Charlottesville’s a pricey town, but there are still lots of ways to enjoy yourself on the cheap. So whether you want to eat out or rock out, here are a few of our favorites.
It takes two
Two bucks don’t get you very far these days, but some local breweries and bars don’t believe in such nonsense. South Street will hook you up with any 12-ounce pour under 8 percent alcohol from 11am-9pm on Tuesdays. On Thursdays from 7-9pm, Random Row’s got select pints available. And over on the Corner, the Biltmore has been hosting $2-rail “survivor hours” from 8-9pm on Thursdays ever since “Survivor” was the most popular show on TV.
Join the club
You’ll have to drink 100 beers (take as long as you want) to join the Notch Club at Jack Brown’s, but once you do, you can get 20 percent off food and drinks every Tuesday.
Here’s one we love a hole bunch: Every day, Sugar Shack, the donut chain founded in Richmond by self-proclaimed “donut nostalgia nerd” Ian Kelley, offers a free house donut from its location on West Main Street. But there’s a catch: You have to complete an often-quirky daily challenge to get this particularly sweet deal. Walk in wearing two different shoes. Draw a unicorn. Bring in a Goosebumps book, an arcade token, a disposable camera, or your drumsticks (whether they’re talking percussion mallets or meaty poultry, we’re not sure). Follow @cvilledonuts on Twitter or Sugar Shack Donuts Charlottesville on Facebook for the sweet deets.
The Paramount occasionally opens its doors for free live sporting events on the big screen, including UVA men’s basketball games. Keep a close eye on the theater’s online events calendar throughout the season.
Fill ‘er up
One shell of a deal
Get a lobster dinner for around $20 at The Pub by Wegmans on Thursdays.
Sound of free music
Charlottesville is bursting with music these days, and it doesn’t always have to bust your wallet. Fridays After Five has been around long enough—this is its 31st season—to be an institution, and even if the summer is winding down, there’s still a chance to catch Skip Castro September 5, which will be a Thursday After Five. Fall is a good time to Freefall with WTJU and IX Art Park’s Saturday music and art series through October 5. And at Carter Mountain’s Thursday Evening Sunset Series, the free concerts come with a view.
Tank you, thank you
Getting your fill at Brown’s convenience store and gas station on Avon Street means a tank of gas plus your choice of a crispy, fried chicken snack. Grab a wing, drumstick, thigh, or breast for free when you put 10-plus gallons of fuel in your ride.
We here at C-VILLE believe in supporting the arts in many ways, including financially…but we know that’s not always possible when you have other necessities (like rent, groceries, or an electric bill) to cover. Enter Live Arts’ pay-what-you-can Wednesdays. During any production run, show up to the Live Arts box office in advance of a hump day performance, and ask if any PWYC tickets are available.
*Don’t be a cheapskate. If you can spend twenty bucks on a play, then do it.
Save on fees by buying your tix in person at the Jefferson, Southern, and Pavilion box offices (where you’ll still pay a flat 50-cent fee), and the Paramount box office, where there’s no fee at all.
We’re lucky enough to have the wonders of Shenandoah National Park in our backyard, and on selected holidays during the year, you can even get in for free (the next one is National Public Lands Day, on September 28). See nps.gov for the complete list.
Alamo Drafthouse frequently offers $5 screenings, and while you won’t catch the latest, most popular releases for a paper Lincoln, you could see something old and nostalgic (like Godzilla-adjacent Mothra), or, if you’re reel open, something from the Video Vortex series, featuring “ultra-obscure, ultra-bizarre movies from the fringes of the universe. And beyond.”
A la c-art
The first Friday of every month, local galleries open their doors for evening receptions, often offering free drinks and snacks alongside quality, thought-provoking art from local, national, and international artists, Need we say more? Keep your eyes peeled for C-VILLE’s handy First Fridays guide, out the first Wednesday of every month, to help you choose which shows to see.
We’re not sure which is the better deal at Tilman’s on the Downtown Mall: Half off bottles of wine on the bar menu from 3-9pm on Tuesdays, or no corkage fee (a $10 savings) on retail-priced bottles from 3-10pm Thursdays. The former will get you an old-world wine—a viognier from France or a barbera from Italy, for instance—from $15 to $23, and the latter means you’ll pay shelf price and get to sit and sip in the calm little space at the back of the shop.
Half-price wine specials are also on the chalkboard every Wednesday at Fry’s Spring Station on JPA, and Zinburger at Barracks Road, for early birds only (3-6pm).
At Carver Rec on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons, the roller skating and skate rentals are free (and so are the irresistible dance hits).
At its three Charlottesville locations (and also in Crozet and Richmond, if you’re traveling), Grit Coffee will pour you a hot or iced regular coffee—meaning, no fancy latte stuff—when you buy a pound of beans. Let us help you with the math: The bag will cost $13 to $17, and the drink you’ll receive gratis would go for $2 to $4. Cha-ching! Meanwhile, another prominent local coffee roaster said it offers the same deal—but requested that we not publish anything about it. Freebies on the DL only, we guess!
…or for a buck!
Also at Grit, enjoy a “coffee happy hour” from 3-4pm every weekday, with $1 off all coffee drinks. That means you can get a small drip coffee for just a dollar! That’ll perk you up.
Now, this is how you stretch a dollar. Pay-what-you-can yoga at IX Art Park has a suggested price of $5 to $15 for an hour of expert instruction, now through October 31. Just show up at the patio adjacent to the Dream Big mural at 6pm. Your instructor’s name is Shankari. She is a true yogi, with her own signature style of Hatha yoga and Vinyasa Flow, which she calls “Soul Flow.” An hour on the mat under her direction, starting at five bucks? Worth it. Visit the IX Art Park events page on Facebook for more info.
Students can catch many shows at the Paramount for half-off with their university ID, anytime within 45 minutes of showtime.
Live in Crozet? You can ride into town for free, now through October 1, on the new Crozet Connect commuter bus, operated by Jaunt. (In October, the very reasonable fare of $2 each way goes into effect, though UVA ID holders will always ride free.) Meant to be a commuter service for workers and students, the bus has three stops in Charlottesville (the Downtown Mall, UVA Grounds, and UVA Medical Center), with multiple pickup points in east and west Crozet. See findyourconnection.org for schedules and info.
The Saturday children’s storytimes at New Dominion Bookshop and 2nd Act Books, on the Downtown Mall, are free. But the chance to browse the shelves while someone else entertains your kiddos? Priceless.
Got kids at UVA? The Hotel Tonight app—the cooler version of booking on, say, Hotels.com—has expanded its offerings in town, from solid Fairfield and Holiday Inns to luxe choices such as the Boar’s Head Resort and the Omni at the west end of the Downtown Mall. A quick check at press time showed nightly room rates in September of $99 at the Graduate, $82 at the UVA Inn at Darden, and $176 at the Boar’s Head—savings of $20 to $50 a night. Rates in Charlottesville fluctuate wildly, depending on what’s happening on Grounds, but the app will always put a dent in the cost of your stay.
The Lazy Parrot, by the Pantops Food Lion, might not be your first thought for craft beer. But they’ve got 40 beers on tap, and for the $10 pitchers on Saturdays you can choose from any one of them, including some top-notch indie brews.
Parking is the most often-cited reason for people not coming downtown. But here’s the deal: The first hour is free at both the Water and Market street parking garages. And if your lunch date goes 15 minutes over, it’ll cost you a buck. Beats circling around looking for a street space if you’re running late. If you want to go see a movie, Violet Crown validates for four hours at either garage.
There’s no better deal than our public libraries, and it’s not just the free books and DVDs.
Charlottesville’s downtown branch carries “health kits” and “maker kits” that come with both equipment and instructions that you can take home for three weeks at a time. “Getting started with yoga,” for example, includes a yoga mat, block, strap, DVD, and instructional materials. Maker kits include knitting, embroidery, calligraphy, and more. Parents can check out toys, free passes to the Virginia Discovery Museum, or a parking pass good for any Virginia state park, along with a backpack filled with pocket naturalist guides.
Staff at every branch can proctor exams or notarize documents for free, and can provide one-on-one tech training, says reference librarian Abbie Cox. At the downtown branch you can also digitize your photos, negatives, slides, and audio or VHS tapes, all for free by appointment.
From the library’s website, you can download e-books and audiobooks onto your phone, and access databases for language learning, investment news, auto repair, and much more.
Finally, don’t forget all the free classes and events at every branch—including books clubs for all ages, crafting groups, movie nights, story times, and special events, from a discussion on remembering past lives at the Crozet branch to a poetry open mic at Gordon Avenue. Pick up a program guide at any branch or go to jmrl.org.
The butcher’s counter at Reid Super-Save Market, on Preston Avenue, is a stealth favorite for hard-to-find cuts of meat that won’t break the bank. Although most prices vary from week to week, Reid has offered a deal for 80/20 hamburger meat for just $2.99 a pound for the last two years—which management says has been the biggest draw for their meat counter.
As a locally owned grocery store in a city full of national chains, Reid offers a mom-and-pop atmosphere where employees know many of their customers, and often offer advice on how to prepare their products. The butchers will custom cut any order and prepare specialty items, like pig’s feet and turkey gizzards, that can’t be found at many other stores.
Weekly deals last from Wednesdays to Tuesdays and can be found on its website at reidsupersavemarket.com.
Kids eat free!
Lots of spots around town offer free meals for the little ones, including Moe’s BBQ (Sunday or Monday evenings, depending on location) and Boylan Heights (Wednesdays from 4-8pm).
Most art museums cost a pretty penny to get into, but here in Charlottesville, they’re free to peruse. And we have some real gems, full of thoughtfully-curated shows.
The Fralin Museum of Art at UVA, over on Rugby Road, is the university’s teaching museum, but it’s not just for students. The museum changes up its exhibitions every few months, and in the past year alone it’s had shows focused on Native American women artists, images of the interior, Asian art from private collections, and so much more (one current show, “Otherwise,” visualizes LGBTQ+ themes in honor of the 1969 Stonewall uprising). Check out the free family programs, tours, and gallery talks, too.
And then there’s the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, located on Pantops, the only exclusively Aboriginal art museum outside of Australia. Think about what that means: On the six other continents on Earth, there is only one such museum, and it’s here. (Are your eyes popping yet?)
The Kluge-Ruhe rotates exhibitions every few months, constantly showing the breadth and the depth, as well as the global importance, of the work Aboriginal artists produce. What’s more, these artists often travel halfway around the world for residencies at the museum, giving us all a rare opportunity to interact with people who live, well, literally half a world away.
We’d be loath to leave out the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center gallery here—curated by Andrea Douglas, who holds a doctorate in art history and is a former Fralin curator, it’s a museum-quality exhibition space focused on the African American experience.