Cultural Happy Hours 

Five places where you can eat and learn.

Maybe you don't think you're the museum type.

Perhaps you've got no idea what's in some of our local cultural institutions. One of the best ways to find out is come evening, when museums let down their hair and invite people in for happy hours and special events.

A couple of series are just winding down. The Valentine Richmond History Center's Hard Hat happy hour combined drinks with a look behind the scenes at its ongoing renovation, while the Anderson Gallery's weekly Cool Spot lounge ran Wednesdays in June and July — but there are still plenty of cultured places to hang out in the waning summer evenings.

At the Poe Museum's monthly Unhappy Hour, you can expect a cash bar, snacks, art openings of the latest Poe-related exhibit, live music and performances. Always it's an opportunity to mingle in the enchanted garden behind the house, one of the loveliest walled gardens in the city. Fourth Thursday of the month through October, 6-9 p.m. $5. 1914 E. Main St., 648-5523.

For those with a taste for the gross and the campy, the Science Museum presents Science after Dark: Monster Edition. With heart dissections, a screening of "The Bride of Frankenstein" and a look through the telescopes of the Richmond Astronomical Society at the night sky, the quirk factor is high. Aug. 15, 5-9 p.m. $5. Or go see the campy Japanese sci-fi gem "Destroy All Monsters," with live music by Goldrush. Aug. 22, 8 p.m. $5. 2500 W. Broad St., 864-1400.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden does a weekly Flowers After 5 on Thursdays. There's a dispensation for pets on the second Thursday of each month when the garden plays host to Fidos After 5 and allows leashed pets to join the fun. Enjoy wine, bands and the fabulous gardens surrounding Bloemendaal House. Through Aug. 28, 5-9 p.m. $12. 800 Lakeside Avenue, 262-9887.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts gives you two nights to imbibe on museum property. Thursdays are the Jazz Café, featuring some of the best local jazz talent performing in Best Café, but arrive early because it gets crowded. The terrific deal on drinks at Friday Art and Wine in the cafe is matched only by the free gallery tours offered at 7 and 7:30 p.m.. And on first Fridays, there's always some sort of performing arts in the atrium. Year-round, 5-9 p.m. Free. 200 N. Boulevard, 340-1405.

If you prefer thought-provoking films to frivolous happy hours, check out the Virginia Historical Society's film series, Created Equal: America's Civil Rights Struggle on select Thursdays. Next up is the historical documentary, "Freedom Riders," an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 and winner of multiple Emmy awards. Aug. 28 and Nov. 6, 6:30-9 p.m. Free. 428 N. Boulevard, 358-4901.


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