Once considered a sleepy Southern capital with a handful of historic sites, Richmond, Virginia is shaking off the past. Passionate entrepreneurs have muscled onto the scene: hot art-themed hotels are wowing guests, bold chefs are shaking up the culinary landscape and brewers offer sours and saisons in brand-new tasting rooms.
The neighborhood of Scott's Addition features the best of what modern Richmond has to offer. This compact and walkable historic district is buzzing with craft breweries, destination eateries and iconic buildings refreshed for a new generation. Center your trip here to experience everything from whiskey to cider and bike shares to boutique hotels over a fun-filled 36 hours in the River City.
Afternoon: a distillery delight
Join the steady flow of patrons streaming into the tasting room at Reservoir Distillery. Long-time local Jay Carpenter, who co-owns the small-batch distillery with high school classmate David Cuttino, remembers the neighborhood as virtually deserted when they opened up shop in 2008, except for a few transients. ‘Literally when I’d leave, I’d flash a flashlight both ways [as I stepped outside] the door. It was a little sketchy,’ recalled Carpenter, who noted that Reservoir was the first alcohol producer in the neighborhood. ‘And now it's seven breweries, two cideries and a meadery.’
Today, you can stop by the tasting room – one of many former warehouses that make the neighborhood so well-suited for breweries – to sample and purchase four whiskeys: a 100% wheat, a 100% rye, a bourbon from 100% corn and a bourbon blend. All grains are locally sourced. The distillery’s signature five-gallon barrels are made from Virginia white oak. These small casks increase the wood-to-alcohol ratio, which means more wood is touching alcohol during the aging process. As a result, tannins are extracted more quickly, allowing the alcohol to age faster than it would in a typical 53-gallon barrel. Distilling, aging and bottling are done in-house.
From there, it’s a four-block walk down Summit Avenue to Blue Bee Cider. As you walk, it’s hard to imagine a vast plantation once blanketed the surrounding landscape. In the mid-1800s, the property was owned by General Winfield Scott, a successful commander during the Mexican-American War and the neighborhood’s namesake. Several decades after his death, part of the plantation was included in a residential subdivision plan. A few houses were built, but the community’s proximity to railroad lines eventually spurred industrial uses.
The Blue Bee Cider building at the corner of Summit Avenue and W Clay Street is hard to miss. The building, which looks like a medieval fortress in miniature, is made from cobblestones that once lined the street. Its construction was a Works Progress Administration project for skilled artisans in the 1940s. Today, Blue Bee sells ciders made from rare, heirloom apple varieties.
‘A lot of what we look to are what colonists were growing,’ said Blue Bee’s Cider Evangelist Brian Ahnmark. ‘There were estimated to be over 3000 different kinds of apples in the southern United States alone during the Colonial era. And now that number is less than 300.’ A recent tasting menu included a single-varietal Harrison cider, made from a type of apple thought to be extinct after Prohibition – until a lone surviving tree was discovered in a backyard in New Jersey in the 1970s!
Evening: dinner and a movie
Gourmet burgers, craft beer and adult milkshakes are the stars at Boulevard Burger & Brew, a postmodern diner on the northeast edge of the neighborhood. The red-and-white striped building once housed Kelly’s Jet Systems Burgers, a chain in the 1950s and ‘60s. Today, the beef is 100% organic and hormone-free. Toppings include basil popcorn pesto, apricot jam and good old American cheese.
Morning: a no-frills breakfast and an artful tour
Coloring-book drawings of ‘Webbster the People-Loving Cow’ decorate the walls of the low-frills Dairy Bar, open since 1946. The salt herring is recommended at this welcoming breakfast and lunch spot in the northwest corner of Scott’s Addition.
Once you’re fueled up, venture just one mile from the neighborhood to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in the Museum District. This glossy box of treasures keeps locals chattering with its consistently innovative temporary exhibits. The striking new Chloe sculpture by Jaume Plensa in the sculpture garden never looks the same twice.
Afternoon: Chinese + craft beer
For lunch, return to Scott’s Addition and look for the red neon sign marking the entrance to Fat Dragon, known for its modern and classic Chinese fare and craft beers. With its gritty exterior and dimly lit interior, the presentation is vaguely edgy, but there are too many preppies here drinking craft brews for things to get out of hand.
Next up? More craft beer. You can thank Senate Bill 604 for the abundance of microbreweries in Scott’s Addition and across the state. Passed in 2012, the bill allowed Virginia breweries to sell beer on-site without the sale of food. Historic tax credits have also spurred development by providing financial incentives to business owners who preserve noteworthy architectural features when rehabilitating old buildings. As you explore, look for the neighborhood’s distinct commercial architectural styles, which include International Style, art deco and Moderne.
Beer and nature join forces at Väsen Brewing, the newest craft brewery in Scott’s Addition. In Swedish, the word väsen is a reference to your inner essence, or spirit animal, which you might just find after sipping its tasty saisons and farmhouse ales. A mural of a caribou emerging from a dazzling green forest flanks the taproom, which is anchored by an imposing man-made boulder. Cheers, outdoorsy Scandinavian afternoon!
From Väsen, it's a three-block walk to The Veil Brewing Company – look for the crowds spilling from the garage doors. Beloved for its double-IPAs and its gose lineup, the brewery is also famous for its Tuesday afternoon releases, when a well-dressed business crowd queues up before the 4pm opening. A regular release is the Hornswoggler, a chocolate milk stout with Oreo and coconut spin-offs. And the name? The veil is the Italian term for the pellicle, a film that forms over beer and wine during spontaneous fermentation.
Evening: a true Southern supper
Kitschy fried chicken joint Supper offers comfort food with a gourmet twist. Take your pick of toppings: bacon-cheese sauce, green tomato gravy or melted pimiento. Cozy but convivial, Supper is good for date nights, after-work drinks and girls dinners out. In sum, everyone stops by at some point.
End your indulgent neighborhood journey with a German lager and sweeping views of the city from the Hofgarden, a rooftop bar atop the historic Hofheimer Building.
Make it happen
Scott’s Addition is west of downtown Richmond, tucked between W Broad Street, S Boulevard and I-195. The neighborhood is easily reached from downtown by taxi or ride-share, and street parking is free and plentiful. Once there, it’s easy to explore by foot. Richmond Bikeshare has a station in Scott’s Addition at 3118 W Leigh St.
Tasting rooms typically open in the late afternoon on weekdays. Most open around noon on Saturday and Sunday.