I firmly believe in the philosophy that half of life is simply about showing up.
Our dear friend Aimee Joyaux, a brilliant artist, was selected to include two pieces of her work in the Homeward Bound exhibit at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, a juried show featuring only Virginia artists. The opening reception was on Friday night and what better reason than that to plan a quick jaunt to celebrate her, experience another city and enjoy great food, drinks and company. Oh, and stay at the Hotel Roanoke. A place I’d heard much about but had never been to. Our party of 13 left for our destination at different times, our carload being the last, due to school pickup. The drive down 460 was an easy one despite the 3 hour duration and as we approached Roanoke the sun was setting over the mountains. Beautiful! Upon arrival at the hotel, we checked in to our lovely rooms on the Executive Level. The advance party, Heather and Cherry, had stocked our room with wine so we were able to enjoy a quick glass before walking over to the Taubman. On our way there we heard voices behind us and it was Alain’s son Daniel and his girlfriend Karin who had made the trip from D.C. to celebrate Aimee’s latest accolade of her amazing work.
Just seeing the Hotel Roanoke and experiencing the short stroll to the museum, I already knew that I loved this place! The historic area is chock full of independently owned restaurants, shops and bars housed in historic and interesting buildings with a small town feel. It was freezing outside so we happily entered the very warm museum, a thoroughly modern but not too imposing structure on the edge of the historic area. Our tardiness meant that our time there was somewhat brief but we were thrilled to see Aimee’s pieces hanging in such a beautiful space. Not only that, we got to see Ron Walton’s piece too! Another Petersburg artist and owner of the Walton Gallery. It was fascinating to see the different works of art, all by Virginia artists, all so distinctive and brilliant in their own way. One of my favorite moments was when JV suddenly exclaimed to Kerry, “Mom, my favorite artist has work here!” He had spotted the paintings by Richmond artist, Todd Hale, from a distance of about 50 feet and rushed over to admire them. How many twelve year olds do you know like that? Such a cool kid.
There was never any doubt that a great dinner was going to be part of our itinerary. We were also joined by another of tonight’s honored artists, a friend of Aimee’s, Alyssa Salomon. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Roanoke and we had secured a reservation at Lucky, a restaurant that describes themselves as French Country and American Comfort. Heather had pooled her contacts in the city to find this gem. Definitely my kind of place! We were seated at 2 big tables by the entrance which essentially gave us a space all to ourselves. We were then treated to one of the best servers ever, Lauren, who we initially assumed was the owner. She looked amazing and wouldn’t have been out of place at a cocktail party but more importantly than that, she knew the menu inside and out. Not only the food but the craft cocktails. Tonight’s special cocktail was Rumming with the Devil which included two types of Rum, Apricot, Five-spice and a concoction that apparently involved overnight fermentation of some ingredients in a coke bottle… I ordered one and it was certainly interesting! Not my favorite drink ever but fun to experience and as tonight was all about art, we appreciated the artistry and creative process that went into it. We ordered a Bread Plate, Mussels, Duck Pate and a Cheese Board to accompany our drinks and loved it all. The bread was accompanied with divine roasted garlic olive oil, goat cheese, nicoise olive tapenade and Basque olives. The PEI mussels were suitably garlic laden, the duck pate was divinely smooth and luxurious with baguette, sweet onion chutney, pickled red onions and Dijon. The cheese board was perfect. Four types of cheese with an onion jam, candied walnuts, olives, drizzles of honey and baguette slices.
Cocktails and appetizers demolished, we moved on to wine and a variety of entrees. Buttermilk fried chicken for all three boys and Heather, Gnocchi with Kale and Pesto for Kerry, gorgeous salads with Goat Cheese and Beets for Chana and Cherry, and I opted for two small plates. Roasted Marrow bones with Charred Lemon and Fava Bean Hummus along with four Roasted Oysters with lemon, garlic and scallion breadcrumbs. All delicious! Along with top notch service in a delightful space, we had a fabulous experience.
Ben and JV have a new passion for playing pool and had discovered that there was a table in the pub at the Hotel Roanoke. They begged us to see if they could go and play after dinner. So, we began the 10 minute stroll back to the hotel trying to explain why it might not be possible for them to play as it was late on a Friday night and kids might not be allowed in the pub. However, upon our arrival there, a quick chat with the bartender confirmed that it was fine for them to play. And so began a hilarious couple of hours that involved martinis and more wine for us ladies and several rounds of pool with a group of ACC football referees in town for a conference. The refs were all hanging out by the pool table and when they saw the boys starting to play, quickly became their tutors and ultimately competitors. They could not have been nicer and we all had a blast chatting away and playing pool. Until 1 am. I know, kids and their Moms should really go to bed a lot earlier than that but life is for living and this was a fun experience all round. Not an everyday occurrence despite the fact that my kids spent the first decade or so of their lives living above our pub.
Staying on the Executive Level gave us access to a lounge with refreshments. In the morning this included a breakfast that provided us with much needed delicious sustenance after our late night; sausages, scrambled eggs, fruit, pastries, yoghurt and all the caffeinated beverages that we needed. The lounge was overseen by a woman who was ALL business! We got a 5 minute warning when breakfast was over and we were in no way going to question her. I highly recommend upgrading to this level as the services included provided excellent added value.
Feeling a little more alive, we showered, packed and then sat in the gorgeous lobby, chatting and relaxing while JV and Ben enjoyed the pool table once again, but this time all to themselves and in the light of day. The Hotel Roanoke is definitely my kind of hotel. Upscale but not stuffy, traditional but with modern touches. For example, the furnishings in the lobby were mostly traditional in their colors but modern in their lines. I’m no interior design expert but I noticed the details and really appreciated them.
With what felt like the fiftieth game of pool completed, we headed out to explore. We went into the delightful city market, weaved through the stands and shops of Market Street, chatting with vendors along the way. You get a genuine feeling that keeping business local here is serious business. I love that. We purchased gorgeous locally made soaps, had hysterics in the kitchen store at all the fun quotes on napkins and tea towels, tasted delicious baked goods, bought great jewelry in a store that imported African and Asian crafts, marveled at all the Virginia products being sold in Eli’s, drooled over furniture at Shabby Love…the list goes on.
In need of a snack, we headed to the well known Roanoke Weiner Stand for hotdogs. What a cool place, simple concept, great service, lunch for 4 under $20. You can even get a $2 can of Bud or Bud Light if you so desired. I did not.
After enjoying our hotdogs, we headed back to the hotel to enjoy the lobby for just a little bit longer and yes, the boys played pool…again! We decided to end our stay with a quick drive up the mountain to the Star monument where you can enjoy an amazing view over the city and valley. Much to JV’s horror, when we reached the iconic landmark, Kerry recalled her last visit to it. Back in her college days, she and her then boyfriend had a date there and she decided to declare her love for him in grand style, by shouting it from the mountaintop!
Just being up in the mountains feeds my soul. Give me them over the beach any day. Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to climb them, but I love being surrounded by the majesty of them. There are few places in the world that I have found more lovely than the mountains of Virginia. I hadn’t explored this part of them before and it was a real treat. I could quite easily live in Roanoke. Beautiful scenery, great food, support of small businesses, a fabulous art museum and the essential requirement for any place I might even consider living in…an airport. Can’t wait to go back. We left the Star, winding our way back down the mountain and headed back along 460 on a lovely evening, happy to have experienced a terrific 24 hours in Roanoke. Thanks, Aimee!
Like I said at the beginning, all kinds of things can happen in life when you simply show up.