Richmond Neighborhood Guide: The Arts District

For lack of a better way to say it, touring the Arts District with Quirk Gallery Director Mary Fleming is like hanging out with the unofficial mayor of the district. She knows everyone (or everyone knows her) and she’s met with a smiling face, a cheerful update on a neighborhood project, or a drink on the house. The strip of Broad St. that hosts the Arts District (as it’s become to be known) has a reputation for being gritty, but the recent influx of small businesses, the soon-to-be-open Quirk Hotel (Richmond’s very first boutique hotel), and the upcoming Institute for Contemporary Art means it’s on the verge of explosive change. Fleming gave us her insider tips on the galleries to see, coffee to drink, and the best international market in town.

How long have you been working on Broad St.?

I’ve been working on Broad Street for about 4.5 years now. Jeez. I cannot believe it’s been that long already…time flies!

How has the neighborhood changed over the years?

When I first moved to Richmond in 2007, I remember coming down to this area and thinking what a daredevil I was. Now, I’m surprised when I run into people that still view this area how it was 10 years ago. There has been such an amazing growth in the neighborhood. It seems that the people are here to really be a part of something special.

In your mind, what has contributed to the growth of the neighborhood?

VCU has definitely aided in the growth of the neighborhood and has brought in more student foot traffic. All the new restaurants that have come to the area over the years has definitely helped. Max’s, Saison, Lucy’s, Mama J’s (seriously, best catfish this side of New Orleans), Pasture, Rappahannock, Graffiato, Perly’s, GwarBar… these are just a few that have all opened in the time I’ve been here. Pretty amazing! The restaurants heralded in cool new shops like Verdalina, Blue Bones, and Rosewood Boutique. It brought all this new energy.

What’s your go-to coffee spot in the ‘hood?

Haha, what me? coffee? never. I kid. It really depends, if I am having a “I’ve had too much coffee and feel like I need to be more health-conscious” day I go to Lift Coffee and grab an iced green tea. If I’m having a “There is so much to do and I need energy now!” day I grab a nitro cold brew from Saison Market. At work they don’t let me have more than one nitro brew, they say I get too hyper. That stuff is no joke!

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Nitro Brew at Saison Market

What’s a hole-in-the-wall spot (cafe, market, etc.) that people may not know about?

My favorite couple spots for “go-to” markets are Nick’s Deli (the most incredible feta and olive oil!), Saison Market for a Nitro Brew (carbonated cold brew coffee) and Mallorca Breakfast sandwich add egg, and Kohlmann’s (the new market Perly’s opened… BEST black iced tea I’ve ever had and incredible pre-made salads.)

If someone has an hour in the Arts District, what are must-see art galleries?

  • 1708 Gallery: Amazing non-profit gallery more on the conceptual side
  • Quirk Gallery: Because duh! We have a great curated shop alongside a contemporary craft gallery. Opening in our brand new home in the Quirk Hotel on September 17th!
  • ADA Gallery: Their exhibits are always fresh and thoughtful.
  • Candela: A wonderful photo gallery, with an equally-as-beautiful physical space
  • Gallery5: A non-profit gallery for exhibits housed in Virginia’s oldest firehouse. It’s also a music venue and performance space.

Describe the sense of community in Arts District and Jackson Ward?

I’m not sure if it’s due to the fact we are a bit smaller and need to work together more, or if it’s due to the kind of people that are attracted to being in this neighborhood but it’s pretty great. You get a true sense of neighborhood here. You will find a lot of businesses that could be considered direct competition are supporting each other. That also might just be a Richmond thing too. For example,  Verdalina will send their customers to Rosewood and Blue Bones… and vice versa. Last summer when Quirk put on the Lawn Chair Movie Series was a great example of how the neighborhood worked together. Backstage donated the equipment, Marty at Steady Sounds would DJ, 1708 Gallery sold drinks, and Verdalina and Blue Bones donated gifts to be raffled off. I feel really lucky to work over here in this part of town.

It’s Friday – and you’re about to get off work. Describe a perfect evening for us.

Leave work. Decompress with a little retail therapy at my favorite shops on Broad St. Pop into Verdalina, Steady Sounds/Blue Bones Vintage, walk down to Rosewood Clothing Co. Have a fancy cocktail at The Jefferson. Meet up with some friends for dinner at Pasture. I would close the evening at Black Iris and catch one of their Tiny Bar Series shows.

What are you most looking forward to in Richmond for the coming year?

Enjoying the views from the rooftop bar at Quirk Hotel! And really looking forward to VCU’s Institute for Contemporary Arts opening up in 2016. That will be a game changer!

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The following spots in the Arts District are all Ledbury-approved:

EAT:

Saison (323 N. Adams St.): Reimagined Southern fare and the only place you’ll find Nashville-style hot chicken in the capital city. Some would say they have the best cocktails in town and their brand-new market/cafe next door (Saison Market) has quickly become a daily stop for those that live and work on Broad St.  It’s hard to recommend just one cocktail, so the best strategy is to try as many as you can (within reason, and responsibly of course.) These guys know their Latin liquor, so anything with mezcal is especially delicious.

Saison Market (Same location): Their chicken biscuit blows minds on a daily basis, they have a frozen drink maker during warm-weather months (frozen negroni anyone?), and an above-par grab-and-go wine selection, curated by their genius resident wine expert. If that’s not enough to make you go there immediately, we can’t help you.

Perly’s (111 E. Grace St.): Latkes, borscht, pierogi’s and all the other Eastern European comfort food staples you’ll want as the weather cools down, with New York-style delicatessen decor that will transport you straight to Brooklyn.

SHOP:

Steady Sounds (322 W. Broad St.):  A great mix of records, old and new, with one of the nicest proprietors in town. (He also happens to be Ledbury’s resident DJ.)

Blue Bones Vintage (322 W. Broad St., in Steady Sounds):  Well-curated men’s and women’s vintage clothing, shoes, and accessories from Lauren Healy, housed in Steady Sounds. A one-stop shop for records and a killer vintage leather jacket, what’s not to love?

Rosewood Clothing Co. (16 W. Broad St.): The newest vintage clothing kid on the block. A great place for gifts for the lady in your life with a welcoming atmosphere, thanks to owner Ashley Carruthers, who will make you feel like you’re right at home.

Round Two (104 W. Broad St.) Get in touch with your inner sneakerhead at this veritable alter to Nike, vintage sports memorabilia, sneakers, and vintage apparel.

Photography by Jeffrey Ocampo / Neighborhood illustrations by William Godwin

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