In the summer of 2006, my friend Haley hopped into a 2000 Ford Focus stuffed with her brother, her father, and most of her personal belongings to drive the 860+ miles from the Midwest, where she grew up and went to school, to Richmond, VA, where she lives now.
Richmond wears its history on its sleeve, even the ugly bits, which is kind of a commendable quality. Despite the proliferation of historical landmarks and row-homes with columns, the city still manages to avoid both pretension and kitsch. Maybe because of things like this somehow comforting mural of Princess Diana painted on the side of the Velvet Strip Club?
I bothered Haley until she talked to me about why she loves the city (thanks Haley!), and it basically came down to the following:
Richmond keeps it real. It doesn’t have a big city attitude, which I’d define as people getting dressed up for no good reason, martinis > $12, lines outside of bars when they’re all the same anyways, guys who wear sunglasses a little too often, or insane traffic. The lack of these in Richmond reassures me, along with the abundance of kickball leagues, dive bars, cheap food, a nearly defunct events website because everyone knows what’s going on anyways, and the presence of sneakers at “classy” bars.
Plus how can you not love this:
The photo above (courtesy of this blog), was taken over Byrd Park, which is near where Haley lived when she first moved to Richmond. Still one of her favorite places, the park is packed with amenities, including a cemetery (ok!) and three man-made lakes. The lakes are fantastic, and their construction in 1915 uncovered enough stone to pave streets in the city that had sat unpaved since the Civil War.
Swan Lake is gorgeous, Fountain Lake (aka Boat Lake) has- you guessed it- a fountain and paddle boats (YES!), and Shields Lake is officially also named “Sheilds Lake,” although it’s unclear to me why.
Shields/Sheilds Lake was opened to swimmers in 1917 after World War I, which looks SO FUN:
Unfortunately it was closed to swimmers in 1955 to prevent integration of the swimming area when African-Americans began moving into the surrounding neighborhood. Better to allow no one to swim than risk the possibility of different colored bodies in the same water? That’s a pretty horrifying decision!
Luckily these days Richmond is a bit more fun-loving. For example, one of Haley’s favorite activities is attending Bandito’s Burrito Lounge 80s Night, which is actually held every Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
On Sundays, after washing the Aqua Net out of your hair and putting your leg warmers in the wash, you can head over to Cafe Gutenberg to savor Illy espresso and flip through a rare first edition of your favorite novel.
In terms of food, Richmond’s options are slightly more limited. The main grocery store is a local chain called Ukrop’s, which seems to have a pretty good selection, but doesn’t sell liquor of any kind and is closed completely on Sundays (apparently for religious reasons?).
On the other hand, they put on some SWEET events, like the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k, and a Christmas parade that includes bag pipe players, cowboys and storm troopers:
For eating out, both Haley and Roadfood.com recommend this gem:
Buz and Ned’s is located off of I-95 and serves what sounds like an amazing coarsely-chopped pork sandwich for $3.95. Check it out!
Arts in the Park at Byrd Park, May 3-4, 2008