Thursday, August 16, 2012

Italians and the Jefferson

I figured if I was going to hear tales of the Jefferson, I should go with someone I met at the Jefferson.

The Library of Virginia was hosting author Paul Herbert as he spoke about his book, "The Jefferson Hotel: The History of a Richmond Landmark."

And while the title is snooze-worthy, the subject was overdue for re-examination since the last book on the Jefferson had been in 1941.

As it turned out, the stories he shared were fascinating.

When he heard that the Jefferson had used a 12-year old clock cleaner, he tracked down the now 72-year old man to get the story.

When he was told a story of two young girls being asleep in the hotel when it caught on fire, he tracked down the girls.

"The thing about history is," he said with understated but obvious enthusiasm, "If you can find the people who were there."

Most of his stories ended with him meeting or talking to the person something happened to as a way yo corroborate the tales told in the book.

He clarified once and for all that the Jefferson's famed alligators lasted only until 1948, except for special occasions.

Billy Joel was an investor in the Jefferson, albeit a silent one. Herbert said he did once visit and play the piano, though.

I learned that the check-in desks used to be downstairs by the Main Street entrance, in front of what is now TJ's.

That there was a writing room in the lobby.

And, when it opened in 1895, a rooftop garden where entertainment was held.

Vaudeville from the roof of the Jefferson, can you imagine?

In the hotel's restaurant, Elvis ate bacon with his fingers, to the horror of one of the employees.

At one point in the evening, Herbert looked at the crowd and said, "In Richmond, everything ties back to the Jefferson. Everyone has a connection. It's like that seven degrees of separation with Kevin Bacon game. Everyone has a Jefferson story."

Who was I to argue?

I was sitting next to someone I'd met at the Jefferson two decades ago. Clearly there's a story there.

Dinner followed further east at Maximo's, the new tapas place in the Bottom.

It was livelier than I'd expected and the Spanish music was, too.

The menu was a bit of a split personality with tapas on one side and Italian on the other.

With a bottle of Verdejo, we ate around the tapas side, trying apple salad, chorizo in cherry sauce and a soft shell crab in a white wine cream sauce.

The people watching was colorful inside and outside the restaurant, with both Italian and New Jersey being spoken.

We finished with Warre's "Warrior" Port, leaving some Verdejo to go.

Our eager sever rushed off to get a bag for it, returning with a large brown grocery bag and saying apologetically, "We have one size bag: giant!"

So it was that we left with a giant bag with our leftover Verdejo and full bellies.

As if the evening needed any further enhancement, we made for Strange Matter to see an Italian band, Sultan Bathery.

What are young guys from Venice playing these days, you wonder?

Let me tell you. The best kind of lo-fi, garage (almost surf) pop in two to three minute bursts.

The bass player wore a long orange scarf wrapped around his forehead in that Steven Tyler-kind of way.

The guitarist would have looked right at home in the Trillions. Even better, he sang every song peering through curly bangs.

The drummer's non-stop arms were encased in a Cramps t-shirt with sleeves so short it looked like a girl's t-shirt.

In other words, they were adorable. And very young.

Even so, what came through was their Euro-swagger as they rocked hard and fast without ever really losing it.

And everyone, repeat, everyone in that room was constitutionally unable to stand still as a result.

After their 45-minute set (fact: you can only go so hard so long), the band made a plea in mostly Italian for support.

"We have not so much money," the singer said sweetly.

I bet they have no place finding a place to stay tonight, either.

And while I doubt it'll be the Jefferson, no doubt they'll find southern hospitality in Richmond.

I figure if I got to see a dynamite Italian band here on a Wednesday night, they're going to be just as lucky.

Cute can take Italians a long way.

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