There are many distinct features besides the food that transform a restaurant from a mere dining establishment to a community staple. Some foodies head to restaurants on the water to enjoy a sunset with their meal, others are drawn to dining locations that boast unique décor, and some want to savor a craft brew alongside their food. But if you’re looking for a little bit of history with your meal, travel to these nine restaurants located in historic buildings around Virginia.
*This is Part 2 of the Restaurants in Historic Buildings. Read Part 1 here.
UNION STREET PUBLIC HOUSE—ALEXANDRIA
Credit: W. Connett for Visit Alexandria
What It Used to Be: Warehouse on the seaport
Built In: 1790
City records date the Union Street Public House structure to around 1790, when it was home to a warehouse for goods to be moved along the thriving seaport. It is claimed that George Washington frequently met with associates at this warehouse to conduct business. Although the building has been damaged several times by fires since its founding, the original structure still stands today, housing a restaurant that specializes in preparing fresh seafood, steaks, and handcrafted sandwiches.
AL’S ON FIRST—PULASKI
What It Used to Be: Pulaski Grocery Company/Christiansburg Can Company
Built In: Early 1900s
Inside the Jackson Park Inn, the structure now known as Al’s on First originally opened in the early 1900s as a grocery store, then transformed to a canning company in 1937. The building’s proximity to the railroad tracks made it ideal for shipping food quickly and efficiently. The menu found at Al’s on First emphasizes Homestyle cooking, focusing on crafting approachable Southern dishes at affordable prices.
What It Used to Be: Miller & Rhoads department store
Built In: 1888
Miller, Rhoads, & Gerhart opened in 1885, moving to their Broad Street location three years later due to their quick success and growth. With Gerhart relocating to Lynchburg in 1890, the dry goods and department store changed its name to the well-known Miller & Rhoads. By 1924, the store had expanded to cover the entire block, and at its peak in the 1950s, the owners added the Tea Room, a restaurant that served favorites like Brunswick Stew and chocolate silk pie while entertaining guests with fashion shows. The department store closed its doors for good in 1990, and in 2006, the space was converted into the Hilton Hotel, with La Grotta moving from its downtown location to join the Hilton in late 2016. The restaurant has been a popular stable with Richmond natives since 1994, crafting Northern Italian dishes packed with fresh flavor and inspired creativity.
FISHER & COMPANY—TAZEWELL
What It Used to Be: The Pisgah General Store
Built In: 1907
The Fisher & Company building began as a general store on the old railroad line, but after years of sitting empty, the building was donated to the Crab Orchard Museum in hopes of preservation and welcomed the restaurant as tenants in 2013. The restaurant contains the shelves, counter, and cash register found in the general store, lending an air of historic authenticity to the establishment, and the menu is infused with the Appalachian culture inherent to the Southwest Virginia region.
VIRTUE FEED & GRAIN—ALEXANDRIA
Credit: C. Davidson for Visit Alexandria
What It Used to Be: Feed house storing grain, hay, flour, and feed
Built In: 1880s
Virtue Feed & Grain began as a feed house in the 1800s, holding goods like hay, grain, and flour. Remnants of the original whitewashed sign can still be seen above the patio, and the interior of the historic building was carefully preserved by local artisans and craftsmen when it was converted into the restaurant. Every piece of the restaurant’s décor has been carefully selected, including the wood flooring and wall paneling, which were constructed from reclaimed wood from the same era as the building. When it comes to the menu, every effort is made to source local and sustainable ingredients, and the chefs transform these items into impressive dishes that do the beautiful historic building justice.
HALF WAY HOUSE RESTAURANT—NORTH CHESTERFIELD
What It Used to Be: Stagecoach inn
Built In: 1760
The Half Way House Restaurant was built in 1760 as a stagecoach inn, providing travelers heading to and from Richmond a place to rest the horses and take a break. Among the stagecoach inn’s visitors were notable historic figures like George Washington, the Marquid de LaFayette, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses S. Grant. During the Civil War, Union forces conscripted the structure for their own use, setting up camp for several weeks during local battles. Today, the restaurant is furnished with authentic period antiques, providing an immersive experience for guests. The menu offers upscale dishes like Lobster Tail, Rack of Lamb, Filet Mignon, and Chesapeake Crab Cakes.
What It Used to Be: An old-fashioned movie theater
Built In: 1911
This popular Mediterranean restaurant is situated in one of Hampton Roads’ first movie theaters, the Olympic Theater, which was built in 1911 and screened newsreels and silent films featuring stars like Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplain. The theater closed in 1922 and new owners converted it into a clothing store. However, in 1992, the building changed yet again, becoming the current community mainstay of Café Europa, serving Northern Italian fare in charming, classic surroundings.
THE BABCOCK HOUSE RESTAURANT—APPOMATTOX
What It Used to Be: The boyhood home of author Dr. Havilah Babcock
Built In: 1884
Now an Inn and restaurant, The Babcock House Restaurant began as the home of author Dr. Havilah Babcock and was built in 1884. The inn offers five bedrooms and one suite furnished with period antiques for guests wishing to stay overnight in the historic establishment, and the restaurant cooks up southern style meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a special Sunday Brunch. The lunch provisions are more casual, with an array of sandwiches and entrees, but at dinner, the restaurant shifts to a more upscale tone, with dishes like Berkshire Pork Chops, Shrimp ‘n Grits, and Braised Lamb Shank rounding out the menu.
What It Used to Be: Dry goods and department store
Built In: 1912
Named for nearby Gosport Shipyard built down the road in 1767 (now known as the Norfolk Naval Shipyard), the Gosport Tavern building was constructed in 1912 as a dry goods store. The structure has gone through several renditions over more than 100 years, transforming into a department store, an auto parts store, a furniture store, and finally reopening as the Gosport Tavern, beloved by locals for the reasonably priced, American-style meals.
Virginia is full of historic sites that have been renovated as restaurants, including dozens of taverns all around the Commonwealth. Where do you like to go for a great meal with a side of history?