Increasingly, Richmond folk fans are making the trek north to this cozy coffee shop in downtown Ashland. In addition to the coffee and a selection of 70 teas, the kitchen serves a wide variety of paninis and wraps. The food is crisp and fresh and staff smiles abound. I thought the place might be a little too granola for my taste, but it isn't. It's sincere without the syrup. Several vegetarian selections are available, but the highlight here is the dessert menu. Miss Mary turns out a daily bumper crop of superb cheesecakes, cookies, brownies and pastries. Pair a slice of her cheesecake with a cup of coffee and settle in to the "listening room" for the show. Recently expanded to seat 200 people, the room and its sound system are renowned among local and touring folk, blues and jazz musicians. Co-owner Kay Landry explains that people love the place because it's smoke free and, though beer and wine are served, people come to hear the music instead of to tie one on, blather through the show or pick someone up. With the booking of national acts such as Todd Snider and the Tarbox Ramblers, Ashland Coffee & Tea has become a destination spot for folkies from all over the region. The audience reflects people from every walk of life: students and families, locals and tourists, young and old.
Bogart's/Bogart's Back Room
203 N. Lombardy St.
Most local jazz fans will tell you that the place to see live jazz in Richmond is Bogart's. Regulars arrive early for dinner in the front room. Patrons dine on a wide variety of pastas and sandwiches before heading to the back room for live shows beginning at 9 p.m. Those with late-night munchies can choose from sandwiches and hors d'oeuvres during the show. Local and national acts grace the stage six nights a week. Owners Jim and Sandy Bacas know that jazz is Bogart's bread and butter. They do, however, occasionally feature other styles. They were hesitant to do so at first but were both pleasantly surprised at the consistently large crowds that gather for Old School Freight Train's regular bluegrass gig on the first Thursday every month. Bogart's still offers the casual atmosphere, good grub and consistently fine music that has made it a Richmond tradition for nearly 30 years.
2706 E. Main St.
Poe's is well known as the roots and Americana music Mecca in Richmond. For years it has featured bluegrass, blues, zydeco, folk and country on stage. The place is generally packed weekend nights. Regulars arrive early so that they can get a parking space out front and a table by the stage. Catfish and barbecue are the two directions to take at Poe's. Pulled pork and ribs are available slathered with a sweeter than spicy sauce fries and slaw on the side, of course. A full rack of ribs will set you back only $12.95 and they're worth every penny. The catfish also is a steal at $8.95. You can choose from batter fried, Cajun or broiled. As far as I'm concerned, catfish should only be eaten when it has been coated with a savory breading and boiled in oil. Poe's does it right and the portions are sure to soak up as much beer as you can throw down. If you're serious about your hunger, go for "The Feast" ($15.95), a full rack of ribs, catfish filet and the trimmings. With simple good food and local favorites such as The Slack Family and George Winn, as well as touring blues, rockabilly and singer-songwriter acts, Poe's has a good crowd most nights of the week. Cover charges are cheap, generally $3 to $5, and the camaraderie is infectious.
The Holy Chow
307 N. Laurel St.
With its day-glow robot montages, dark smoky atmosphere and a slew of local and touring art-rock acts on stage, The Holy Chow has, in less than a year, gained the reputation as a premier hangout for the art-student crowd. But manager Eric Harned wants to broaden the appeal. So rather than cater to only the hardcore crowd, future shows will include everything from gypsy music and belly dancers to singer-songwriters. In addition to filling out the musical options, Harned is tweaking the menu. Given the venue, I think it is perfectly appropriate now. The clientele is treated to cheap comfort eats and it works. I was fond of the rich stroganoff. Lasagna and a steak are available. But the real focus here is the grilled cheese connection. Sometimes you can't beat a grilled cheese with bacon and tomato. Harned must know this. The kitchen offers an array of cheeses, breads and add-ons and encourages you to build your own. Given the venue, I'm completely satisfied with the menu. Regardless, to celebrate The Chow's one-year anniversary in August, he plans to expand the menu; complementing the current menu with more sandwiches, pastas and entrees. Prices will continue to hover in the popular $5 to $10 range.
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