FOOD- THE DISH- Dining devotees: Charlottesville fat city for foodies
Each year since 2002, according the Hook's count, the ratio of restaurant openings to closings has stayed approximately two-to-one. Each year, there have been 23 to 26 openings and 10 to 13 closings. Until this year.
While the number of closings stayed in range at 14, the number of openings increased to 41– a nearly 70 percent jump. Of course, many of those are "turner-overs," where new restaurants simply replaced old ones, and our figures are sure to have a margin of error (apologies in advance for any openings or closings we missed), but that's a significant jump.
"The fact is, we have a great market to sell food," says Rifkin. "We have tourists, transients, rich people, retirees, college students... why do you think so many gas stations are selling food? We have the perfect storm for people who eat out."
Indeed, we appear to have always been a restaurant town. A 1990 issue of the C-ville (where lots of Hooksters used to work) listed 134 restaurants in its dining guide. Not bad considering Dave Matthews was only a bartender, most people avoided the Downtown Mall after dark, and the county was largely untouched by development. (At least compared to today.)
Of course, our perfect storm has gathered force over the years. According to our latest count, there are over 300 restaurants in the area, a gain of 166 over 1990, an average of 10.3 new places to tie on the feed bag every year. And that's not counting most of the chain fast-fooderies.
While the residential real estate market has been sluggish, commercial real estate has been doing pretty well, Rifkin says, especially on the Downtown Mall– where we've all noticed the sharp increase in foot traffic over the last few years. In analyzing the "explosion" of openings this year, Rifkin suggests that the restaurant boom may be even bigger than our analysis indicates– due to all the new spaces.
What's striking about openings this year, Rifkin says, are the the number of new restaurants in new spaces, including the X-Lounge, Ten, The Melting Pot, the Downtown Java Java, and Himalayan Fusion, to name just a few.
Still, Charlottesville has long loved its restaurant culture. While we might not be able to recall what we ate yesterday, how can we forget the first time we had sushi at Tokyo Rose or when the Roasted Bean became our first coffee house? Or how good that coffee from the Mudhouse cart on the Mall tasted on that winter day in 1994?
Old timers might remember the famed Gaslight Restaurant (in the spot where the Blue Bird Café was until last month). In the 1960 and 1970s, the Gaslight was what local resident Rey Barry has called "a steak house, beer hall, oyster bar, pop-art museum, pub, employment agency, jazz joint, and folk singer's coffeehouse... all in one room." Both Joan Baez and Bob Dylan played the Gaslight when they were fledgling folkies.
Before Bizou, before Metropolitain, there was the Fat City Diner. Before Northern Exposure, there was Zipper's. Before the Shebeen, there was Random Row. Before Starr Hill, there was the Blue Ridge Brewing Company... and what of Mozart's, The Mine Shaft, Le Snail, The Book Gallery, Tennessee Waltz, or the original Fellini's? Each of those places can mark a specific era and unlock a string of memories.
Meanwhile, names like Mas, Boheme, Blue Light Grill, Rapture, Bang!, Ten, South Street Brewery, and the X Lounge carry on the tradition, creating spaces for a new generation of Charlottesville restaurant lovers to mark some eras of their own.
In the 1960s and 1970s, The Gaslight Restaurant on West Main where the Blue Bird Café now stands (although the Café closed in November), was one of the many Charlottesville restaurants that defined an era.
Madison Inn (Main Street, Madison)
Zandi's (Starts serving dinner, Route 29 North)
Uncle Charlie's Smokehouse (Crozet)
Bonefish Grill (Hollymead Town Center)
Cheeseburger in Paradise (Route 29 North)
Kyoto (Rio Hill Shopping Center)
New Tokyo Rose (Ivy Square, Route 250 West)
East Garden (Pantops Shopping Center)
Pizza Boli (West Main Street)
Orzo (West Main Street)
Thai '99 (Route 151 in Nelson)
Lee's Grill (The Corner)
X Lounge (Downtown)
Timberwood Grill (29 North at Forest Lakes)
The Melting Pot (Downtown)
Chipotle (Barracks Road Shopping Center)
Millmont Grille (Millmont Street)
Obrigado (Main Street, Louisa)
Sakura (Hollymead Town Center)
Java Java on the Mall (Downtown Mall)
Blue Moon Diner (West Main Street)
Mark Addy Inn (The restaurant, Nellysford)
Himalayan Fusion (Downtown)
Pee Wee's Pit (Valley Street, Scottsville)
New Nook (Downtown)
Ciao Station (Woodbrook Shopping Center)
Henry's non-smoking "'50s-style" lounge (Downtown)
Minor's Diner (Valley Street, Scottsville)
Il Cani Pazzo (Downtown)
Just Curry (The Corner)
Acme Smokehouse and BBQ Co. (Route 29 North)
Zydeco (The Corner)
Lemongrass (The Corner)
Chick-fil-A (near Lowe's)
Boheme (Downtown, across from City Hall on Market Street)
Andreas Gaynor's juice bar (Downtown, at Kiki Cafe during the day)
Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers (Route 29 North)
El Tepayac becomes Aqui es Mexico (Carlton Road)
Tiffany's Seafood (Seminole Square)
Kokopelli's Cafe (Crozet)
Blue Bird Cafe (West Main)
Good Fortune (The Corner)
Southern Culture (West Main Street)
Old Nook (Downtown)
Ciboulette (West Main Street)
Tea Time Desires (Downtown)
Garden of Sheba (Downtown)
Dew Drop Inn (Scottsville)
China Moon (Scottsville)
Tiffany's Seafood (Ivy Square)
Hardware Store Restaurant (Downtown)