Saturday, January 30, 2010

Looking for Locals at The Belvidere

One of my favorite perks of living in the city is that when it snows, there's bound to be a restaurant open within walking distance filled with neighbors and locals wanting some snow company.

I'd heard from a friend earlier today that my closest watering hole, The Belvidere, would be open tonight and the owner was concerned they wouldn't have any business.

Far be it for me to be part of that problem and not the solution, so I set off in the snow.

The place was barely half full when I arrived, but neighbors did come, bike kids came, and a really drunk guy with a bright red nose and shorts on made a brief stopover.

I ordered the house-cured salmon (I think it's the best in RVA) and settled in with my book.

Not long afterwards, a guy with a book came in and took the stool one away from me and I'd have bet my bottom dollar he wasn't a local.

He ordered a glass of wine and started reading the menu.

Meanwhile, several people, staff and customers, spoke to me by name and he must have drawn a conclusion, because he put down his menu and addressed me. "Well, it's obvious you've been here before. What's good and what should I order?"

As it turned out, he was an out-of-towner, living three days a week in Toronto and four in NYC.

He was staying at the Omni, had had a mediocre meal there last night and wanted something funky and good tonight.

He'd tried Bouchon first because it was near the hotel, but they were closed, so he went back to his hotel room for more research.

Next he tried Lemaire because of what he'd read online about the recent renovation, but the piped in muzak and hotel guest crowd turned him off.

More research and he hit on The Belvidere, reading multiple enthusiastic reviews.

But this is Richmond, and a snowstorm was in progress, so it wasn't easy to find transportation to the B @ B, but he finally succeeded, a feat in and of itself.

So while I'd left the house expecting to chat away the evening with my neighbors, I ended up talking for four hours to a Canadian.

Since we 'd both brought books, we started there; he's reading How Fiction Works and by the end of the evening he was sure I'd like it.

He also wanted the scoop on what to see here since he's a history buff; he had a surprisingly extensive knowledge of the slave triangle and he was fascinated to hear about the Slave Trail.

His dad was a cartographer and yet he'd never heard of Matthew Fontaine Maury; I felt obligated to clue him in.

Like me, he had years of media experience, including radio, publishing and video (what are the chances?) and shares a love for the dying newspaper.

He wanted to know about Virginia's wine industry and questioned why there were no Virginia wines on the list (Julie, I'll let you take this one).

He mentioned that if he were at either of his homes, he would not be dealing with snow and laughed at the irony of coming south only to be snowed in (no outgoing flights today or tomorrow morning, at least).

He made fun of seeing Richmonders using umbrellas in the snow; I defended myself by saying at least I didn't jump in the James.

I went to hang out with locals on a snow day and instead stumbled on a stuck Canuck who wanted to eat local and chat local.

The neighbors I'll have another chance to talk to; better to enjoy the visitor conversation while it's stranded here.

After all, someone's got to represent.

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