The outdoor “Downtown Mall” is chock-o-block with venues. To be near the action, stay at the three-story Victorian 200 South Street Inn, right, (from $160). Request room 18 on the second floor, which is insulated from downtown’s rumbling trains. Fuel your night of living like a rock star at Asian-tapas restaurant Bang!, across the street (213 Second St. SW, 434-984-BANG).
Rub elbows with performers at the Omni Hotel (from $169), a three-star high-rise, popular with headliners at the state-of-the-art John Paul Jones Arena — named after a donor, not the bassist. If Keith Urban, Phil Lesh and Bruce Springsteen sightings are nil (they’re all playing the arena this spring/summer), take solace in the indoor and outdoor pools, seven pillows on the beds, and the unparalleled location on the Mall.
For easy access to the University of Virginia’s nightlife strip, “The Corner,” check into the Dinsmore House Inn (from $119), an exquisitely preserved bricked colonial. If you plan on finding an afterparty, request the Veranda Room for its private entrance.
Three blocks away on Elliewood Avenue restaurants such as Coupe DeVille’s and the Buddhist Biker Bar, above, let the party spill outside, at the latter on a generous fenced front lawn, with live reggae, blues or rock most nights.
WHERE TO EAT
Start your day with a coffee and potato-doughnut from Spudnuts Shop, below, (309 Avon St., 434296-0590), one of the only remaining outposts of the ’50s-era chain. A $6 a dozen of the fluffy, ultra-sweet glazed blueberry cake donuts will make you question the wheat-flour-based standard. Place your order before closing time at 2 p.m.
If you like to eat with accompaniment, Mono Loco, below, is a Latin-inspired eatery with live music on weekends. Order the tender braised pork burrito and pair with one of ten tequilas, or better yet, a blood orange margarita. Move out to the patio at 10 p.m. where you can dance to local favorites like Appalachian klezmer act Accordion Death Squad or Bluegrass-influenced folk band The Whiskey Rebellion.
Enter the Coran Capshaw nightlife empire at Mas, below, an artisinal Spanish tapas and wine bar owned by the controversial real estate mogul and Dave Matthews Band manager — he’s the financier behind many of the city’s upscale eateries and new music venues, including the Charlottesville Pavilion. For small plates that eat like meals, order the “queso cocido con alcachofal” (artichoke and goat cheese) or the smoky “croquetas de jamon” (ham, Yukon gold potatoes, Manchego cheese).
Treat post-show hangovers with sausage and gravy and a generous side of grits from UVa-student favorite The Tavern (1140 N. Emmet St., 434295-0404). Or, stop into Riverside Lunch (1429 Hazel St., 434-971-3546) for a greasy and savory hamburger served on a mini paper-plate. The White Spot (1407 University Ave., 295-9899), left, serves the legendary “Gus Burger,” below, a satisfying griddle-cooked cheeseburger blanketed with fried egg.
WHAT TO DO
Chock it up to the music-loving UVa student body, Virginia’s bluegrass legacy, or the success of the Dave Matthews band — Charlottesville has emerged as a mecca of Americana, folk, and roots-rock talent. And there are almost as many venues as there are great bands.
For the biggest talents, see a show at the Charlottesville Pavilion, a new, regal-looking outdoor amphitheater where folk-rock and country superstars perform — David Byrne (right), George Jones and Jackson Browne are booked for the summer. Kick off your weekend at the Pavilion’s free Friday After Five concerts, where up-and-coming local artists, like blues prodigy Eli Cook and eco-rockers Trees on Fire perform.
Find the next big thing at the Mall and the Corner’s smaller venues. For emerging blues and folk acts, duck into the subterranean Gravity Lounge, left, a living-room size coffee shop and music venue where local MacArthur “genius” Award-winner Corey Harris often plays his Rasta-tinged blues. Catch local folk singer Shannon Worrell on April 22. To hear buzzy indie-rock, plant yourself on a giant floor-pillow at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, below, a cafe and small-concert space. Miller’s (109 W. Main St., 434-971-8511), the legendary pharmacy-turned-bar, is the place to take in live jazz. Check out Thompson D’Earth’s masterful improv on Thursday nights. The Charlottesville Music Showcase runs every Wednesday night at Rapture a restaurant/night club with a New Orleans vibe.
Escape to Charlottesville’s wine-growing country — for the music tie-in, of course. Set up a private tour and tasting at Dave Matthews’ family vineyard, Blenheim Vineyards, located 11 miles outside Charlottesville. Sample the Cabernet Franc, an earthy-red varietal that thrives in these parts. Back towards town, pick up fresh produce and eggs at Matthews’ 1,200-acre organic farm, Best of What’s Around. The farm sells shares to members and supplies crops to area restaurants; arrange by phone for a private tour.
To find out which shows are worth their ticket-price, tune into local independent radio station 106.1 The Corner’s Live and Local show at 8 p.m. Purchase tickets in advance through Charlottesville’s MusicToday.com, a ticket and merchandise e-commerce site started by Coran Capshaw, and now owned by Live Nation. For a complete roster of show listings, pick up one of Charlottesville’s alt-weekly newspapers, The Hook or C-ville Weekly, in one of newspaper boxes on the UVa campus and the downtown mall.
AN ODDBALL DAY
Charlottesville bluegrass legends The Hackensaw Boys, right, are usually touring these days, but you can still buy their records and take your own road trip to the mountains that inspired their sound. Pick up their latest release “Look Out” at Plan 9 Music, a Virginia-based chain that carries over 300 titles from area bands. Pop the CD into the rental and take Hwy 64 west 30 minutes to the Shenandoah National Park and have $15 pocketed for the park entry fee. Enter the Park at the the Rockfish Gap South Entrance Station, following the legendary scenic Skyline Drive, left, at a leisurely 35 miles an hour. Keep an eye out for delicate, white trillium wildflowers in spring and early summer — the roadsides are left unmowed to let them grow. At mile 17.1, pull over at the Range View Overlook to take in a jaw-dropping, almost full panorama of the Blue Ridge mountains. Next, stretch your legs at the Blackrock Summit trail, below, an easy one-mile-loop trail at mile 87. To reach the 3,092-foot vista, scramble over the rocks at the end of the trail. After working up an appetite, motor back to Big Meadows Lodge at mile 51.2, a thirties-era roadside resort and restaurant. Chef Terry’s serves dressed-up home cooking — like braised short ribs and garlic mashed potatoes. Let Charlottesville’s independent stations — 91.1 WTJU, 91.9 WNRN or 106.1 WCNR — keep you company on the drive back.