Richmond, Virginia, or “RVA” as locals like to call it, is a mixture of everything any city has to offer. The arts scene, food, shopping and nightlife are as varied as the people who call the 63 square mile city, which winds over and around several rivers, home. And, like any city, the best way to get to know the people is to experience all the food and nightlife there is to offer. That being said, I knew it would be a challenge to squeeze in everything I wanted to see. This was especially true because the main reason I was in Richmond to begin with was to see one of my favorite (and in my opinion, the best) bands of all time, Umphrey’s McGee, play at the National two nights in a row.
First stop on Inauguration Day (don’t worry, it’s the only time I’ll mention it in this post) – checking into my two bed hotel room complete with a slanted balcony and closed outdoor pool. Being the professional budgeteer that I am, I scoured the internet for the cheapest hotel prices a couple months before, and happened upon the Clarion Inn, literally feet from the highway. As soon as I knew Umphrey’s was going to be within a 3 hours drive of my hometown, I committed to making a weekend out of it.
After checking in, spending some time on the old treadmill in the hotel gym, showering, and fixing a cup of vegan Lotus Millet and Brown Rice Ramen, I was ready to party. Cue the vodka infused gummy bears and beer, and things started to get a little warm and fuzzy in
the best way possible. I was officially ready for the night, and my 10 minute Uber ride to the venue, when I realized I had no idea how to make it to the front of the hotel. I ended up figuring my way through the maze only to wind up running halfway around the hotel to find my ride waiting patiently for me in a silver Corolla at the front.
I had been to the National once before, on my last night of my month long trip away from Maryland last September. I passed the small corner parking lot where I had a complete emotional breakdown about the fact that I was on my way “home”, the sidewalk along the two blocks I walked to wait in line on a cold, rainy night (much like the one I was Uber-ing through now), and then there it was – the super bright, almost overly lit up sign that yelled, “you made it to THE show!”.
I walked through security to find some of my friends, and one of the several bars with $8 beers on tap being handed out in plastic cups. The delicious IPA numbed all of my negative feelings about the current world, while allowing an excitement to brew that I would finally be seeing who I came here to see.
Although the crowd throughout the night was pretty rough (as it unfortunately was the last time at this venue), there would need to be more than a few obnoxious “bros” pushing through the crowd and girls drunkenly spilling drinks to ruin that night. By set break, they were on their way to another bar anyway. There were also some pretty amazing people in the audience, all of varying ages and backgrounds, and all here for the music. I was there for the music as well, and having just that one common bond with other people completely different from you in every other way was enough to thoroughly enjoy the night.
After all the 20 minute jams, teases to other songs, a couple of pretty awesome covers, and an encore that would make even the toughest of bros cry a river, it was time to chill back at the hotel, play some jams of our own, and eventually pass out in the same clothes I left in hours before.
The next morning (or should I say afternoon), some coffee and hangover food was very much needed. Behold, the one tourist-themed day of the weekend! The afternoon began with one of the best chocolate latte’s I have ever had at Lamplighter Coffee Roasters. Don’t let the google reviews fool you, though. It says “light eats”, but the place is 99% coffee and 1% small snacks and muffins by the register. It’s definitely still worth checking out, since there are plenty of other places within a block or two that have some pretty delicious food, like the Urban Farmhouse Market & Cafe. Although they’re a little on the pricey side, they offer fresh juice and an awesome breakfast and lunch menu. They also have an amazing selection of wine, which I definitely want to go back for since wine is not exactly the first thing on my mind when I have an insane hangover.
With our appetites satiated and our blood highly caffeinated, it was time to check out some of the shops and museums around town. Luckily, everything we wanted to go to was either on the same block as the food, or within a 5 minute drive or 15-20 minute walk. Class and Trash, a reasonably priced thrift and antique shop just around the corner, was exactly what we needed. I love thrift stores in general, but the giant, bright blue cog wheel sign out front and the open air feel drew us in almost immediately. Walls and old wooden tables and furniture were lined with guitars, suitcases, dishes, glassware, signs, and even a few old voltmeters. This place was a thrift lovers heaven.
I don’t know if it was the antiques in the shop, or my need to go full on tourist, but the fact that the Virginia Museum of Fine Art was only a 5 minute drive away (and closed in 50 minutes) meant we had to go. Usually, I would opt to walk such a short distance, but the gloomy, cold and misty weather made it much more tempting to ride in my tiny hatchback with my friends. We parked further away than we needed to, of course, but at least we got to walk past a couple of other museums on the way (which also closed at 5pm), including the Virginia Historical Society and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Needless to say, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was much more our style. There was a special exhibit going on while we were there – on Jasper Johns and Edvard Munch – that cost money to get into, but the majority of the rest of the museum was free. Whether it really was free, or we just happened to walk into certain exhibits without getting noticed, I guess we’ll never really know. In order to get to what we really wanted to see, the modern art section, we walked through hundreds of traditional landscape paintings and portraits, alongside statues. There was even an entire room and a half fully dedicated to the artistically beautiful power of the equine. We knew when we entered the modern art section – it began with a six foot tall, stacked cubical structure that you could see through. Art can be as normal or strange as we need it to be, apparently.
With our cultural hunger filled, we decided it was time to check out some of Richmond’s edible and drinkable art – the breweries. Admittedly, we meant to make it to at least a couple, but ended up so happily full of food and beer at Legend Brewing Company in Shockhoe Bottom, that we decided one was more than enough. They even had an option to make any burger with a veggie patty! So that’s what I ordered. So predictable. The beer was tasty (ALL of the five beers we got in our shared flight), and the food was savory and addicting. So much so that when we left I felt like I needed to be rolled into the Uber we were taking to the second night of Umphrey’s. This time, there would be no “bros” to be found, and the sets were bigger and, dare I say, better than the night before. Sharing music with friends after a round of good beer and great food is most likely what my heaven is going to be like.
Unfortunately, all things must come to an end, and before we knew it, it was time to head home for a week full of work and detoxing from the weekend that was totally and completely worth it. Although RVA isn’t exactly top of my list of places to go back and visit, it was an experience best shared over local brews and new, exciting, and cultural experiences.