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

Photo: Tom Daly
Photo: Tom Daly

Coran Capshaw’s multi-million-dollar overhaul breathed new life into the aging Jefferson Theater, which opened as a combination vaudeville and silent movie hall just over 100 years ago. A rich and often raunchy history surrounds the Jeff, including a renovation process that peeled back layers of plaster and wood to reveal some structural surprises.

One, walled off for six decades before the 2009-2010 renovation, tends to go unnoticed by the casual theatergoer.
“Funny,” said Warren Parker, the Jefferson Theater’s production manager, “I don’t think we have an official name for it. Sometimes it’s the ‘Third Balcony,’ sometimes it’s ‘Upper Balcony,’ and sometimes there’s a lot of ‘I gotta go all the way up top.’”

Whatever you call it, the perch near the ceiling has standing room for about 50 people and a clear, if somewhat distant, view of the stage. It’s not open for every show, but when it is, it’s a great, kind of secret spot for when you want to feel above it all.
110 E. Main St., 245-4980

Photo: John Robinson
Photo: John Robinson

One does not often find good theatre in small-ish towns, so the fact that Charlottesville and the surrounding areas boast the quality of work they do is a privilege worthy of deep appreciation, and it can be argued that the vanguard of that phenomenon is Live Arts. The place is all about community, too, and at no other time is that more prevalent than on Pay-What-You-Can nights, essentially giving you no reason at all not to expand your horizons a bit. Head to the box office the day of the show, pay for it what you think it warrants, and get an eyeful of a community-minded arts venue earning its stripes.
123 E. Water St., 977-4177

Photo: Elli Williams
Photo: Elli Williams

Bro, do you even thrift? Some might consider it a liability to wear used clothes; others wouldn’t have it any other way. Low Vintage offers up that option and more. Tucked away underneath the Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar, it feels like walking into an apartment in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene. Much of the standard vintage fare can be found among its racks, but there’s also a little anteroom off to the side where you can find all sorts of neat stuff like antique silverware, mid-century furniture, or maybe something really unique like an old harmonium. And, of course, they’ve got your granddad’s clothes. (You’ll look incredible!)
105 Fifth St. SE, 293-9082

Photo: Elli Williams
Photo: Elli Williams

Like anything, record collecting can be a bit of a trade off: If you end up at a well-kept place, you pay more, and vice versa. For the most part. What makes Melody Supreme so cool is that it is an entirely manageable middle-ground. Well lit, no mildew smell, not overwhelming in selection nor prohibitive in pricing. Treasure hunters find stacks of deals through which to dig, casual browsers immediately catch accessible titles on the shelves, and obscure hipster types find a plethora of alt-this or post-that. And, if you can believe it, the staff will actually answer your questions, as opposed to the standard blank stare peppered with undercurrents of contempt.
115 Fourth St. SE, 760-3618

Photo: John Robinson
Photo: John Robinson

As seen from the sidewalk near the intersection of Preston and McIntire, Charlottesville’s newest coffee bar may have all the curb appeal of a temp agency. But don’t let the plain brick facade fool you. Inside, Milli Joe is the goldilocks of java joints: It’s not too big nor too small. It’s rarely anything but bustling, but there’s always a free outlet for your laptop. There’s music playing, but not too loudly, and it’s set to a Pandora station you’d actually pick. Grad students share sectional space with graying hipsters around a wide communal table or settle back into deep leather armchairs, and the staff never fails to smile when they swipe your card on an Apple Square-enabled iPad and hand you your drink.

Oh, and the coffee? Tops. Owner Nick Leichtentritt emphasizes a manual espresso-making process, including hand-tamping the grind, and the result is brew that can more than hold its own with the best of the this town’s bean snobs.
Need more convincing? Three words: Nutella and waffles.
400 Preston Ave., Suite 150

Photo: Jack Looney
Photo: Jack Looney

Observatory Hill, also known as Mount Jefferson (not to be confused with the stratovolcano in Oregon), offers one of the best local trails in the Charlottesville area. The summit was originally bought for its suitability as an observatory site for UVA, hence the name.

Located just behind the Observatory water treatment plant and Alderman Road Residence Area, the 860′ wooded mountain gives hikers, runners, and bicyclists a challenging but scenic workout. Local running and biking groups frequent the trails for training, and you can’t beat the view of Charlottesville from the top.

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