes — within the city.
McElroy: I will defer to my niece Georgia and nephew Tony on this one: The Science Museum, which is right next to the Redskins training facility, is a fantastic place of learning and fun.
Hall: Maymont Park. This turn-of-the-century estate and gardens features a magnificent Victorian mansion, complete with basement kitchen and servant’s quarters. And there’s a barnyard, a nature center and indigenous Virginia animal habitats.
Maymont Park: 2201 Shields Lake Ct. www.maymont.org.
Lewis Ginter Botantical Garden: 1800 Lakeside Ave. www.lewisginter.org.
Science Museum of Virginia: 2500 W. Broad St. www.smv.org.