Dear Ace: Soon after I moved to Charlottesville in 1988 or ’89 I went to eat at an Indian restaurant on the Downtown Mall called Nirvana. I am having a debate with a friend about the location. We both remember that it was in a basement. I clearly remember it being under the Jefferson Theater. She remembers it being under Sylvia’s Pizza, where Henry’s is now. I have asked around and no one seems to remember this restaurant at all. So, we come to you for help, Ace! Where was this?—Currying Favor
Dear Currying: Tell your friend to prepare for a big ol’ crow sammich (preferably on naan bread), because you, sir, are in the right: Nirvana was indeed located at 112 E. Main St., right underneath the Jefferson Theater. As for why everyone else seems completely oblivious to the restaurant’s whereabouts, Ace has a theory: They may have intentionally tried to forget it.
Let Ace explain. In researching your question, Ace paged through the dusty tomes in the C-VILLE archives, looking for an article he kinda sorta remembered from back in the day. Sure ’nuff, he finally found it: In the December 10-16, 1991 edition, a restaurant review with the title “Nirvana isn’t nirvana.”
And it just gets worse from there. The critic, Lisa Goff, recounted the eatery’s atmosphere as such: “The entrance to Nirvana’s basement locale is not auspicious, the trip down the dank stairs doesn’t build confidence, and the room itself gives new meaning to the business phrase ‘low overhead’: a low-slung, drop ceiling with fluorescent lighting.” How do you say “Oh, snap!” in Hindi or Punjabi?
The critic then took issue with the appetizers “served unappetizingly in stainless steel containers.” Entrees like the Rogan Josh (“could have easily as come from Ireland as India”) didn’t fair much better in her estimation, and even the desserts she recommended were hailed as “adequate.”
She disliked the price point, she disliked the service, she disliked pretty much everything. Finally, Nirvana was summed up thusly: “If Nirvana were to halve its prices, it might get my recommendation as a place for cheap ethnic eats for people with lots of time and who eat blindfolded.”
Not surprisingly, Nirvana didn’t last too long after that. Since then the space has had many lives, most recently as underground art collectives like Bullseye and Cilli Original Design Gallery. Currently the spot is home to the off-kilter Better Than Television group, which holds a free pancake and disco night on Tuesdays. At least they got the price point right.