As the American Civil War raged into its third year a century and a half ago, the divide between the North and South had scarce been deeper. The year ahead would bring the bloody Battle of Chancellorsville, the Union siege and fall of Vicksburg, and a marathon three days of fighting at Gettysburg. But as President Abraham Lincoln commanded his generals from Washington, D.C., his rebel counterpart sat just 100 miles south, in the Confederate capital city of Richmond, Virginia.
The wounds of the Civil War have long been healed, yet Richmond retains much of the magnetism that made it a vital source of munitions, supplies, and manpower for the Confederate States of America. And while there’s Civil War history to be explored around every corner of this sleepy southern city, visitors will be thrilled to discover vibrant and varied food, music, and art scenes as well. With each old industrial space that is repurposed, Richmonders are looking forward to new riverfront lofts, locally sourced restaurants, and innovative art galleries.
So pack your bags and hit the road on I-95. We’re heading south, even if it’s just for the weekend.
Give Me Brunch Or Give Me Death
Begin your morning on the east end of town in Church Hill, the historic district named for St. John’s Episcopal Church. It was there in 1775 that Patrick Henry declared to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and more than a hundred other delegates to the Second Virginia Convention, “Give me liberty or give me death!”
But more importantly this morning, Church Hill is the proud home of Millie’s Diner, which has been serving the city’s most delicious and eclectic brunch since 1989. With an open kitchen that moves at lightning speed, an ever-changing chalkboard menu, and a friendly atmosphere of controlled chaos, Millie’s gives its loyal legion of fans countless reasons to return each weekend. Chief among them is the food, from the globally inspired frittatas (or “messes”) to soft-scrambled eggs with lobster (2603 East Main Street).
You’re In My Art, You’re In My Soul
Walk off your home fries in the quiet hallways of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1936. The VMFA lays claim to more than 23,000 works of art from almost every major world culture, from American and European paintings to jeweled Fabergé pieces. Tour the permanent collection (for free!), but don’t miss out on the visiting exhibitions—the last few years have seen everything from Picasso paintings to Chihuly glass masterpieces (200 North Boulevard).
The Hardywood Boys
Back in 2001, while traveling in Australia, Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh had their first taste of hand-crafted beer at Hardywood Park, a sheep station outside of Bathurst. After a decade of planning and studying in New York, Chicago, and Munich, the two lifelong friends founded Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Richmond’s best tribute to hand-crafted beer.
Occupying a 12,000-square-foot building north of The Fan district, Hardywood Park and its public tasting room have quickly become one of the city’s favorite gathering spots, thanks to stellar beers and frequent live music. So spend the afternoon relaxing with a Sidamo Coffee Stout—and don’t forget to fill up a growler for the road (2408 Ownby Lane).
The Famous Mister Edo
There’s no better way to spend a Saturday evening than mingling with the locals at Edo’s Squid, an atmospheric showcase of classic Italian cuisine. If you’re clever enough to find the entrance, you’ll be rewarded with traditional Italian pastas, seasonal seafood specials, and some of the best ambience in all of Richmond (411 North Harrison Street).
Not in the mood for Italian? Gorge yourself on soul food classics at Comfort, a landmark of Richmond’s culinary scene since 2002 (200 West Broad Street). Or sample the impeccable seafood dishes at Acacia Mid-Town, an incredibly worthwhile splurge on the edge of The Fan (2601 West Cary Street).
We Gonna Rock Down To Monument Avenue
Rise and shine with some assistance from Lamplighter Roasting Company, the micro-roastery and café producing Richmond’s favorite coffee beans (116 South Addison Street). Enjoy your latte with a local Country Style Donut and walk a few blocks north to Monument Avenue, where you’ll spend the morning strolling Richmond’s most controversial boulevard.
For more than a century, this stately thoroughfare and its Gilded Age mansions have been the home of Richmond’s upper class. But ever since 1890, when the first towering memorial to General Robert E. Lee was unveiled, Monument Avenue has also served as a deeply unsettling tribute to Richmond’s Confederate past. Begin your stroll at North Boulevard and walk eastward, passing enormous statues of Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Lee, and J.E.B. Stuart along the way. Before you know it, it’ll be time for lunch.
Oysters Down In Oyster Bay Do It
Rest your legs downtown at Rappahannock, the latest venture from the family-owned Rappahannock River Oysters. Open since December 2012, Rappahannock is quickly becoming a star of Richmond cuisine, specializing in seasonal seafood dishes and a raw bar that highlights the best this 100-year-old oyster company has to offer. Whether you opt for the sweet and buttery Rappahannocks or the ocean brine of the Olde Salts, you’ll be treated to a true taste of local flavor (320 East Grace Street).
War, What Is It Good For?
If there’s a time and a place to indulge your inner Civil War nerd, it’s this weekend in the former capital of the Confederacy. Treat yourself to an interactive history refresher at the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, where you’ll see the war through the lens of the Union, the Confederacy, and the slave population alike (500 Tredegar Street). And if you purchase the Richmond Civil War Pass, you’ll spend only a few extra dollars to end the afternoon with a guided tour of the White House of the Confederacy (1201 East Clay Street).
Buz, Your Girlfriend! Woof!
Years ago, as Buz Grossberg cooked and tasted his way across America’s barbecue country, he stumbled upon the best he’d ever eaten at the crossroads of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. In time, the legendary pitmaster producing that barbecue—Ned—became a mentor, imploring Buz to honor his family recipes after his death. Thus, Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue was born in 1992—a former roadside stand that now boasts two Richmond locations and a victorious turn on Food Network’s Throwdown with Bobby Flay. So before you put this weekend in your rearview mirror, bid farewell to Richmond with the most tender, smoky baby back ribs you’ll find for hundreds of miles (1119 North Boulevard).
TITLE: Comfort | SATURDAY: Homes on Church Hill; Millie’s flank steak and poached eggs; Chihuly glass at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts | SUNDAY: Converted industrial spaces in downtown Richmond; the Virginia State Capitol; oysters at Rappahannock.