The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is free to the public and open 365 days a year. The policy hints at Richmond’s priorities. Art and design are not luxuries here; they are essential.
You’ll likely figure this out for yourself soon after you arrive in the River City. Vibrant, expansive murals and bold graffiti transform old brick walls. A surprising amount of indie boutiques and shops line the streets. Art students at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) scurry around the downtown campus. And when you check in to Quirk Hotel, the stylish boutique hotel-cum-art gallery, you’re greeted by curated original art in almost every corner.
Richmond, the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1780, has traditionally been a hotspot for history and genteel Southern culture. But the once-staid Southern city is stepping along at a much livelier pace these days, thanks to its visionary voices in art, fashion, food, and culture. Together with the eternal tide of VCU students who pour new creative energy into the city, they have helped Richmond emerge as a premier style leader in the South.
Katie Ukrop, the co-founder of Quirk, is one of those voices. After curating one of the city’s most distinctive art galleries for a decade, she and her husband, Ted, decided it was time to expand their vision. The result, Quirk Hotel, is a hip, rosy-hued, art-filled, nuanced experience where every effortless detail bears evidence of a thoughtful curator’s hand. Case in point: by the bed, a cult-favorite Dohm sound machine (prized by light sleepers and parents of infants alike) customized in perfect, Quirk brand pink. Take a few moments to enjoy your room—the art, the vast window, the original hardwood floors dating back to the hotel’s historic days as a 1916 luxury department store—before heading out to explore.
A fortifying cocktail makes a good first stop. The Rogue Gentlemen serves up a concept-forward cocktail program, anchored to a core idea that changes each season. If you’re lucky, the bartender will let you peruse previous menus (a magazine styled after National Geographic, a music festival poster, a baseball card collection) while he mixes up “Huck Your Feelings.” Next up? Dinner at Saison, a neighborhood favorite.
Restaurants this tiny are oft described as “intimate,” but take the jammed-full tables and busy bar as a sign of good things to come.
In the morning, fuel up at the hotel’s well-regarded restaurant, Maple & Pine. Soft light filters in through the windows, bounces off the high, groin vault ceilings—and diffuses back down for the perfect Instagram snap of the hotel’s pink-accented lobby. Got it? It’s time for a quick trip to the VMFA, one of the largest art museums in North America. The art institution boasts an impressive collection, but the postwar American art from the Sydney and Frances Lewis Collection is a definite highlight. Feeling sufficiently inspired, continue to Carytown, a retail district home to many of the independent boutiques and shops that have made Richmond a style destination.
The genesis of the city’s thriving indie fashion community is Need Supply Co., the tiny denim shop turned trendsetting global retailer. In 1996, Need Supply was selling vintage Levi’s, introducing Richmond to a look the city couldn’t get before. Two decades later, the brand’s international success stems largely from the same strategy. Need Supply’s Carytown flagship is a bit like a baptism into the low-key, ultra-cool aesthetic the brand meticulously curates. The store’s sleek metal and wood interior curves around to control your experience of the space, directing you with smooth walls and spotlights to garments arranged just so.
You might notice a few wares from other Richmond makers on the tightly edited shelves, and that’s no accident. Need Supply has long been supportive of Richmond’s local fashion and start-up industries, paving the way for other success stories. Ledbury, a luxury menswear brand famous for its bespoke shirts, is one. Other shopping standouts include Rosewood Clothing Co., Na Nin, and Dear Neighbor. But that’s the story of Richmond: big-time or small, independent brands thrive in this hothouse for creative vision.
Locals say you can’t leave Carytown without lunching at Can Can, an excellent French brasserie. The only clue that you’re not in Paris is the wait staff’s uniform: crisp, white shirts and stiff, shape-hiding Dickies utility pants (which have, inexplicably, been reborn as the cool pant right now). The Dickies are a secret handshake for those who get it, a sly wink to the young, buzzy energy of Richmond’s fashion scene.
There’s plenty more browsing to do, but if you’ve ventured over to the Church Hill district to check out Dear Neighbor, it’s probably time for an afternoon pick-me-up. Head ’round the corner until you catch sight of Sub Rosa’s steamed-up windows. While you enjoy the buttery shatter of blissful pain au chocolat from the artisan bakery, you can watch co-owner Evin Dogu unload hot loaves from the wood-fired oven.
No one will blame you if you decide on a brief interlude back in your hotel room. The calm, quiet space—with its comfortable, understated bed fashioned from century-old walnut beams—invites reflection . . . or a nap. Later, on the way out to dinner, pop into Quirk Gallery. Connected to the hotel, the ever-changing gallery space offers a highly curated mix of original art and stylish wares.
Richmond doesn’t only set trends in the fashion arena. The latest concept from James Beard Award semi-finalist Chef Brittanny Anderson offers proof of the city’s forward-looking perspective. Brenner Pass focuses on food and drink of the Alpine region—and as the world’s obsession with Nordic cuisine fades, the sturdy, mountainous cuisine of the Alps seems a likely candidate for the next culinary craze. Sculptural chairs, gray-washed wood, and a palette of creamy winter whites are reminiscent of a modern mountain chalet. Dinner opens with a creative drink list, showcasing European amari and sherries. Trout quenelles, in a beautiful pool of crème fraîche, dill, and trout roe, arrive shortly after a remarkable negroni, made with Brenner’s house amaro. Both prove to be the night’s standouts, although everything is delicious and quietly surprising.
It’s a fitting way to close a weekend in a capital city that continues to impress—balancing centuries of history with a bold commitment to the pursuit of art and style.
Can Can Brasserie
Zinc bar, Thonet chairs, red leather banquettes—this charming spot checks all the Francophile boxes, so settle in and order mussels with frites or the salad niçoise, both perfectly executed.13120 W Cary St, (804) 358-7274, cancanbrasserie.com
Sub Rosa Bakery
Even the New York Times has taken notice of this artisan, wood-fired bakery turning out breads and pastries made with stone-milled, heirloom grains. 620 N 25th St, (804) 788-7672, subrosabakery.com
Helmed by the same team behind Richmond’s renowned Metzger Bar and Butchery, modern Brenner Pass offers an innovative, nuanced exploration of Alpine cuisine. Don’t miss the beverage program—a careful selection of European amari, sherries, ciders, and wines from mountainous regions. 3200 Rockbridge St. #100, (804) 658-9868, brennerpassrva.com
Need Supply Co.
Enjoy the minimal vibes of this cool-kid headquarters, where you’ll find everything from cult-favorite Common Projects sneakers to Calvin Klein comebacks—along with a well-edited selection of denim, of course. 3100 W Cary St, (804) 355-4383, needsupply.com
Ledbury made its name by bringing men’s bespoke shirtmaking to Richmond, but the brand’s luxurious, ready-to-wear options share the same commitment to quality. The warm, layered flagship shop pays homage to the craft and tradition of tailoring. 315 W Broad St, (804) 793-8569, ledbury.com
Founded by the makers behind trendy jewelry line Drift/Riot, this tiny shop in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood gathers together covetable goods from some of their favorite artisans and designers. 2415 Jefferson Ave, (804) 819-1729, shopdearneighbor.com
If you’ve ever wished you could move your bed into an art gallery, this charming, stylish boutique hotel is for you. Located in the heart of Richmond’s dynamic art and design district, the pink-hued hotel offers an eyeful, where every detail is carefully considered. 201 W Broad St, (804) 340-6040, quirkhotel.com. Rates start at $170.