A New Combination 

click to enlarge bankbartender100.jpg

Until now, whenever someone was assisted from a car in the 1000 block of East Main, it was at the federal courthouse. And he wasn't thrilled to be there.

But with the opening of Bank across the street — the see-and-be-seen watering hole and restaurant of the moment — valet parking has come to the Financial District. It's 10 p.m. on a recent, mucky Saturday. Three attendants are whirling dervishes as the stream of arrivals resembles Spago on Oscar night.

Inside, customers find themselves in a former banking room with Gilded Age high ceilings, white marble floors and walls encrusted in Corinthian architectural relief. Importantly, the air conditioning overachieves.

Barflies in high-casual attire — attractive men and women in their 20s to 50s — are clustered three deep around the 30-foot-long, rectangular, marble-clad bar that's docked midroom like a liquor barge.

"Last Saturday was amazing," says Curtis Sommerville, one of three bartenders in perpetual motion. He flashes a wineglass toward the light. Deeming it spotless, he fills it with chardonnay. Next, he swings four bottles skyward simultaneously — vodka, rum, tequila and gin — for a Long Island iced tea. "It was invented during Prohibition — it looked nonalcoholic," he explains. "Mango mojitos and mandarin cosmos are big this summer."

An apparent picture of energy, Sommerville admits he's dragging. The previous morning he married his longtime girlfriend in Virginia Beach. That was yesterday. Saturday night at Bank is too lucrative to miss.

From a quick scan of the room, Bank's clientele is a racial and generational mix.

Native Richmonder R. Finley Gayle IV, who is involved in downtown real estate, approaches the bar.

Nearby, native son John Edmonds IV, now living in Milan, where he teaches, beckons to Sommerville: May he light his pipe? He is directed to a former boardroom upstairs that's outfitted for private parties.

Meanwhile, a small party with anticipatory looks arrives. Larry Davis, an effervescent hair stylist, lets out his characteristic laugh signaling the fun to begin. One of his companions, Todd Boyd, just stands there, awestruck by the interior space: "What was this bank?"

It's impressive that Boyd is impressed. In the '90s he and his partners transformed a moderne-style former Signet bank at Third and Grace streets into Caffine's (now closed). With a sophisticated sound system, salvaged but exquisite art deco fixtures and right-on programming, local glitterati say it was Richmond's hottest nightclub ever.

"What's up there?" Boyd asks, his gaze reaching the original frosted-glass ceiling that creates a sweeping canopy over Bank's bar and dining areas. One can all but hear the impresario's wheels turning … what he could do with this space.

A woman with short-cropped hair and wearing a silky blouse is seated at the bar. After introducing herself to some people nearby, this recent transplant from Houston to Church Hill is asked her impressions of Richmond. "The historical types on Church Hill are so concerned about every little doorknob." She rolls her eyes. "I wish they'd do something about the weeds and the broken sidewalks. All those weeds …"

In the dining area drinks arrive for six preppy young men. It's a bachelor party for David Magum, a Richmond architect. They're sedate … but this is Bank and the evening is young. S

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