The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Never mind the fact that I have three essays due tomorrow, only one of which is finished, or the rather more pertinent fact that I have forty ninth-graders dreading not one but TWO test scores that I’ve not handed back yet.

No, our old pal James Lileks had to include something cute about his daughter and Italian food, and I’m off.

One of the things I miss most about my favorite cities—besides the grand department stores and pretty movie palaces—is the wealth of great restaurants that once called Baltimore and Richmond home. Ask anyone who visited Baltimore between 1935 and 1999, and Haussner’s will probably be involved in the equation somewhere. Visitors to Richmond will most likely recall one of the grand hotels—and there were so many! It might have been the staid Hotel Richmond or the garrulous Murphy’s that they recall, or the elegant but prosaic John Marshall—but the lucky few will remember the “Jeff”, the gigantic, over-the-top emblem of both Southern hospitality and fin-de-siecle magnificence, the Hotel Jefferson.

The “Jeff” is still around, of course, notwithstanding its years of ‘70s darkness. Would that, like the Hotel, we could all just sleep through the 1970s and pretend that they’d never happened! And, would that we could all spend the late ‘80s as I did at the Hotel, with plentiful gin and bourbon and always a careful eye to those traversing the world-famous Grand Staircase.

It is not, however, of the Jeff that I wish to speak now, nor of the abundant new—and tasty, but inelegant—restaurants that Richmond now boasts.

One of the old guard stands out in my memory because it was so good to me when I lived in that sainted city, and because it has held out against all odds to earn a spot in culinary and congeniality circles.

When in Richmond, dine—I beg you, dine—at Julian’s.

Julian’s is of the old school, and that’s saying something. When Baltimore had “wop” restaurants by the dozens, Richmond had precisely one, and it was Julian’s. Back in those days the place was way down in the financial district—yes, Richmond’s own little skyscraper canyon around 10th and Main. It must have been good, even back then, because they got up the silver to move uptown, out to Broad street right across from the big new Broad Street Station, right next to the elegant Capitol Theatre and the fashionable Hotel William Byrd.

Fashion comes and goes, but good food remains the same. The lovely old Hotel Byrd faded and died but for its barbershop, where I still have my tonsillory rectitude upon visits to the Holy City. The pretty Capitol, home of the South’s first talkie, was torn down eight years ago. Julian’s moved a block west—but it lives on. It lives on in an old bank building, but oh boy—it’s just as good as ever.

The fashion these days in Italian food is something called “Northern Italian”, which bears a lot of resemblance to California and little to Italy. I am fully aware of this because my Italian family is FROM Northern Italy—Bergamo, to be precise, the hometown of Verdi—and listen, we’ve never heard of ANY of this crap they’re pawning off as Northern Italian.

Julian’s serves a kind of food that will never be called the Very Latest Thing, but is it ever good! And even if their food should ever lack a bit of luster, they get my vote for hospitality on two counts:

First, their kid’s menu is written in Italo-Kidspeak. You can actually order Pasghetti.
Second, one night about twelve years ago I showed up completely bombed and despairing over a lost amour. My waitress showed up, told me what I wanted to eat, and said “He’s not worth it. Eat your lasagne.” And she brought me a Manhattan—on the house.

If the Tobacco Company ever closes, a slice of the 1970s in Richmond will be gone forever. If Julian’s ever closes—and the saints forbid that it does—a slice of Richmond herself will be gone forever.

Monday, October 20, 2003

This was one of the Maryland fall weekends whose praises might be sung in print and text, if any author in the last eighty years had considered Maryland the sort of place one might want to write about.

Clear blue skies prevailed, with a snappy little breeze and a generally Gemuetlich air. Although I spent most of today paying social calls and comparing party lists—social season officially began this weekend—yesterday was a small adventure in itself.

I journeyed to Montgomery County, that once-pastoral land now turned suburban Gomorrah. (I always pity Gomorrah. It must have been every bit as evil and as interesting as Sodom, but Sodom is the town that gets its name tagged to interesting vices. It’s that final consonant sound of “Sodom” that does it…it’s just less convenient to refer to “gommorah-izing” or “gommorrahomy”.) The county’s seat, Rockville, was not so long ago a sleepy courthouse town. Lately, it’s become undesirable—suburban sprawl enveloped it, built it up, and is starting to leave it behind. Even so, what’s left of the old town center is charming. It’s the final home of one nomadic soul, listed in the records of St. Mary’s Cemetery as Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. Poor Mr. Fitzgerald tried for so long to embody both the frenzy of the Jazz Age and the hauteur of Old Maryland. No wonder, then, that I’ve always lionized him; I hope it pleases his shade a bit those times that I’ve visited his grave with gin and Chesterfields in tow.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Every year, in October, I realize that I’ve progressed a little further towards Greenmount Cemetery. Several of my closest friends have birthdays that fall in October and November. My own is near the end of November so, when the first of these birthdays happens—today—it’s just a matter of weeks when, like a small row of dominoes, we all fall down and grow one integer further away from the year of our birth.

Of course, this was all quite amusing some fifteen years ago. Getting older is an accomplishment in your early ‘20s; people start to take you a little more seriously. Every added year makes you feel just a bit more sophisticated.

Now every year makes me feel a little bit more decrepit. Worse, now that I’m teaching twelfth graders, I’ve realized that most of the kids that are seniors in high school now were BORN when I was a high school senior.

There are advantages to aging; as well. Nobody gives me funny looks if I want to test-drive a car (they don’t have to know that, at almost 34, I still can’t afford one). Bartenders don’t bat an eye if I ask for a drink, and if I do get carded, it’s extremely flattering.

I’ve got to keep this entry brief (exercising the soul of wit) because I have to make plans to keep forty ninth-graders in control tomorrow. Nonetheless, I’d like to take this opportunity to salute the first domino, and a friend who’s managed to put up with me for fifteen years and retain some semblance of sanity.

Congrats to Whitneycita, WK, the Whitmeister on her 34th!

The good thing about best friends is that they DO know where you’ve been.

Friday, October 10, 2003

In response to the several people who have expressed their dismay at the lack of a recent blog update, I have this to say:


If you people want to plan my lessons for deranged high school freshmen and grade their grammar-free papers, well, good! I’ll just go and blog myself silly. If you don’t—well, then, I’ll just fart in your general direction.

Teaching at Carver—that’s George Washington Carver Vocational and Technical High School, or Carvo in ‘50s parlance—is a constant reminder of everything both wonderful and horrible about modern Baltimore.

The building is fifty years old this year. It needs help—not badly, but enough. The windowshades are ripped; there are cracked windows. The roof holds, though, and the heat works. This is more than might be said for big high schools in other cities. On the other hand, City College—“THE” city high school, home of Baltimore’s best and brightest—is twenty-five years older than Carver, and has immaculate marble stairs and an auditorium full of graffiti-free seats.

Where’s the wonderful part? Well, we had “Back To School Night” tonight. One of my freshman students showed up with Mom in tow—and Mom was one of my former co-workers from T. Rowe Price. Baltimore Syndrome strikes again—the biggest small town in the world. And one of my seniors showed up with HIS mom in tow. A very elegant lady, she is. We spoke for a few minutes and it didn’t take us long to discover that she grew up in the parish that my father attended back in the ‘40s. After the two of us had finished trashing the modern alterations to Corpus Christi, we had decidedly bonded. I’ve promised, before the season is out, to come to the fund-raising bazaar at St. Pius V, and I’m sure that I can expect her—AND my student—to show up for the annual Sauerbraten dinner sponsored by the Gentlemen’s Rosary Society of St. Alphonsus.

Underlying the happy circumstance of these encounters is the horror that I find with other students—the sweet little senior girl who can’t read very well because she’s a hapless victim of fetal alcohol syndrome; the guy who’s still a high school senior at twenty-one because he ended up in jail for two years and is now making a desperate effort to straighten himself out. How can I possibly issue a bad grade to someone who makes this kind of effort? But—if I don’t hold them both to a standard, who will?

This whole thing is still decidedly on the weird side, and I can only take each day as it comes. Something discouraging happens every day, but at least once weekly, a ray of light shines on Bentalou street. (You Auslander, that’s pronounced Bentlow.)

For now, I can do nothing more than write lesson plans, raise the Calvert black-and-gold every morning and hope for the best.