Alexandria, VA – Nothing about Richmond is static. This ever-evolving Virginia capital offers top universities, art exhibitions, notable restaurants, breweries, world-class gardens, and leading museums that keep evolving with vibrant and exciting experiences.
One place stands out as the destination for guests looking to experience Richmond’s glorious Golden Age and to wonder at the magnificent architecture and rich history of The Jefferson Hotel. It is one of America’s grandest hotels. Built by tobacco heir Lewis Ginter in 1895, the Jefferson has welcomed such notables as Sarah Bernhardt, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Charles Lindbergh, Elvis, John D. Rockefeller, and Ray Charles. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was discovered waiting tables in the dining room. (www.JeffersonHotel.com)
A recent stay had a packed schedule of a whirlwind of activities but allowed time to take in the hotel’s amenities between adventures. Pro Tip: Book the famous champagne Sunday brunch, sumptuous tea, or seasonal haute cuisine at the hotel’s Lemaire, where Executive Chef Patrick Willis riffs on New American Southern-influenced dishes. Pro tip: When making reservations, and you must, ask to sit on the terrace if it’s a nice evening or in the Grand Dining Room resplendent with crystal chandeliers, heavy silk draperies, and exquisitely carved period architecture. Consult knowledgeable Sommelier Nick Montes and request server Sean. Be sure to visit the hotel’s gift shop, where I found a chic garden ornament and magnolia sachets. (www.LemaireRestaurant.com)
After coffee and freshly baked breakfast pastries at Roastology (www.roastologycoffee.com), we headed to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. This extraordinary museum hosts world-class exhibits you will never see in Washington or New York. “Whistler to Cassatt – American Painters in France” is on through July 31, featuring over 100 paintings by James Abbott McNeill, Whistler, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam and others.
A very different but no less thrilling experience is “Tsherin Sherpa: Spirits,” which features the Tibetan artist’s visionary Asian-influenced sculpture and paintings mixing traditional images with contemporary themes. While there, take in the museum’s fabulous Fabergé collection and if by now you’re hungry, grab a quick bite at the cafeteria or dine at Amuse Restaurant, where reservations are recommended.
At the entrance to the museum, view the massive Kehinde Wiley statue “Rumors of War.” Wiley was President Obama’s official portrait artist. The VMFA sculpture re-imagines the statue of Confederate General Jeb Stuart that stood on Monument Avenue before it and other statues of Confederate military men were removed. The figure strikes a heroic pose on horseback, but in Wiley’s work, the rider is a young Black man with dreadlocks in a hoodie.
Inside the museum, check out Wiley’s hyper-realistic portrait of Dutch industrialist Willem van Heythuysen re-imagined as a street-smart Black man from Harlem sporting Sean John streetwear and Timberland boots. (https://vmfa.museum/)
Across the sculpture garden is the recently renovated $30M expansion of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. It houses an array of Virginia-sourced artifacts and dioramas showcasing the Commonwealth and features lots of kid-friendly interactive exhibits and an immersive film centered on Virginia’s history. In the small gift shop, I snagged a few bags of a favorite coffee from Red Rooster Coffee, a terrific roastery in the Virginia highlands of Floyd, VA. (virginiahistory.org)
If Shakespeare is your jam, the Quill Theatre and Agecroft, an iconic Tudor mansion, are presenting the Richmond Shakespeare Festival in the mansion gardens from July 7 through July 31. (www.AgecroftHall.org)
On day two, we took a short hop over to Shockoe Slip, where the Poe Museum houses truly fascinating, super quirky exhibits of Poe arcana. Check the website for their special Poe-themed events in the home’s charming garden. It’s the museum’s 100th Anniversary and lots of activities are planned throughout the year. Author of classic Gothic horror tales, Edgar Allan Poe was a Richmond native. Many of these fascinating artifacts were donated by city residents, including the gold pocket watch that ticked away while he wrote “A Tell-Tale Heart.” Black cats stroll the property, adding magical realism to the overall aura. (www.PoeMuseum.org)
Lunch beckoned, and we headed to the historic and very hip district of Scott’s Addition, where you’ll find breweries, distilleries, and cideries. Housed in an old warehouse is the upscale casual Pinky’s with Mediterranean-influenced menu items and craft cocktails. (www.pinkysrva.com)
If you want to shop, you’ll find plenty of cool shops in Carytown. One of my favorites is La Petite Boutique, with edgy designer collections of unique hats, accessories, and Krista Larson and Rundholz clothing. (www.LaPetiteBoutiquerva.com)
Insiders know The Stables, and our dinner there didn’t disappoint. The intimate restaurant and bar in the Museum District is in a building purportedly once used as stables and a carriage house for the Richmond Police. The asparagus vichyssoise soup was a standout, as was the Brown Butter Scallops served with Carolina Gold rice. (www.TheStablesRVA.com)
On our last morning we had to choose between the extraordinary Lewis Ginter Gardens, a 50-acre dreamscape with a colossal Victorian glass conservatory, live butterfly exhibit, musical events at night, or the lavish 100-year-old mansion and 100-acre estate gardens plus Arboretum surrounding the magnificent Maymont. Both are eye-poppingly amazing. Whichever you choose, plan to visit the other on a return trip. (www.lewisginter.org), (www.Maymont.org)
ICYMI: Just Horsing Around in OBX