Goodbye, Expresso: Venerable food family exits Pantops space

About a year ago, the former owners of the famed Expresso Italian Villa on Emmet Street (now The Villa under new ownership), known by countless students and townsfolk for its 2am breakfasts, reprised an even older Charlottesville restaurant icon, the Expresso International Restaurant (whose original site on West Main now serves as a site of El Jaripeo). Up on the hill at Pantops Mountain, owners Margarita and Nick Vlavianos took over the Aunt Sarah's Pancake House space and launched Expresso Italian Restaurant & Pancake House.

"Same menu as the old Expresso," owner Margarita Vlavianos told the Hook, "but no pizza this time."

Since this was the culinary team that a Hook reviewer found back in 2008 to produce the town's best gyros, this was cause for celebration. On a recent drive-by, however, we discovered that Expresso had closed its doors. Compounding our shock and sadness is the fact that Vlavianos had in recent weeks been telling the Hook about the impending arrival of a new pizza oven.

With the phone disconnected, we were unable to make contact with the Vlavianos family, but according to commercial real estate broker Corven Flynn, they vacated the space about a month ago, and the building is once again for sale or lease.

Despite Expresso's struggles to establish a foothold at the location, Flynn contends that it's still a prime restaurant location, particularly with all the development that has taken place on the mountain. As he points out, the site served as Aunt Sarah's for 15 years. And before that, for many years, his own family ran Charlottesville's original Mexican restaurant, La Hacienda, which many fondly recall as "LaHa."

"And that was before all the development, before the hotel across the street went up," says Flynn. "It's zoned highway commercial, so anything can go up there. But the best use for it, with the least amount of investment, is still a restaurant."

23 comments hacienda.

Precious Memories! The old Spectrum East, bar and nightclub! Spent many a night there getting free beverages and food, and/or responding to fights! The good old days, no 4, 5 or 6 cars rolling in as backup like nowadays, perfectly acceptable to bust a few heads wide open with a nightstick if need be. Before becoming sheriff in Greene County, Willie Morris became the bouncer at Spectrum East and reduced the calls for service by 98%!

GSOE....great history and color. Thanks!

This was back in the early 70s, long before the Albemarle Police Department had been born. Lucky to have 4 deputies on duty on any given evening shift. When a good fight broke out, backup could have been 15 to 30 minutes away, or more. If there was several hot calls taking place at the same time, you might not get any backup. The Virginia state police would help if they could, but they usually only had 1 or 2 troopers on duty. The rookies nowadays have no idea how blessed they are. They are allowed to "stage" closeby to an incident now until backup arives. But back in this day and time we had to go in and help those in need before somebody got shot, stabbed or beaten half to death.

The best physical fights I have ever seen took place the Spectrum East. They were comparable to the old bar fights in western movies and TV shows. Thank God everybody and their brother did not have guns back then.

Now THAT is an article I would read. Mr. McNair I believe you've got dibs on writing it now!

It used to be called The Odyssey in the 70's right?

I can't remember whether it was the Odyssey or Spectrum East first, but we had friends that would go to watch the fights--in a ring, I assume, back in the mid 70s. Somebody really should write a story!!

P.S. Anybody else remember 'The House of Ebony"? On Main St., I think, the building is soon to be renovated, if I recall the location correctly.......

I was too young to disco, but I remember this futuristic-looking sign that said "The Odyssey", and the building was white. After they closed down (in the early 80's?) we drove by one day and there was all this wild looking furniture being moved out into the parking lot, sorta like this chair:

It was the Spectrum East in the early 70s. Jackie Jacskson and his mom owned and operated the business. I think the name change to Odessey, for whatever reason, came along in 1974 or 1975 perhaps? I had almost forgotten about the fight matches they put on in their later years. Was it boxing, wrestling, or what?

Flynn and Co are asking too much for the rundown building for anyone to be successful. The building should be scraped.

Boxing matches....really appealed to several wannabe He ingways in the English Dept.


"The best physical fights I have ever seen took place the Spectrum East. They were comparable to the old bar fights in western movies and TV shows. Thank God everybody and their brother did not have guns back then." GSOE.

I thought you NRA types believe the world would be safer with MORE guns? You are confusing me.

Man I LOVED La Hacienda! Remember when it was on Emmet St. believe in old Carmello's building if not mistaken. Remember Odyssey too. Place made the old Max Trax look tame by comparison. The popo were not to be effed with back then. But of course GSOE looks upon those days fondly while in turn bashing today's popo. Go figure.

Berry, you're comparing apples to oranges. This was an entirely different world 40 years ago. People in this community used to sleep their cars and homes unlocked. It's what I call the pre-drugs and pre-wannabe gangsta era. In Charlottesville alone, and with all these vicious home invasions, a resident is crazy if they do not arm themselves in order to protect their family members and property. I'm not sure why this is so hard to understand.

Hacienda, some of my best friends are decent and hard working cops. They are embarrassed on a daily basis by this new breed of rookie roaming the streets nowadays. They occasionally get tied up in the lawsuits this new breed of rookie creates as well. As I told Berry above, there's a totally different world in law enforcement too. The chiefs and sheriffs have no idea how their rookies behave out here on the streets. Take a look at what's going on up in Culpeper. There's seasoned veteran officers who are absolutely thrilled they were not closeby when that killing took place. Their names would be right on the lawsuit today.

I was too young to experience the Spectrum East, but I heard the stories... I worked at Max/Trax and Katie's in the '80s, and spent some time as a patron in the second short incarnation of the Odyssey before it ceased being a nightclub and became a restaurant for good in the mid-'80s. Good times!

I have a question (and tell me if this is offtopic): Have we become so busy in society that we need to save time by referring to something called "La Hacienda" as "LaHa?" Does saving those additional three syllables really equate to saving time...or does it just seem cool?

R.I.P.: Freddie Prinze

La Hacienda was great when it was on Emmett street. Right next to Lupo's.

Society has become so lax they don't even want to use punctuation, capital letters, proper names. LAZY in a word. There is nothing cool about being lazy. Who bothers reading a real book anymore? Paper is obsolete. It is cooler to spend more money to have a gadget that demands upkeep than tote a real book. And then read the electronic gadget, researching subjects on WHAT IS OLD IS NEW AGAIN, recycling, upcycling, etc etc. Go figure. the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Common sense is old fashioned, passe'. The cool thing today is to figure out how to spend more money being lazier but appearing eco-world-friendly while destroying resources passively.

BTW: My comment was directed to Liberalace, who usually has a smarta** comment but for once made a good point.

GSOE: Still no need to lock doors. I live downtown, don't lock my house or car, ever. I know my close neighbors do the same. No big deal, been living there for 15 years without a problem. Living in fear isn't justified.

This place ought to become a Duner's-East...