The cap­i­tal city of West Vir­ginia, set in the shadow of the Ap­palachi­ans, is full of cre­ative artists and chefs — but for­get the reser­va­tions

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY MELANIE D.G. KA­PLAN Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Post YOU’RE GO­ING WHERE?

A city that has time for you is a win. In Charleston, W.Va., you can park your car all day for $3, catch free live mu­sic al­most ev­ery night and be seated right away — sans reser­va­tions — at the city’s best restau­rant. Servers and shop­keep­ers have the time to ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions, often in de­light­ful ways: The owner of Swift­wa­ter Cafe de­signed me a cus­tom sand­wich, and the owner of Elk City Records, af­ter we ban­tered about dogs, asked, “Ever heard Por­tuguese mu­sic?” Sec­onds later, a record spun and a gor­geous sound em­anated from the speak­ers.

I’ve vis­ited three times in the last four years, tak­ing small de­tours from road trips to eat at one of my fa­vorite restau­rants in the re­gion, Blue­grass Kitchen. This time, I cast a wider net. Lo­cated on the banks of the Kanawha River, this bik­able cap­i­tal city has vis­i­ble scars from its eco­nomic strug­gles: boarded-up houses and va­cant store­fronts in the mid­dle of town. As I wheeled around, I had the re­cur­ring thought that the city was far short of ca­pac­ity, both in peo­ple and busi­nesses. But that means it’s a wel­com­ing (read: af­ford­able) place for artists, small busi­nesses and vis­i­tors es­cap­ing big-city prices and crowds.


Lo­cal Faves

Lit­tle in Charleston im­pressed me more than 1 Live on the Levee, and it wasn’t the mu­sic. The city comes out of the wood­work for this free and weekly out­door con­cert se­ries in Had­dad River­front Park — bik­ers in cow­boy boots, teenage girls in too-high heels, hip­pies, canoodlers, dancers, smok­ers, dogs, strollers, young and old. In the lineup: 10,000 Ma­ni­acs in July and Tusk: the Ul­ti­mate Fleet­wood Mac Trib­ute in Au­gust.

One morn­ing, I biked across the Kanawha River and found my­self in a wooded haven, the 2 Sun­rise Car­riage Trail. I walked a .65-mile zigzag­ging path up 180 feet to a spot that of­fers a gen­er­ous view of the city when trees are bare. The path was built in 1905, when horse­drawn ve­hi­cles hauled ma­te­rial to build the hill­top es­tate of Gov. Wil­liam MacCorkle. To­day, it houses a law firm.

Guide­book Musts

On the East End of town, I joined a fourth-grade class at the 3 Capi­tol Com­plex for free tours of the Capi­tol build­ing and Gover­nor’s Man­sion. (Also in the com­plex: the West Vir­ginia State Mu­seum, where you can see the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s 1978 LP, “Moun­tain Fid­dler.”) Our guide, Grace, pointed out the man­sion’s West Vir­ginia-shaped raised gar­den bed and the Dutch clock that plays seven baroque arias. A kid asked Grace if she had met the gover­nor. “I have. He’s a very nice man. Very tall,” she dead­panned, adding that he sleeps in an ex­tra long bed. We had no choice but to be­lieve her — the up­stairs was off-lim­its.

Open year-round, 4 Capi­tol Mar­ket is where lo­cals meet for cof­fee and tourists look quizzi­cally at items like chow­chow (a re­gional rel­ish). In­side, you can buy meat, seafood, choco­late, wine, grains and spices. Out­side, the fresh pro­duce is ir­re­sistible. I bought a small jar of lo­cally har­vested J.Q. Dick­son salt and avoided the spicy of­fer­ings — Un­cle Bunk’s 14-day sweet hot pickles, Yoder’s jalapeño pick­led eggs and Or­di­nary Eve­lyn’s hot pep­per but­ter.

Eat Lo­cal Faves

If din­ing at 5 Mi Cocina de Amor feels like sit­ting in your Mex­i­can grand­mother’s kitchen, owner and chef Frank Gon­za­les has done his job. Us­ing gen­er­a­tions of recipes from his fam­ily, he opened this Elk City spot, which has be­come a fa­vorite of lo­cals. For a laugh: the Bad Hom­bre Tacos. For a deal: Mar­garita Mon­day or Taco Tues­day. For a West Vir­ginia spin on beverages: peach moonshine mar­gar­i­tas and Ap­palachian iced tea. Keep an eye out for Gon­za­les’s next neigh­bor­hood joint, Gon­zoburger, open­ing this sum­mer.

Af­ter bik­ing up steep Bridge Road, I needed to re­fuel and stum­bled upon a restau­rant in a con­verted, cen­tury-old house: 6 Lola’s. Funky art adorned the walls, and the Supremes wafted through the speak­ers. I set­tled on a large, pur­ple­cush­ioned bench in a sunny room. Lola’s is known for hand­crafted ar­ti­san pizza and lo­cally made Ellen’s ice cream. A beet salad with goat cheese and can­died wal­nuts hit the spot, and gen­eral man­ager Mike of­fered me shop­ping tips on the West Side.

Guide­book Musts

7 Blue­grass Kitchen stands out in a city where Tu­dor’s Bis­cuit World (fast food in bis­cuit form) is often named as a fa­vorite restau­rant. But it also has been cel­e­brated far be­yond the city, and for good rea­son. For 12 years, the own­ers have been putting an up­scale, eclec­tic spin on com­fort food, cel­e­brat­ing the state’s Ap­palachian her­itage with a menu that changes daily. At Blue­grass, you can wear flip-flops, chat with lo­cals and eat sus­tain­ably and or­gan­i­cally. And there’s more: kitschy vinyl table­cloths, pressed tin ceil­ings, live mu­sic nightly, house­pick­led ramps and dilly beans, cre­ative cock­tails and plenty of veg­e­tar­ian op­tions. This time, I or­dered the mock chicken and herb dumplings. The blue­berry but­ter­milk pie with vanilla bean whipped cream? I or­der that ev­ery time.

Lo­cated down­town, 8 Black Sheep Bur­rito & Brews was per­fectly sit­u­ated af­ter a long morn­ing of shop­ping. I sat at the bar, with a front-seat view through the glass-walled Bad Shep­herd Brew­ery next door and or­dered a flock of tacos new to my pal­ette, in­clud­ing one with tem­pura avocado and an­other with fresh roasted beets. They ar­rived on alu­minum plates, in­di­vid­u­ally wrapped in foil. The restau­rant serves four types of san­gria and beers with names like Bad Shep­herd Milk Stout and Why Ewe Whin­ing.

Shop Lo­cal Faves

9 Kin Ship Goods had me at the Char­lie Brown turntable and the retro camp­ing trailer socks. That’s a lie — the shop’s res­i­dent bea­gles lured me in. Lo­cated in a space with ex­posed brick walls, it’s the kind of store in which you start jus­ti­fy­ing gifts; af­ter all, you know the per­fect re­cip­i­ent for the toy wooden ban­jolele, the “Ask me about my dog” tee and that set of lum­ber­jack-tool tem­po­rary tat­toos. The own­ers hold oc­ca­sional work­shops and talks with artists and mu­si­cians. T-shirts are printed on-site.

One of two record shops in town, 10 Sul­li­van’s Records has a ro­bust se­lec­tion of vinyl, from Fleet Foxes to Flam­ing Lips, Bach to Bil­lie Hol­i­day. Shop owner Sam also sells turnta­bles and band posters that took me back to the ’80s (the Clash, the Smiths). I donned head­phones to sam­ple an Earl Scruggs al­bum. Home­ward Bound Books re­cently opened in the back, with enough in­ven­tory to have a sec­tion on sex, di­rectly above the sec­tion called “Wrestling with God.” On my way out, an older gen­tle­man asked Sam if he had any Dire Straits. “I miss it,” he said. “Money for nothin’ and chicks for free.”

Guide­book Musts

Ev­ery time I visit Charleston, I spend more of my time at 11 Tay­lor Books. Im­por­tant for its fine se­lec­tion of Ap­palachian ti­tles (“Moun­tain Mea­sures: A Col­lec­tion of West Vir­ginia Recipes” for adults and “A is for Ap­palachia” for kids), beloved for its wel­com­ing cof­fee shop that sells no-bakes (a sweet re­gional fa­vorite) and sur­pris­ing for its ad­ja­cent gallery of lo­cal art and base­ment screen­ing room, Tay­lor is an in­sti­tu­tion. This visit, I dis­cov­ered the large used-book sec­tion in the back. Next time, I’ll stay for live mu­sic.

Among Charleston’s sev­eral vin­tage and an­tique re­tail­ers, 12 the Pur­ple Moon takes the cake — and prob­a­bly serves it on a fab mid­cen­tury modern plat­ter. The shop’s rooms are taste­fully filled with stylish fur­ni­ture, light­ing and glass­ware, from a mod space­ship desk lamp to a West Ger­man pot­tery vase. The owner, Con­nie, stood by a thought­fully cu­rated col­lec­tion of vin­tage glass and briefed me on re­gional hand­blown items from pi­o­neer­ing com­pa­nies such as Blenko and Fen­ton. Pur­ple Moon is part of down­town’s ArtWalk, held the third Thurs­day of ev­ery month.

Stay Lo­cal Faves

Just a block from the Capi­tol Com­plex, the 13 Brass Pineap­ple Inn was built in 1907, well be­fore con­struc­tion of the new state Capi­tol build­ing. Oper­at­ing as a bed-and-break­fast since 1989 — with oblig­a­tory flo­ral prints, four-poster beds and an­tique claw-foot tubs — the inn sits among late-Vic­to­rian res­i­dences on a tree-lined street in the city’s his­toric East End. Ev­ery spring for a quar­ter-cen­tury, the neigh­bor­hood has hosted what is sup­pos­edly the state’s largest one-day com­mu­nity yard sale.

Guide­book Musts

At the 14 Four Points by Sher­a­ton Charleston, you’ll have the best views, the best go­ings-on on your front porch and per­haps the best happy hour in town. Ris­ing above the river, the Sher­a­ton is front row for Live on the Levee and big fes­ti­vals such as Biker Bash, a mo­tor­cy­cle rally in June; and Rod Run Doo Wop, a clas­sic-car show in Oc­to­ber. Ev­ery Wed­nes­day is Brews and BBQ (free sam­ples of lo­cal craft beer and bar­be­cue) for lobby bar pa­trons. Tip: Ask for a river view on the east end of the ninth or 10th floor to see the dome.

Ex­plore Lo­cal Faves

Like a dream come true, ev­ery shop I en­tered in the 15 Elk City His­toric District on the West Side had a shop dog. Take Calvin the hound mix at Elk City Records, whose ti­tle is di­rec­tor of se­cu­rity and morale. But I also saw a neigh­bor­hood be­gin­ning its re­nais­sance. Thanks to af­ford­able com­mer­cial space and a re­brand­ing cam­paign, the cre­ative class has set up shop here. Base Camp Print­ing, next door to Kin Ship Goods, is a store­front let­ter­press print shop. Nearby: Mi Cocina de Amor and Bully Trap, a walk-in only, cash-only bar­ber shop. At Calvin’s shop, owner and re­tired lawyer Phil Melick is hardly a starv­ing artist, but he shares the pas­sion and en­ergy of other small busi­ness own­ers here. Plus, he has a mighty fine col­lec­tion of records for Calvin to pro­tect.

Guide­book Musts

One af­ter­noon, I ped­aled over the river and up to the 16 South Hills neigh­bor­hood. And up. And up. I wasn’t pre­pared for the steep­ness of the hill. But I was pleased at the top to find the Bridge Road Shops, a lit­tle hill­top des­ti­na­tion of cloth­ing bou­tiques, sa­lons and restau­rants, a respite from the gritty down­town. Eclec­tics sells lo­cally made ac­ces­sories and gifts; Sarah’s Bak­ery has sweet and sa­vory pies; and Lola’s has a charm­ing pa­tio for din­ing al­fresco. The Folded Leaf yoga stu­dio of­fers do­na­tion-based com­mu­nity classes on Sun­days. Open­ing this sum­mer: gela­te­ria Caffe Romeo.


TOP, FROM LEFT: In Charleston, W.Va., the wares at Sul­li­van’s Records; a cou­ple dance at the Wine & All That Jazz Fes­ti­val; the state’s Capi­tol build­ing is taller than the U.S. Capi­tol. ABOVE: Dusk col­ors abound near the South Side Bridge across the Kanawha River, which sep­a­rates the city.

1 Live on the Levee 600 Kanawha Blvd. E liveon­ 2 Sun­rise Car­riage Trail 746 Myrtle Rd. 304-344-5075­ing/sun­rise­car­riage-trail.aspx 3 Capi­tol Com­plex 1900 Kanawha Blvd. E. 304-558-4839 www.wv­cul­ capi­tol.html 4 Capi­tol Mar­ket 800 Smith St. 304-344-1905 capi­tol­mar­

5 Mi Cocina de Amor 711 Bigley Ave. 304-205-5461 wvmex­i­can­ 6 Lola’s 1038 Bridge Rd. 304-343-5652 lo­ 7 Blue­grass Kitchen 1600 Wash­ing­ton St. E. 304-346-2871 blue­

8 Black Sheep Bur­rito & Brews 702 Quar­rier St. 304-343-2739 black­ 9 Kin Ship Goods 613 Ten­nessee Ave. kin­ship­

10 Sul­li­van’s Records 1588 Wash­ing­ton St. E. 304-344-4355 face­­li­van­sRecords/

11 Tay­lor Books 226 Capi­tol St. 304-342-1461 tay­lor­ 12 The Pur­ple Moon 906 Quar­rier St. 304-345-0123 thep­ur­ple­ 13 Brass Pineap­ple Inn 1611 Vir­ginia St E. 304-344-0748 brasspineap­ Brass_Pineap­ple/Wel­come.html

14 Four Points by Sher­a­ton Charleston 600 Kanawha Blvd. E. 304-344-4092 star­wood­ho­­points/ prop­erty/over­view/ in­dex.html?prop­er­tyID=3901

15 Elk City His­toric District Wash­ing­ton Street be­tween Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio av­enues, specif­i­cally Wash­ing­ton and Ten­nessee charleston­west­

16 South Hills Bridge Road in South Hills, specif­i­cally Bridge and Wal­nut


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