Friday, November 6, 2015

Staying and dining in Charlottesville, Virginia

Our trip to Charlottesville corresponded with the University of Virginia homecoming football game. Now there were all sorts of little coincidences on this trip, some positive and some negative, but UVA and the football game were an influential factor in a bunch of our choices all weekend. It started about a week before when we decided to make the trip; Roberts was traveling for business and Lauris had his fall break, so we chose to join dad on his trip and then head north for the weekend. I warned Roberts that it is peak leaf season so please book a hotel soon, and then promptly forgot all about it until we were in Carrboro, North Carolina and planning on leaving for VA in the morning.

Every hotel in Charlottesville was full. Except for Holiday Inn, which was asking $300/night, and the Inn at Afton – by the way you have to read this review (it starts "Hole -ee Jeebus") – every last reasonable option in Charlottesville was booked. Roberts laughed when I gave him the “I told you so” because the last hotel he had spoken to had responded that it was actually the homecoming game against Syracuse (with an unspoken “duh”) and that our best bet would be to try something in Staunton… a good 45-60 minutes away.  Not really an option, we spoke to a booking agent who suggested an alternative – the Inn at Darden.

One of those little coincidences I spoke of is the University of Virginia/Monticello connection. We spent our first day in Charlottesville touring the Thomas Jefferson Monticello Estate, so it was quite the sagadīšanās that we basically stayed in UVA, the legacy of our third president. The Darden School of Business runs the Inn at Darden, an all-in-one location for conferences and continuing education classes; you sign up for courses at the School of Business and you stay in one of the 180 rooms, eat at the main dining room and relax at the Executive Pub afterwards. Rates were reasonable, the service attentive, the room clean and up to standard, but the location – the location was prime.

Founded in 1955, it is named after Colgate Whitehead Darden, Jr., a former congressman, governor of Virginia, and former president of the University of Virginia. Notable alumni include Mark Sanford (former governor of SC) and CEOs, chairman and presidents of companies like Dunkin’ Donuts, Prudential Financial, PepsiCo and Target.

Another nod to Monticello: the large clock

Designed by architect Robert A. M. Stern to complement Jefferson’s aesthetic vision for UVA, the buildings feature sand-struck Virginia brick, Chippendale balustrades and red-metal standing seam roofs. Saunders hall has an octagonal entrance room that echoes that of Monticello, complete with domed roof. Being a Saturday we were free to explore without bothering students, and so we wandered around for a bit, admiring the elegantly furnished rooms and the sunny, inviting courtyards. If you would like to make a virtual visit, try the online tour on the University of Virginia Darden School of Business website.

Not only did UVA make our housing decisions for us, it also made our dining decisions… The night before the game we were headed from Monticello to campus, tired from a long day and hoping to eat as soon as possible. It wasn’t the first place we saw (possibly the second?), but FIREFLY was an auspicious stop. The bar and restaurant combines craft beer, food and gaming; you couldn’t have imagined a better spot for the boys to eat that night! They spent every spare minute watching people play video games and trying their own hand at a few classics, and the food disappeared as soon as it was put down in front of them. With a menu heavy on local, seasonal and organic options, and a craft beer menu featuring plenty of local favorites, mom and dad were happy also.


On our final evening in town we were in a race against time to find a dinner spot, as our return from Shenandoah National Park coincided with the end of the football game. We lost the race, every football fan in the city flooding the restaurants and bars, including those on Main Street, the historic pedestrian mall in the center of downtown. And so once again our dining was decided by UVA, as we chose the place that could get us in with the least amount of wait – The Whiskey Jar. The classic southern fare is locally sourced (including from the chef’s very own farm), is seasonal, and made entirely from scratch. Our meals were delicious, the atmosphere lively yet comfortable, and the staff were reasonably accommodating to children. If you are a whiskey drinker you might want to check out the spirits menu, however the brunch, lunch and dinner menus have enough barbecue and southern favorites that nobody will leave hungry.

The Whiskey Jar

Side note: the Whiskey Jar is just across from the Charlottesville Main Street Arena. The 40,000 square feet of space hosts everything from martial arts matches and the Virginia Film Festival’s Headquarters to hockey and figure skating. ‘Cool’ place to step inside while waiting on a table – you might just catch a hockey game in action!

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