Keys to the city: The 23 coolest places in Charlottesville right now

Photo: Thadd McQuade Photo: Thadd McQuade

How long do you have to live somewhere before you’re considered a townie? Does it matter? Once you’re plugged in, once you know all the best spots, who cares how long you’ve been somewhere? Consider this your cheat sheet to Charlottesville. From the hippest bar stool to an unlikely view, we’ve compiled a list of the kind of places your friends won’t believe you know about. Get crackin’!

By Graelyn Brashear, Laura Ingles, Tami Keaveny, Giles Morris, Brandon J. Walker, and Caite White

The Bamboo House is one of those rare places that works because of a combination of things that wouldn’t work at all on their own. On the outside, block letters title a nondescript, boxy little building north of town on 29, tucked into an opening in the tree line, that looks like it might have been the setting for a David Lynch movie. The inside is a hodge-podge of decorations, largely featuring taxidermied animals, and the menu offers a unique mix of (really good) Korean and Chinese food. One thing you definitely won’t fail to notice is the giant karaoke machine, which can be rolled out by appointment for a bizarre, semi-private singalong experience that will impress your weird friends.
4831 Seminole Trail, 973-9211

Photo: Jack Looney
Photo: Jack Looney

Vineyards are hardly a novelty here anymore. For those who feel like they’ve sipped every varietal and soaked up every view, Blenheim Vineyards offers something a little different. For $25, you can get a cellar tour and barrel tasting with winemaker Kirsty Harmon (be sure to call ahead). You’ll get to taste the latest, learn a little more about local viticulture, and peer up at the sunny tasting room of the beautiful winery building through glass panels laid in the floor.
31 Blenheim Farm, 293-5366

Photo: John Robinson
Photo: John Robinson

It used to be that a simple pinball game in the corner of your local pizza parlor was enough to hold your attention, your top score, and your spare change. Now in the age of ubiquitous technology, we can play games on devices almost anywhere (except during takeoff). While the spirit of competitive camaraderie has changed, it can still be found in person at the Carver Recreation Center’s Teen Center. With gaming stations that include Xbox, PlayStation, and Wii, and desktop computers for homework and Facebook updates, the free center is open every day to kids 11 and older. It hosts friendly contests like Madden 2013 super bowls for real prizes and there’s even a touch of old school charm in the collection of board games and a foosball table.
233 Fourth St. NW, 970-3053

Photo: Stacey Evans
Photo: Stacey Evans

Sucker for cemeteries? Charlottesville has some great ones. Maplewood, the city’s oldest public burying place, is a 3.6-acre oasis directly across from the old Martha Jefferson Hospital site. Created in 1826 and anchored by a towering oak tree nearing the end of its life cycle, the place oozes history. To meander between the headstones here is to tour the city’s great family names: Preddys, Carters, Massies, Burnleys, and McIntires lie here, grouped as relatives, some separated by their own wrought-iron fences.

There are no orderly rows per se, so every time you enter, fate picks your path and may deposit you in front of a grave marked 1777, or a memorial to a CSA warrior whose life was cut short, or facing a particular graceful epitaph, like Lelia Herndon’s (she died at 27 years old in 1894): “She opened her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue was the law of kindness.” You’re sure to come upon a dog walker or someone sitting on the hill in the sun, or a ghostly tour, maybe even teenage lovers in a tryst, and that’s because it’s not an out-of-the-way burial ground closed off by a gate, but rather a timeless knoll situated on an old footpath still used today by walking commuters.

When Maplewood was founded, it was farmland just outside the city limits. Today, it’s in the center of Downtown, a place you can watch the fireworks from or hear the bands playing at the Pavilion. What makes it cool, apart from the shadow patterns in which the oak limbs cut up the sunlight on the surface of the stone markers in late morning, is that it feels more alive than dead.
425 Maple St.

Photo: Elli Williams
Photo: Elli Williams

From the Downtown Mall street view, Chroma Art Projects Laboratory looks like a typical contemporary gallery—vast expanses of white wall, professionally lit works of art, and pedestals of sculpture all placed in aesthetic relevance to each other. But Chroma is much more than its foyer conveys. Follow the hallway back and you encounter a maze of nooks and spaces adorned with art. What may be the “coolest” exhibit space in town is the walk-in cooler that once chilled flowers for a former florist business. The gallery hosts the work of 14 artists-in-residence alongside three revolving shows, each with its own identity in a unique forum.
418 E. Main St., 202-0269

Posted In:     Living

Previous Post

A re-opening, a new opening, and a pop-up dinner: This week’s restaurant news

Next Post

Living off the land: A Free Union garden yields produce all year long

Our comments system is designed to foster a lively debate of ideas, offer a forum for the exchange of ad hoc information, and solicit honest, respectful feedback about the work we do. We’re glad you’re participating. Here are a few simple rules to follow, which should be relatively straightforward.

1) Don’t call people names or accuse them of things you cannot support.
2) Don’t direct foul language, racial slurs, or offensive terms at other commenters or our staff.
3) Don’t use the discussion on our site for commercial (or shameless personal) promotion.

We reserve the right to remove posts and ban commenters who violate any of the rules listed above, or the spirit of the discussion. We’re trying to create a safe space for a wide range of people to express themselves, and we believe that goal can only be achieved through thoughtful, sensitive editorial control.

If you have questions or comments about our policies or about a specific post, please send an e-mail to

Leave a Reply

0 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
0 Comment authors
Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of