So my buddy Matt has been a student at the University of Virginia (UVA) law school and is in his final third year. The entire time he’s been there, he’s been trying to get me to drive down from Washington, D.C. to check out the sites of Charlottesville, Virgina where the university is located. I finally decided to get my butt down there this past weekend had a great time and have come to the realization that I should have done the trip much sooner.
Charlottesville is located about two and half miles south of Washington, D.C. If you Google map, and/or Garmin the directions, both will tell you to take 95 south all the way down. Here’s a tip from the locals: Take 66 West, to 29 South if you’re coming from the north. The trip may take a little longer distance wise, but there’s a very good chance that you’ll hit traffic on 95 and waste seeing a good amount of pretty (for lack of a better word) foliage on the way down.
So I jumped in my car, along with my friend Mel, and we got down to UVA around 1 PM on Saturday. The first order of business was lunch since we were all pretty famished. Matt took us down to the “Corner” which is essentially Main Street UVA. There you run into a street full of undergraduates and can buy any sort of Cavaliers gear that you can imagine. For lunch we grabbed a couple of slices of pizza at Christian’s Pizza on the Corner.
Christian’s was a perfectly decent take-out pizza joint (you could eat there as well, which is what we did) with the basic offerings of pizzas, calzones, etc. The pizza itself was above average, but not spectacular. I had a chicken parmigiana slice and a spicy chicken and peppers slice; both were quite tasty with a nice NY style thin, crispy crust. Although, I was a little surprised at the price and thought that it was a bit more expensive than it should be considering it’s a local college pizza place.
After we ate, Matt took us to the main UVA campus. Needless to say, Thomas Jefferson (who founded the school) went to great lengths to make it architecturally majestic and he succeeded. Being in the college textbook business (my day job), I’ve seen quite a few college campuses and this one was up there with some of the finest. We walked by the statue of TJ on the Rotunda, where the students go to get some good luck before their exams. After walking by the Rotunda, we strolled over to the “Lawn”. The “Lawn” was a site to see. It’s pretty much how you would envision the perfect college campus scene. A perfectly green strip of grass running down with trees along side. On the “Lawn” were families, dogs, students studying, a group playing football, and anything else you can think of as being stereotypically “American”. I half expected to see Joe Montana quarterbacking group playing football and John Mellencamp playing the guitar under a tree.
The most unique and impressive thing about the “Lawn” however were the unique little dorm rooms within the building along the outside that actually formed the courtyard. Each one of these one bedroom dorms were actual rooms from the old days. They were small, had wooden floors and walls, and were heated by wood. From what I could tell as well, each came with a rocking chair of some sort. According to Matt, the only students who were lucky enough to reside in these “Lawn” dorms pretty much had to be the All-Stars of UVA (the high caliber students who excelled in class, star football players, or were very active on campus), and they had to apply well in advance for these 20 or so dorms if you wanted one.
After getting the tour of UVA, we decided to take a drive down to the Starr Hill Brewery. Starr Hill is a local brewery that makes the award-winning Dark Starr stout and Jomo lager to name just a few. For those of you not in the Mid-Atlantic region reading this, you probably haven’t come across this brand since they’re not huge outside the area. But if you do come across it at any point, I would highly recommend their brand.
The brewery itself was nothing special; just a typical factory with huge steel containers fermenting beer, a place for the hops, and a machine to bottle the batches. But the 30 minute tour itself was quite informative, run by one of the 27 employees there. Their passion for beer is evident, especially during the tasting session at the makeshift bar they have set up. During the tasting, they let you try all 8 beers that they have on tap (a mix of all year, and seasonal beers), and give you a little story behind each type.
We went back to the main Charlottesville area after the brewery and picked up a few more of Matt’s friends. We headed to the Mall area of Charlottesville which is a quaint little outside, walking commercial area. Along the brick corridor, which had a hint of a European feel to it, were shops, cafes, movie theaters, and banks. We stopped over at Miller’s Downtown, a great little old-school drug store turned into bar, for a quick drink. The place itself is nothing to write home about, but it was comfortable and had a dark, pub-like feel to it. The beer list there was quite extensive, and the prices were good considering the offerings. Since we had just come from the Starr Hill Brewery, I decided to help out the local company and ordered a Jomo Lager.
For dinner, we made an attempt to go to Blue Moon Diner, a little diner near the Corner area. Much to Matt’s chagrin, the Blue Moon Diner was closed that evening (yes, on a Saturday night) and Matt went on a rant about how they have the best breakfast and great burgers, but that the hipsters who work there are so unreliable. So, I guess if you ever make it in there when it’s open, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
But alas, our back-up plan was Boylan Heights, also on the Corner, two doors down from Christian’s Pizza. Boylan’s had more of the modern, sports bar feel than Miller’s, although there was a random giant-sized painting of the movie “Rushmore” that I never really got the story of why it was there. I’ll say this much, if this was the “back-up” for getting burgers to Blue Moon, than Blue Moon must be awesome because Boylan Heights had one of the best burgers I’ve tasted. Literally, the burger could probably be in the Top 7 or 8 best burgers I’ve had the pleasure of consuming. Their gourmet burgers have patties that melt in your mouth and a bun that is buttery and soft. The patties are probably the size of a typical Five-Guys or In-and-Out patty, but Boylan’s are far juicier. The burger I had, “The Room 121”, has a Boylan’s sauce which I’m not totally sure was, but tasted a hell of a lot like a mix of Thousand Island Dressing, Ranch, and Honey Mustard and was delicious. Also, the menu offers a build your own burger option on a form that you fill out (much like at a sushi bar). And the prices there were reasonable, not any more than you would pay at Chili’s or Applebee’s, but the food was far superior. If I were a UVA undergrad, my freshman 15 could have easily come directly from Boylan Heights.
After finishing our delicious meal, we headed back to Matt’s apartment for some pre-game fun with his law school pals and a growler of Starr Hill Gift ale that we purchased at the brewery. After some drinking games, we grabbed a taxi for the Biltmore Grill, which was back on campus. From what I understand, the Biltmore’s patrons consists of more of the older crowd (graduate students, law school students, etc), versus some of the other bars in the area that allow kids of a questionable drinking age into their venues. I can’t really say anything exceptionally good or bad about the Biltmore. The drinks were cheap, the crowd was fun, and the place had a huge patio for the smokers. And since we were switching the clocks back that evening, we all celebrated Daylight Savings Holiday when 2 AM turned into 1 AM, allowing us another solid hour of killing our brain cells.
When the night was done, we jumped back into a cab to head home, when it was explained to me that the cabbies in Charlottesville work in a far different way than they do in any major city. Most of the cabbies actually give out their business cards in order to get repeat business from the students. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the cab we took to the Biltmore was actually called ahead in advance by one of the girls in the group, who had used that cab driver’s services before. It was quite bizarre, yet refreshing having a cab driver be extra nice and conversational with you because they want the repeat business.
Up next: Charlottesville, VA – Day 2 (obviously)