Starting a new tab as RTD’s bar columnist
I’ve been through a few stages in my life as a bar-goer.
There were the college years in Fredericksburg, where I subsisted off of bottom-shelf vodka with cranberry juice served in flimsy plastic cups. Then I spent the bulk of my 20s in Charleston, S.C., where I learned to drink properly thanks to covering the food and beverage scene for the local alt-weekly (and working with many heavy drinkers at said altweekly). Then it was Boston for a bit, where I once accidentally paid $22 for a gin gimlet at a swanky hotel bar. I couldn’t afford to drink in that town, and that’s part of why I started looking for someplace cheaper to live.
My husband and I flew down to Richmond for an exploratory weekend, mulling over the move one steamy August night at The Roosevelt. It was there that Thomas “T” Leggett served us a lineup of stellar cocktails, the details of which I can’t remember (and not because it was almost four years ago). That’s the night we tipsily decided to make an impulsive move to the River City, and we haven’t looked back since.
I guess technically we could blame that locally legendary cocktail master for bringing us here. So thanks, T.
I’ve never worked behind a bar myself, and I won’t pretend to be an expert on any type of alcohol. I’m not ashamed to order the cheapest wine on the menu, or choose a beer because it’s made with something weird like doughnuts or tea leaves. Craft cocktails are my weakness, though I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with them. I’m a sucker for concoctions made with a dozen different ingredients, but sometimes I can’t help but laugh at the fussiness of it all. My go-to order is a gin and tonic (with Hendrick’s), my alltime favorite is a French 75, and at home I gulp vinho verde like it’s water.
Now that I’m in my 30s, I prefer to do my drinking during daylight hours and to be tucked snugly in my bed before closing time. I want to be able to pull up a barstool, chat with the bartender, and eavesdrop on the couple next to me while savoring my drink. I want to notice the little things that set the tone for the entire space, from the music being played and the bathroom décor to the menu design and lighting. For me, going to a bar is about enjoying the overall experience — otherwise, I’d just drink on my front porch.
I’m the annoying person who’s always taking pictures of my drinks, but otherwise, I try to stay off my phone at the bar, even if I’m sitting alone. If you look and listen hard enough, you’re just about guaranteed to find something more interesting than Instagram from the seat of any barstool.
And that’s what I’m offering: one person’s perspective on Richmond’s bars, from the shiniest new spots to the dirty dives and OG cocktail joints. My take on the obvious stuff — like bar menus and drink specials and décor — and the things you start to notice a few drinks in — like how comfortable the chairs are, how sticky the floors are, and how loudly the girlfriends two seats over are discussing their latest Tinder dates.
Every bar in Richmond has a story to tell, and I look forward to the opportunity to listen — while sipping a few drinks, of course.