Tap Into the New South in Richmond

1. Where to Stay

The Jefferson's rooms are a throwback to a past era.Photo: Courtesy of The Jefferson

Sleep two blocks from Broad Street’s emerging arts district at Linden Row Inn (from $109), a boutique hotel composed of seven adjoining nineteenth-century townhouses. Sip a $3 craft beer in the quiet courtyard, or peruse the latest from the city’s contemporary art scene: Every 90 days, the hotel hosts a new exhibition from nearby 1708 Gallery. The 70 guest rooms are worn but charming, with floor-to-ceiling windows, remodeled bathrooms, and original crystal chandeliers.

Escape the city rush at the Tides Inn (from $215), a Chesapeake Bay–adjacent resort about an hour from downtown Richmond. Relax on Frette linens in one of 106 recently refreshed guest rooms, pair Rappahannock River oysters with a glass of sparkling Virginia wine in the waterfront Chesapeake Club restaurant, or get physical with paddleboard yoga on Carters Creek. Feeling nautical? The newly expanded marina charters private yachts for day trips and sailing lessons on the bay.

Revel in old-school luxury at the Jefferson (from $365), a six-story Beaux Arts building with a grand, Gone With the Wind–worthy staircase and stately guest rooms featuring high ceilings, brocade fabrics, and mahogany furniture. A national landmark on the edge of downtown, the hotel is walking distance from both Broad Street and the renewed Jackson Ward neighborhood. Plan to attend the Sunday brunch ($42 per person), which includes live jazz, all-you-can-drink Champagne, and endless plates of poached farm eggs with housemade spoonbread.

2. Where to Eat

Heritage is a late-night destination for chefs after their shifts end.Photo: Courtesy of Heritage

Reserve a table well in advance for the Roosevelt, restaurateur Kendra Feather’s perennially packed, modern Southern gastropub that opened a year ago in the emerging Church Hill neighborhood. Try Southern-inflected dishes like chicken-fried tofu with spicy slaw ($8), or go heavy with the Benton’s ham-studded Southern poutine ($8). Pair it with a pour from the all-Virginia wine list or a seasonal cocktail like this summer’s Seersucker, made with bourbon, housemade sweet-tea syrup, and charred lemon ($9).

Get your late-night fix at Heritage, a New American restaurant in the formerly fratty Fan District. Its buzzy bar is a favorite of local chefs, who stop by for after-hours cocktails and inventive charcuterie boards (think camel sausage; from $10). Make a meal of small plates like pimento cheese croquettes ($4) and kimchee-spiced shrimp crackers ($2), or pony up $16 for the perfectly roasted half-chicken served with local greens, housemade bacon, and unstoppable cheddar grits.

Flee the city for a meal at year-old Peter Chang Café, located in the suburb of Glen Allen, which attracts Richmond’s culinary elite with tongue-numbing dishes prepared by a world-renowned Szechuan chef. You’ll want to pace yourself for heaping plates of eggplant in garlic sauce ($10), double-cooked pork belly ($13), and deceptively complex lamb chops marinated in pear and orange juices and topped with dried chiles ($20). Don’t miss the desserts, like the buoyant red bean moon cake with sesame paste, prepared by Chang’s wife, Lisa.

3. What to Do

A gallery inside the newly expanded Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.Photo: Courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Hit the quirky-cool boutiques of Carytown, a neighborhood that was largely neglected until small businesses began moving in five years ago. Start with coffee and croissants at the Can Can Brasserie (pastries from $1.95), then pick up unique gifts at Mongrel (hand-painted cards from $4.95), home goods at Ruth & Ollie (graphic serving trays from $86), and vintage Nanette Lepore at Clementine (tops and blouses from $68). Wander among gently worn paperbacks and the local literati at used-book store Chop Suey (books from $5), which hosts readings by Richmond-area authors and poets.

See Klees, Kandinskys, and Picassos at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (free admission), whose recent $150 million renovation breathed new life into the staid Museum District and nearly doubled its exhibition space. The 23,000-item permanent collection spans classical and contemporary periods, and the museum also hosts traveling exhibitions such as “Hollywood Costume,” arriving from London this November. Head to the museum on Friday afternoons for half-price cocktails at the café, and get free half-hour tours of the museum galleries (5 to 7:30 p.m. weekly).

Get cultured in Jackson Ward, the historic African-American neighborhood once dubbed the “Harlem of the South” for its swinging music and literary scenes. Pick up vintage Duke Ellington and James Brown records at Steady Sounds (vinyl from $6), tour the soon-to-expand Black History Museum (admission $5), and recharge with catfish and cobbler at soul-food institution Mama J’s Kitchen (dinner from $15). In the evening, catch a concert at the 1914-era Hippodrome Theatre (tickets from $20), which in 2012 debuted an Art Deco–inspired, $12 million face-lift after decades of dormancy.

See urban renewal in action on once-woebegone Grace Street, a newly renovated, pedestrian-friendly district filled with locally owned shops and restaurants. Gaze at the Thomas Jefferson–designed capitol building, renovated to the tune of $100 million last year, while shopping for biodynamic wines at Urban Farmhouse Market (bottles from $18) and sleek menswear in a restored tobacco warehouse at Ledbury (shirts from $125). Refuel with Jason Alley’s nouveau Southern fare at Pasture (dinner from $30), then get classical with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra at Richmond CenterStage, a sparkling new performing-arts center located in what used to be a rundown Loew’s movie house. The best of its five venues is the 1,800-seat Carpenter Theatre, which has impeccably restored, 1928-era mosaic murals and twinkling overhead lighting.

4. Insider’s Tip

Get quick, impromptu butchering lessons at Belmont Butchery.Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Butchery

There are no regularly scheduled classes at Carytown’s Belmont Butchery, the carnivorous compound where Meat Hook founder Brent Young got his start. But weekday walk-ins can get free ten-minute tutorials on whatever proprietor Tanya Cauthen and her merry band of meat maestros are doing. Watch the experts break down rare-breed Berkshire hogs or carve a side of Buffalo Creek beef, then pick up some housemade guanciale to go (charcuterie starts at $5.50 per quarter pound).

5. Oddball Day

The Old South is still present, as seen in this Jefferson Davis memorial.Photo: Courtesy of Richmond Region Tourism

Take a break from all that up-and-coming urbanity to experience Richmond’s historic side. Grab a coffee and a delicious vegan canele at WPA Bakery (pastries from $1), a new confectionary in a turn-of-the-century inn. Spend a leisurely morning among picnicking families and sun-seeking undergrads on the banks of the James River, where Abraham Lincoln walked shortly after the Union army captured the city in 1865. Wander over to the adjacent Liberty Trail, a 6.2-mile, self-guided path through fifteen national landmarks. See if you can spot which ones had starring roles in last year’s Oscar-winning Lincoln (hint: a lot). Too much history can make a person hungry, so hit Arcadia for sustenance (lunch from $16). The New American bistro got national attention when Daniel Day-Lewis became a regular during filming, but its Rappahannock oyster po’boy is the true star. For dessert, walk two blocks north to Richmond’s budding 17th Street Farmers Market. Go straight to the back, where Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen, a food truck helmed by a family of Mennonites, serves sinfully good sourdough doughnuts dripping with hand-spun sugar syrup ($2 each, or $10 for a half-dozen). Burn it off with an afternoon trip to Riverside Outfitters, which rents canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards for self-guided trips along the James (equipment rentals start at $29 for two hours). Wear your best ascot to dinner at the Boathouse at Rocketts Landing, one of Richmond’s oldest addresses for white-tablecloth-style fine dining on the James (dinner from $50). Request one of the coveted outdoor tables so you can contemplate the Richmond city skyline while tucking into soft-shell crabs with Virginia peanut tempura ($14), and crispy quail over Swiss chard and sweet-potato waffles ($21). After dinner, walk north along the waterfront to Main Street. Pause at St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech in 1775. Peak inside the moonlit cemetery, final resting place of patriot George Wythe, and let freedom ring all the way back to your hotel.

6. Links

Style Weekly is Richmond’s alternative newspaper.

Dirty Richmond is a men’s style blog written by a Ledbury staffer. It covers street fashion and events.

RVA Playlist profiles local and national bands coming to Richmond venues.

Fatback and Foie Gras chronicles Southern food and culture and is written by local cookbook author and television host Kendra Bailey Morris.

Tap Into the New South in Richmond