'Soul' closing: Winter quashes alfresco dreams

Despite its proximity to snow-capped Wintergreen, Charlottesville is no Aspen, so it doesn't take a big stretch of the imagination to see how crippling winter can be to an eatery here. Conjure up an image of a buzzing Downtown Mall on a typical Friday after Five, and compare it to the frozen desolation of February, and you'll see what we mean.

Sure, a cozy little bistro like the C&O or the always bustling Bizou can entice the hungry out even on a cold, bleak night. But less "legendary" restaurants, like the recently re-opened CRAB or the recently not re-opened Immigrant Soul, depend heavily on al fresco diners for survival.

It would appear that beach-dwelling crustaceans are a lot hardier than Eastern European immigrants.

The four year-old restaurant serving home-cooked meals with a paprika twist, often accompanied by live jazz music, shut down around the holidays. Apparently back in January waiters showed up for work to find the spiral staircase chained off with no word from owner Don Currence.

 The word on the street is that Currence is holding out for the highest bidder. The most obvious– and willing– buyer would be Giovanni Sestito, current owner of Sylvia's Pizza, located on the ground floor right above Immigrant Soul's underground grotto.

"It would be ideal for us because we could expand our walk-in business," says Sylvia's manager Doug Williams. "We made an offer last year, but for half of the asking price. Don's done a lot to fix it up, but it's not a great space for most restaurants."

Whether it's the weather, the subterranean location or– one overlooked factor, in our opinion– the name that's to blame, the prognosis for a re-opening isn't promising. As we wait for news, we'll also hold out hope that the winter will inspire– if not force– local restaurateurs to work even harder to tempt us out of the cold.


White Spot gets a bald spot

 "I'll have a Gus burger with a side of plaster, please."

Snow wasn't the only white substance falling from above last week. At The White Spot, one of Charlottesville's favorite greasy spoons and a UVA Corner institution since the late 1940s, there was also plaster. Sure, this tiny diner can handle an abundance of hungry, chatty, occasionally inebriated regulars. But the flat rubber roof on the 72-year-old building could no longer withstand the excess weight of winter.

Melting snow apparently seeped through to the ceiling below, causing a 3x3-ft. chunk of plaster to come crashing down on the counter.

Luckily, there was no one in the Spot at the time. Owner Dmitris Tavampis says he discovered the unfortunate incident when he walked in on the snowy morning of February 19.

T.E.A.L Construction is in charge of the renovation, which shouldn't take more than a few weeks, weather permitting. An environmental assessment revealed no traces of asbestos, so at least in that respect work can proceed as planned. When we trudged through the snow last week, we found the entire place as plastic-wrapped as the bags of Wonder buns still sitting on the windowsill.

The entire ceiling had been removed, revealing the saturated wood beams of the roof. Once the roof is fixed, T.E.A.L. workers will put in a new sheetrock ceiling, Tavampis says. Floor damage may also mean replacing the famous white spot which gave the place its name back in the '50s. It wouldn't be the first time.

You see, long before it was known for burgers topped with fried eggs, that site was the place for hair care. After the Civil War, the father of Charlie and William Brown, two African Americans who would run a popular barbershop there for decades, began business.

City directories indicate that the site, 1407 University Avenue, became the University Beauty Salon in 1936. The White Spot was born there in 1953, after the Salon moved to the space next door, taking its chair along. According to The Corner by Coy Barefoot, the restaurant's creator, Paul Dunsmore, filled the chair's gap in the floor with white paint.