Retro Roanoke: Your ticket to Virginia's heart

Roanoke is a Virginia classic where retro and modern mix for a great getaway. Photo: Ruth Hill

WASHINGTON, August 12, 2011“Every cup of coffee we pour is poured with love, because we know our customers and they know us,” says Roanoke’s Michelle Bennett, owner of Cups, a coffee and tea stop in Roanoke’s Historic Grandin Village. “Our coffee and pastries are great, but the best thing about us is that we are local.”

What’s local? Just step into this ‘hood dating to the 1920’s and you’ll quickly learn the attributes of independent, unique and another Virginia era and lifestyle. In this Blue Ridge gateway city, you find retro neighborhoods like Grandin, and plenty to explore that’s quirky, yesteryear, and friendly – with lots in between. Think Cheers on TV where everybody local knew one another’s name – that’s the picture.

Grandin Theater anchors one of Roanoke's retro 'hoods. (Photo: Ruth Hill)

Grandin Theater anchors one of Roanoke’s retro ‘hoods. (Photo: Ruth Hill)

 

Grandin visitors also find a restored 1930’s movie theater, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and a natural foods story, circa 1970’s. Add in a used bookstore, a barber shop with the quintessential candy striped barber pole, local artisan outlets, and a vintage clothing emporium. It’s a place to do your errands, greet friends, and relax in a different time.

Within about five blocks of Grandin, discover Black Dog Salvage, home of 40,000 square feet of architectural antiques that will keep you busy poking and browsing even if you’re not looking to buy. Where else can you find rows of vintage footed bathtubs, urinals and lawn chairs like your grandmother used to re-paint every year for her garden? Dealer stalls offer more: tempting home collectibles and gift items.

Black Dog Salvage has footed tubs, vintage urinals and a lot more in its treasure trove. (Photo: Ruth Hill)

Black Dog Salvage has footed tubs, vintage urinals and a lot more in its treasure trove. (Photo: Ruth Hill)

 

A retro Roanoke day should begin with breakfast at 1941 Roanoker Restaurant, where there are homemade biscuits Southern Living recently anointed in its “Off the Eaten Path” cookbook. Slather them with butter and apple butter or the owner’s own gravy. Not too peppery but nice and creamy.

For lunch, there’s contemporary repast inside the vintage walls of Wildflour Market and Bakery in the Historic Old Southwest neighborhood near downtown. The menu has California style written all over it, with good reason. Owners Doug and Evie Robison (she is from the Golden State) serve up fresh and creative like tomato and cheddar cheese soup, homemade breads, salads, and desserts that pay homage to both western and southern palates. Killer Carrot Cake is a don’t-miss item.

After lunch, look around walk or drive around Southwest architecture that reflects the hood’s development between the 1890’s and 1930’s. Once the city’s premier residential district, its style mix includes Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Neoclassical, Bungalow and Arts and Crafts. Everything is still standing because the Old Southwest Neighborhood Alliance formed in the 1970’s saved it from destruction after a period of decline.

Roanoke’s downtown district is also retro.

The place to sleep for your vintage Roanoke experience is the iconic Hotel Roanoke, a National Historic Landmark and social center for the valley region for over a century. Its position on a hillside overlooking the downtown district gives great vantage to explore the city’s railroad roots and modern additions, like the ultra-modern Taubman Museum of Art and the O. Winston Link Museum of early railroad photography. Virginia Museum of Transportation is the state’s official museum of transportation in the old Norfolk & Western Railway Freight Station where 2,500 objects including 50 pieces of rolling stock like locomotives and rail cars define other transportation era.

Take a stroll through the Historic Market District where Roanoke’s dedication to preserving its past with new design and uses really shines. The newly renovated Market Building may look much as it has for decades on the outside, but after a thorough renovation, its interior now houses a lot of contemporary lures such as art, country stores, and restaurants along with the produce. Other delectable emporia – including Chocolatepaper, Ladies & Linens, and Shades of Color - ring the streets where farmers’ stalls have brought in food shoppers since 1882.

A great close to a retro Roanoke tour is a hillside view of the valley from atop Mill Mountain, home to the famed 1949 Roanoke Star.  It once heralded a Christmas shopping season but became a permanent part of the city’s identity and suggested its moniker “Star City of the South.”


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Ruth Hill

Ruth Hill writes for magazines and newspapers about the business and pleasures of travel. Read more about her views and news of Christian heritage travel around the world at faithtravelfocus.com

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