If Richmond brings to mind thoughts of the Confederacy, you’re not wrong, but it’s time to wake up to a more progressive reality.
Virginia’s capital city combines genteel southern manners with a northern sensibility in a conflux of culture that can’t quite be pigeonholed by geography or any one point in history, and that’s due in part to the population’s obsession with identity and personal evolution. From inspiring a revolution with Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” speech, to seceding from the Union to becoming the capital of the Civil War Confederacy, to recently becoming the first and only city to officially come out of the closet (yes, you read that right), Richmond is a city always half a step ahead of the zeitgeist. Lately, that means an ever-expanding series of places to visit and things to do for LGBT visitors.
In the heart of Richmond’s up-and-coming arts district, Quirk Hotel is the place to stay, and there’s nothing ironic about its name. Housed in a former upscale department store (think cavernous ceilings and colossal windows with epic views) on Broad Street, Quirk’s pink and white palette is punctuated with eccentric decor and complemented by its own art gallery. If you’ve ever dreamt of spending the night in the mall or the art museum, here’s your chance to experience both together. A century old, many of the wood floors date back to the 1916 store, and the bed frames are repurposed walnut planks saved during demolition and renovation. History, art, and some serious personality combine for a memorable stay.
The spirit of Richmond is reflected in its people, and the best way to gain an appreciation of its heritage and spirit is through a visit to The Valentine, a museum exploring the city’s diverse populations. The Valentine family earned its fortune hawking “Meat Juice” (do ask) and the museum began in 1898 from the family’s own collections before becoming a full-scale repository of Richmond history. Today, artifacts are exhibited in both modern museum settings and in the family’s grand 1812 house where rooms have been preserved and others have been restored with replicas you can fully utilize. You’re welcome to climb into bed and test the sheets, but consider yourself warned to avoid chamber pots. Look out for the upcoming exhibition One Love: LGBT Families, opening late 2016 and exploring the definition of family as interpreted by Richmond’s own.
There’s no shortage of cuisines in Richmond, either. High atop many a knowing foodie’s must-list is one spot you mustn’t miss: L’opossum. From its crazy-clutter décor (think gay vintage hoarder with an aura of mystery and a side of sass) to the cleverly crafted (and named) dishes that defy most senses, a night at L’opossum is a trip down the rabbit hole into culinary Wonderland. It’s no wonder James Beard semifinalist David Shannon currently sports – in addition to his custom Tom of Finland chef coat – a two-month wait list for reservations here.
Open 365 days and always free, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is the nation’s first state-sponsored art museum and is the permanent home to 33,000+ pieces spanning more than 5,000 years of art. The museum’s collection of Fabergé (the largest public collection in the world outside Russia) is returning home in October 2016 to remodeled galleries, and is only one of many jewels in the VMFA crown. Noshables are also available in the museum’s restaurant, Amuse, where you can grab a quick bite before your trek continues.
Just around the corner is Carytown, Richmond’s eclectic shopping district packed with over 200 businesses in a quaint Main Street setting. From quality vintage shops (Bygones) and local artisan collectives (Orange) to bookstores, music troves, and the quirkiest gift shops (Mongrel), you’ll walk away with more than you can schlep (so keep an eye out for vintage suitcases). Even if shopping isn’t your bag, the convivial atmosphere of Carytown makes this area the perfect scene for a stroll strewn with numerous photo ops. If you haven’t eaten yet, stop by The Daily for vibrant dishes prepared with organic, locally-sourced ingredients (try the chimichurri tacos and thank us later).
Save some time for a quick visit to Diversity Richmond, the city’s LGBT community center, where you can scour one of the areas best-loved thrift stores, Diveristy Thrift, check out Iridian Art Gallery (exhibiting exclusively LGBT artists), and support this local organization that has given back nearly $900,000 dollars to the community since its inception in 1999.
If you’re itching for a big night out, Richmond is home to several gay bars of varying appeal, but Godfreys is the most popular spot for drinking and dancing, and it comes with late-night food and regular live performances. Or, if you’re more in the mood for a sunset chardonnay, head back to Quirk Hotel and pop up to the rooftop bar for panoramic views of the region and a multicolor sky that will defy you to filter the photos. Richmond sunsets are not so different from the city itself – they’re packed with color and a richness of diversity that surprises visitors but is just everyday life to locals. And that includes the librarian who replied to my dusk-viewing delight with an unaffected but appreciative “That? Oh, we have that every day.”
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Last modified: August 2, 2017