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

Photo: Jack Looney
Photo: Jack Looney

It may not be open to the general public (you’ll have to attend an event to get in), but Old Metropolitan Hall is the kind of place worth snagging an invite to. Aside from its ultra-hip interior (stark white walls, old pine floors, glamorous chandeliers, and a wall of mirrors to greet you on the main floor), the new (and newly renovated) venue boasts a downstairs bar area, a bridal suite, and bathrooms so beautiful you’ll want to keep drinking just for an excuse to visit them again. As if that’s not enough to impress, the shades and a projection screen are operated from an iPhone app that doubles as a remote control. It’s Old Met in the New Age.
101 E. Main St., 260-7144

William Faulkner's typewriter. Photo: Courtesy Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
William Faulkner’s typewriter. Photo: Courtesy Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library

Bibliophiles know that Charlottesvillians share a city with a treasure trove of tomes. UVA’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, housed in the Harrison Institute, has about 325,000 books, including many rare and one-of-a-kind titles. An original manuscript of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass lives there, as do thousands of documents in Jefferson’s own hand and the only known copy of Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man inscribed by the author. While you can’t just stroll in and leaf through the collections, researchers and classes can request access and building tours. You can also see a slice of what’s hiding in the stacks through permanent and rotating exhibitions, including books and papers from the world’s most comprehensive collection of documents about the Declaration of Independence.
160 McCormick Rd., 924-3025

Photo: Stacey Evans
Photo: Stacey Evans

One of the things that makes Charlottesville cool is that it’s a place where the country meets the city, but you’d be hard-pressed to put your finger on the map over a point on the planning grid where nature feels the most imminent. It’s not like Missoula, where the Bitterroots emerge from the haze as a beacon of wilderness, or Boulder, where the mountains are literally on top of you. It’s not even like Eugene, where the Willamette ripples through the downtown like the buildings never existed.

But if you sit at the confluence of Meadow Creek and the Rivanna River, whether you get there from the Pen Park golf course, the Darden Towe parking area, or the footpath at the end of Locust Avenue, you’ll find yourself transported. Street noise fades away and the sound of water fills your ears. You’re far more likely to meet bluebirds, kingfishers, and herons than other people here. If you do, they’ll be laughing their heads off swinging from the rope swing that deposits you in the deep pool the creek digs into the riverbed, or catching sunfish with poppers on the ledge below the riffle, or floating past you in a canoe on their way to the boat landing.

It’s a place you can go anytime of year to watch the seasons change and feel at the center of the universe. Turtles sunning on logs in summer, orange leaves making haiku patterns in the side eddies during fall, deer grazing the frosty bottomland in winter, and the smells of a million green things unfurling in spring. Sit down, close your eyes, and breathe.

Photo: John Robinson
Photo: John Robinson

The cozy upstairs portion of Fellini’s #9 may not be such a secret anymore, but it’s undoubtedly one of the coolest places in Charlottesville. With limited seating behind a closed door requiring a password, the Prohibition era-inspired bar is the perfect setting for a date or night out with a small group. The space is small and usually crowded—unlike most bars, they won’t pack you in there like sardines, so you may have to wait in the stairwell before getting a seat.

True to speakeasy form, we’ll keep the details minimal and a little mysterious, but the drink menu is expansive; drinks range from the classic sloe gin fizz to cocktails involving flames or raw eggs. The bartenders and servers are dressed in snazzy vests and bowties, and be sure to ask Joan about the time someone stole a bottle of Scotch from the second-story window.
200 W. Market St., 979-4279

Photo: Elli Williams
Photo: Elli Williams

Telegraph, Charlottesville’s new print gallery on Fourth Street NE, is the kind of place that draws you in with a pretty storefront and then, once you start flipping through the postcard- to poster-sized prints on display and available for sale, reveals the wonderful weirdness at its core.

Kate deNeveu and David Murray opened the combination gallery and retail space earlier this year, and in addition to the selection of small-print books and artsy magazines, each month brings a new exhibition of prints from well-known and emerging artists based around a theme (monsters, space). Give yourself some time to browse if you go in—you’ll need it to decide whether to take home that book of graphic short stories by Joseph Lambert or a Ryan Berkeley illustration of a hammerhead shark in a pinstripe suit.
110 Fourth St. NE, 244-3210

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