City Portrait

Exploring Roanoke, Virginia

The hot spots in the Star City

Where To Eat & Drink

Since opening in 1979, Alexander’s has done fine dining right with crisp white tablecloths, impeccable service, and dishes dressed as smartly as its patrons. Steaks are a favored choice here, especially the plump fillet served with a bordelaise sauce and heirloom produce from the restaurant’s own 7 Hills Farm, and the martinis are the stiffest for miles. 105 S. Jefferson St.;

Blue 5
You’ll find winsome Southern vittles like fried oysters and a catfish BLT, but beer lovers will want to take their food at the bar. There are forty-six craft brews on tap, including favorites from Virginia’s own Starr Hill and Devils Backbone Brewing Co. And in case the flat-top guitars on the wall don’t clue you in, rotating bands play most nights, switching from folk to rock and, of course, the blues. 312 2nd St.;

Burger in the Square
The space is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it simple, but the burgers are sublime—never frozen, freshly ground, and paired with a massive portion of fat, crispy waffle fries. Eat like a local and order the Dreamer (bacon, mushrooms, onion, and provolone), with a big glass of just-brewed sweet tea. 3904 Brambleton Ave.;

Local Roots
You can grab lunch, dinner, or a drink at the bar, but the Sunday brunch at this farm-to-table restaurant is a showstopper. The eggs Benedict comes with thick cuts of Benton’s ham, topped with tart, creamy hollandaise. Sugar hounds will love the French toast, made with fluffy brioche. And the Bloody Mary arrives stuffed with enough goodies to take care of your recommended daily dose of veggies. 1314 Grandin Rd. SW;

Whether you choose meat loaf or croque monsieur, the entrees won’t disappoint at this French and Southern fusion gastropub. Just save room for the amazingly decadent foie gras–infused crème brûlée (yes, it’s a dessert). Also a dessert unto itself: the cherry-sweetened whiskey sour. But if you like your cocktails a little daring, ask for the off-menu absinthe treat Death in the Afternoon. 18 Kirk Ave. SW;

The Penny Deux Lounge at the Patrick Henry
Virginia’s 1758 Two Penny Act pertained to tobacco, not liquor, but the legislation is nevertheless the namesake for this relatively new sit-down bar in the lobby of the restored Patrick Henry Building. The Lounge’s cocktail list puts a soft spin on robust classics, like its eponymous aperitif—a smooth combo of peach preserves, mint, and bourbon. 611 S. Jefferson St.;

Behind the counter at Pop's Ice Cream & Soda Bar.

photo: Jennifer Causey

Classic Charm

Behind the counter at Pop’s Ice Cream & Soda Bar.

Pop’s Ice Cream & Soda Bar 
This 1950s-style soda fountain caters to the kid in everyone with ice cream from nearby Homestead Creamery and gourmet grilled cheese. Whether you order the #9 (Gouda pimento) or the French (blue, onion, figs), each comes served with popcorn and a potato smiley face. Disputes over the best melted mélange can be settled in the traditional manner: Rock, Paper, Scissors. House rules clearly posted. 1916 Memorial Ave.; 540-345-2129

The River and Rail 
Rising culinary star Aaron Deal could probably have secured a position just about anywhere. But luckily for Roanoke, the North Carolina native and James Beard Award semifinalist has returned to his Southern roots after stints in top kitchens around the country. If his lamb ribs are any indication, this brand-new South Roanoke bistro will be a town favorite in no time. Smothered in crispy garlic and a sorghum-laced barbecue sauce, they’re, to quote a fellow patron, “slap-ya-mama good.” 2201 Crystal Spring Ave. SW;

Wildflour Market & Bakery
When Doug and Evie Robison opened Wildflour, they wanted to showcase wholesome food their way: with personally crafted recipes for everything from soups to salad dressings. Twenty years later, Doug’s Chicken Salad is the freshest lunch in town. But don’t ignore the bakery, where they make what may well be the zestiest lemon bars you’ve ever tasted—not counting Mom’s, of course. 1212 4th St. SW;

Buildings along South Jefferson Street.

photo: Jennifer Causey

Buildings along South Jefferson Street.

What to See & Do

Blue Ridge Parkway
When autumn turns the Blue Ridge red, the choice spots for leaf peeping are along the Parkway. For one of the best views around, take a drive to the overlook at Stewarts Knob, at mile marker 110.6, and stretch your legs on the adjacent half-mile trail. Just be sure to bring along a picnic—you’re going to want to linger.

Grandin Theatre
Megamultiplexes abound, but there’s only one indie cinema in Roanoke, and you can find it under a dazzling art deco marquee. The eighty-year-old Grandin Theatre showcases independent, critically acclaimed films alongside regional productions—plus, you can catch screenings of classics, family favorites, and Saturday morning Looney Tunes. 1310 Grandin Rd.; 

Kirk Avenue Music Hall
If Roanoke itself were a band, half the members would be locals, half newcomers. There would be a harmonica player, and a fearsome flat-picker. And they would play their first major gig at Kirk Avenue Music Hall. The frills-free, 130-seat venue is known for showcasing local up-and-comers, but it gets its share of bigger names, too, including recent performances by the Punch Brothers and Cheryl Wheeler. 22 Kirk Ave. SW;

Taubman Museum of Art
Outside, the ultramodern 81,000-square-foot building’s sweeping glass windows reflect the glow of its downtown surroundings. Inside, the Taubman houses classical and contemporary American works with an eye toward Appalachian artists. But by no means is the museum restricted to the regional or even the national. An exhibition from the House of Fabergé will run through January 19. 110 Salem Ave. SE;


Where to shop

Appalachia Press
Old-school craft and innovative design mesh with gusto in John Reburn’s Salem Avenue shop. Working from nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century letterpresses, Reburn fashions cards, posters, and prints inspired by everything from anatomical illustrations to 1960s toy packaging to a stoic cow (Bessie). Stop by to browse his in-house collection, or schedule an appointment to commission custom designs. 108 Salem Ave. SE;

Black Dog Architectural Antiques & Salvage
How about a life-size statue of Genghis Kahn for the parlor? Or an old-fashioned claw-foot tub? Black Dog’s 40,000-square-foot warehouse and grounds are a trove of antique and upcycled decorative treasures—nineteenth-century light fixtures, old textile factory carts turned into coffee tables, you name it. Oh yes, and a surprisingly thorough pillbox hat collection. 902 13th St. SW;

Lä De Dä
Offbeat style meets classic, feminine grace at this eclectically curated women’s clothing and jewelry boutique. Dansko and BedStü footwear, flowing skirts and dresses, and glittering statement pieces characterize the shop’s fairy-tale aesthetic. 102 Church Ave. SE;

Too Many Books
Welcome to paradise, bookworms and history buffs. This two-story haven specializes in used and rare books with a penchant for local history and geography. In the mood for a novel? Exquisitely bound early-edition classics neighbor recent best sellers and walls of paperback finds, including vintage copies of LIFE magazine. 1504 Grandin Rd. SW; 540-985-6469

Where to sleep

Hotel Roanoke
Built by the Norfolk and Western Railway in 1882, Roanoke’s Grand Old Lady drips with history and style. As old as the city itself, the hotel offers nineteenth-century elegance, twenty-first-century creature comforts, and an unbeatable downtown location. 110 Shenandoah Ave.;

Rose Hill Bed & Breakfast
Southern hospitality thrives at this early-twentieth-century B&B in the heart of Roanoke’s historic Old Southwest district. Apart from the plush suites and porch swing, guests enjoy access to a 1,400-volume library and the attentive, personal touch of owner and operator Wendy Blair, including homemade chocolates prepared nightly. 521 Washington Ave. SW;