The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is free to the public and open 365 days a year. The policy hints at Richmond’s priorities. Art and design are not luxuries here; they are essential.
You’ll likely figure this out for yourself soon after you arrive in the River City. Vibrant, expansive murals and bold graffiti transform old brick walls. A surprising amount of indie boutiques and shops line the streets. Art students at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) scurry around the downtown campus. And when you check in to Quirk Hotel, the stylish boutique hotel-cum-art gallery, you’re greeted by curated original art in almost every corner.
Couture Queen: While Richmond’s Quirk Hotel blushes with chic design and original artwork, the city’s style resurgence shines on the curated shelves of its posh boutiques, like Need Supply Co. and Ledbury.
Richmond, the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1780, has traditionally been a hotspot for history and genteel Southern culture. But the once-staid Southern city is stepping along at a much livelier pace these days, thanks to its visionary voices in art, fashion, food, and culture. Together with the eternal tide of VCU students who pour new creative energy into the city, they have helped Richmond emerge as a premier style leader in the South.
Katie Ukrop, the co-founder of Quirk, is one of those voices. After curating one of the city’s most distinctive art galleries for a decade, she and her husband, Ted, decided it was time to expand their vision. The result, Quirk Hotel, is a hip, rosy-hued, art-filled, nuanced experience where every effortless detail bears evidence of a thoughtful curator’s hand. Case in point: by the bed, a cult-favorite Dohm sound machine (prized by light sleepers and parents of infants alike) customized in perfect, Quirk brand pink. Take a few moments to enjoy your room—the art, the vast window, the original hardwood floors dating back to the hotel’s historic days as a 1916 luxury department store—before heading out to explore.
A fortifying cocktail makes a good first stop. The Rogue Gentlemen serves up a concept-forward cocktail program, anchored to a core idea that changes each season. If you’re lucky, the bartender will let you peruse previous menus (a magazine styled after National Geographic, a music festival poster, a baseball card collection) while he mixes up “Huck Your Feelings.” Next up? Dinner at Saison, a neighborhood favorite.
Restaurants this tiny are oft described as “intimate,” but take the jammed-full tables and busy bar as a sign of good things to come.
In the morning, fuel up at the hotel’s well-regarded restaurant, Maple & Pine. Soft light filters in through the windows, bounces off the high, groin vault ceilings—and diffuses back down for the perfect Instagram snap of the hotel’s pink-accented lobby. Got it? It’s time for a quick trip to the VMFA, one of the largest art museums in North America. The art institution boasts an impressive collection, but the postwar American art from the Sydney and Frances Lewis Collection is a definite highlight. Feeling sufficiently inspired, continue to Carytown, a retail district home to many of the independent boutiques and shops that have made Richmond a style destination.
Sweet Virginia: Bespoke shirts and luxury menswear are highlights at Ledbury; Evin Dogu, baker and co-owner of the Church Hill district’s wood-fired bakery Sub Rosa; at Brenner Pass, Chef Brittanny Anderson’s cuisine pays homage to the Alpine region.
The genesis of the city’s thriving indie fashion community is Need Supply Co., the tiny denim shop turned trendsetting global retailer. In 1996, Need Supply was selling vintage Levi’s, introducing Richmond to a look the city couldn’t get before. Two decades later, the brand’s international success stems largely from the same strategy. Need Supply’s Carytown flagship is a bit like a baptism into the low-key, ultra-cool aesthetic the brand meticulously curates. The store’s sleek metal and wood interior curves around to control your experience of the space, directing you with smooth walls and spotlights to garments arranged just so.
You might notice a few wares from other Richmond makers on the tightly edited shelves, and that’s no accident. Need Supply has long been supportive of Richmond’s local fashion and start-up industries, paving the way for other success stories. Ledbury, a luxury menswear brand famous for its bespoke shirts, is one. Other shopping standouts include Rosewood Clothing Co., Na Nin, and Dear Neighbor. But that’s the story of Richmond: big-time or small, independent brands thrive in this hothouse for creative vision.
Locals say you can’t leave Carytown without lunching at Can Can, an excellent French brasserie. The only clue that you’re not in Paris is the wait staff’s uniform: crisp, white shirts and stiff, shape-hiding Dickies utility pants (which have, inexplicably, been reborn as the cool pant right now). The Dickies are a secret handshake for those who get it, a sly wink to the young, buzzy energy of Richmond’s fashion scene.
There’s plenty more browsing to do, but if you’ve ventured over to the Church Hill district to check out Dear Neighbor, it’s probably time for an afternoon pick-me-up. Head ’round the corner until you catch sight of Sub Rosa’s steamed-up windows. While you enjoy the buttery shatter of blissful pain au chocolat from the artisan bakery, you can watch co-owner Evin Dogu unload hot loaves from the wood-fired oven.
Creative Arts: Need Supply Co., flagship of Richmond’s fashion transformation; Quirk Hotel rooms feature original hardwoods and vast windows; pain au chocolat is a fast favorite at artisan bakery Sub Rosa.
No one will blame you if you decide on a brief interlude back in your hotel room. The calm, quiet space—with its comfortable, understated bed fashioned from century-old walnut beams—invites reflection . . . or a nap. Later, on the way out to dinner, pop into Quirk Gallery. Connected to the hotel, the ever-changing gallery space offers a highly curated mix of original art and stylish wares.
Richmond doesn’t only set trends in the fashion arena. The latest concept from James Beard Award semi-finalist Chef Brittanny Anderson offers proof of the city’s forward-looking perspective. Brenner Pass focuses on food and drink of the Alpine region—and as the world’s obsession with Nordic cuisine fades, the sturdy, mountainous cuisine of the Alps seems a likely candidate for the next culinary craze. Sculptural chairs, gray-washed wood, and a palette of creamy winter whites are reminiscent of a modern mountain chalet. Dinner opens with a creative drink list, showcasing European amari and sherries. Trout quenelles, in a beautiful pool of crème fraîche, dill, and trout roe, arrive shortly after a remarkable negroni, made with Brenner’s house amaro. Both prove to be the night’s standouts, although everything is delicious and quietly surprising.
It’s a fitting way to close a weekend in a capital city that continues to impress—balancing centuries of history with a bold commitment to the pursuit of art and style.
Can Can Brasserie
Zinc bar, Thonet chairs, red leather banquettes—this charming spot checks all the Francophile boxes, so settle in and order mussels with frites or the salad niçoise, both perfectly executed.13120 W Cary St, (804) 358-7274, cancanbrasserie.com
Sub Rosa Bakery
Even the New York Times has taken notice of this artisan, wood-fired bakery turning out breads and pastries made with stone-milled, heirloom grains. 620 N 25th St, (804) 788-7672, subrosabakery.com
Helmed by the same team behind Richmond’s renowned Metzger Bar and Butchery, modern Brenner Pass offers an innovative, nuanced exploration of Alpine cuisine. Don’t miss the beverage program—a careful selection of European amari, sherries, ciders, and wines from mountainous regions. 3200 Rockbridge St. #100, (804) 658-9868, brennerpassrva.com
Need Supply Co.
Enjoy the minimal vibes of this cool-kid headquarters, where you’ll find everything from cult-favorite Common Projects sneakers to Calvin Klein comebacks—along with a well-edited selection of denim, of course. 3100 W Cary St, (804) 355-4383, needsupply.com
Ledbury made its name by bringing men’s bespoke shirtmaking to Richmond, but the brand’s luxurious, ready-to-wear options share the same commitment to quality. The warm, layered flagship shop pays homage to the craft and tradition of tailoring. 315 W Broad St, (804) 793-8569, ledbury.com
Founded by the makers behind trendy jewelry line Drift/Riot, this tiny shop in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood gathers together covetable goods from some of their favorite artisans and designers. 2415 Jefferson Ave, (804) 819-1729, shopdearneighbor.com
If you’ve ever wished you could move your bed into an art gallery, this charming, stylish boutique hotel is for you. Located in the heart of Richmond’s dynamic art and design district, the pink-hued hotel offers an eyeful, where every detail is carefully considered. 201 W Broad St, (804) 340-6040, quirkhotel.com. Rates start at $170.
On a whim, my husband and I once spent New Year’s Eve camping in nearby Jones Gap State Park (more on camping later) and planned to take a refreshing hike the next day. After a torpid, indulgent holiday season, we were completely unprepared for the 10-mile, nearly vertical flogging we experienced on Hospital Rock Trail. Thick tree roots and bulky boulders called for careful footwork, heavy breathing, and plain old strength.
At the same time, the tricky switchbacks opened up to inspiring new views, and refreshment eventually came in the form of a rushing waterfall at the trail’s end. Then, we spent a slow, albeit treacherous descent catching our breath in the crisp air. On that New Year’s Day, we emerged from the woods exhausted and sore, yet amazed at what we could handle. It turns out there’s something about fighting post-holiday lethargy to push your body up and down a mountainside that makes whatever else you want to achieve next seem undoubtedly possible.
Our New Year’s Day tradition was born.
Several years later, we’ve learned to let each first day of the year unfold in its own way. The chosen trail might be impassable due to winter storm damage. Or, a warm and sunny New Year’s Day might force a more leisurely pace on crowded trails. January hikes offer big payoffs as reduced foliage allows for longer, wider, and more complex views—unless there’s fog.
Or, it might be raining. That was the case last year when we set out to the Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve/Wildlife Management Area in Landrum. Less popular than state parks, wildlife management areas’ trails often feel less worn and more remote. The day was chilly, drizzly, and gray, so I wore a bright orange silk scarf with dancing red figures to coax myself into a hiking mood. As the only two hikers, my husband and I hustled along the 5.5-mile hike trying to outpace the coming deluge. Heavy raindrops began to fall just as we rounded the last bend a hundred yards or so from our parked car, but we got our true sense of accomplishment just from sticking to our goal on a crummy day. It became a helpful memory on busy but uninspiring days throughout the year.
If you can camp on New Year’s Eve, do. Parks that are normally booked throughout summer and fall are wide open to the determined winter camper. You might enter the new year under a roof of bright stars. (This year, January begins and ends with full moons, which should put any disco ball to shame). You can also leave your watch and phone in the tent: in the Upcountry, the distant sounds of gunshots from several directions literally ring in the new year quite effectively.
A winter hike offers physical and mental benefits, and less obstructed views. For more information on great hikes in the area, visit southcarolinaparks.com.
Hospital Rock at Jones Gap State Park
45 minutes from Greenville
9 miles round-trip
Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve
45 minutes from Greenville
6 miles round-trip
Panthertown Valley Loop
Nantahala National Forest
1hr, 45 minutes from Greenville 9 miles round-trip
At the end of each year, I compile a list of what I’ve learned, or have been reminded of, over the previous twelve months. This year’s list suggests to me that 2017 was a series of epiphanies, embarrassments, high hopes, and harsh realities. All in all quite similar to the previous 48 years.
Being a parent is the easiest job to get and the hardest job to have. I’ve learned this each year since 1993 but it bears repeating.
A gin and tonic is a good idea any time.
“Arsenic” is not an acceptable answer when your mother asks you about your plans for her long-term care.
You have to be a friend to have a friend.
A Caesar salad made with kale is an abomination and those who disagree should die a slow, painful death, which they probably won’t because they eat a lot of kale.
People love you when you are honest with them.
The more your hair recedes the shorter it should be cut.
People hate you when you are honest with them.
There is nothing easier to do than not write.
It is possible for a man to sign in and then wait in a gynecologist’s office waiting room for ten minutes before someone informs him that his appointment is most likely with the ENT doctor next door.
Yelling an expletive at an automated phone attendant will take you directly to a live operator. Try it.
The “Door Close” button on elevators is not actually connected to anything, but pushing it repeatedly when someone is running towards the door will always give me a sense of satisfaction.
Peeing a little in one’s pants when one sneezes is funny only when it happens to other people.
A certain $13 bottle of bourbon secretly poured into a crystal decanter will impress all of your friends except the one who should drag his sorry ass home and drink his own bourbon if he doesn’t like what you’re serving him.
People under 75 who pay with a check at the grocery store should be eyed with great suspicion.
A half-full bottle of moisturizer can explode at 35,000 feet when crammed into an overstuffed piece of luggage.
Dry-cleaning is a necessary evil.
A vegan who does Crossfit and owns a rescue dog will tell you about all three of those things within the first ten minutes of conversation.
One bad oyster can make you forget all of the good ones.
If someone walks into a public restroom and sees you contorting your body in some sort of advanced yoga pose in order to position your crotch under an electric hand dryer in an attempt to remove the enormous water spot caused by a malfunctioning sink faucet, the less explanation you offer the better.
Seriously, kale sucks.
Greenville’s oldest women’s social club keeps its generational legacy
Dr. Francis Nuthalapaty provides quality medical care to patients in developing countries