Still Lit, Just Smarter! Christian’s Guide To The Richmond Summer

by | Jul 11, 2024 | COMMUNITY, CULTURE, EAT DRINK, MUSIC, QUEER RVA

A long time ago, I was very well versed in what Richmond had to offer for funsies. I was young and single, often drunk, and motivated to rage four to six nights a week. 

Since then, I’ve grown old. I shy from giant bar crowds, demand more flavor from my beer/whiskey, am married, and value a little more zen than before. I still love to party but if done two nights in a row, I’m a mess. This loose list of recommendations and recognition of options comes from the laid back, sometimes misanthropic, attitude of someone that expects more than a High Life in my hand, isn’t impressed by the mere existence of a place, and thinks Summer is a great time to experience air conditioning. 

I’m writing this very unscientific summer guide for the people who leave their couches for good reasons only. Not just a peer pressure-fed instinct to venture aimlessly towards mediocre experiences. If I don’t mention your brewery rooftop, it’s not because I don’t like it. It’s because these options came to mind first.

It’s Summer! What are we gonna do about it? We’re gonna go…

…DRINKING!

NOTE: Drinking is always the first thing that comes to mind when the “what’s going on tonight” text comes through. This below is purely about “where am I tying one on tonight?” Not who has the frothiest, rare earth mineral cocktail for $30. This is about the joy of going out Drinking, with a capital D.  Richmond has a bunch of great bars and there is no way I’m listing them all. In other words, don’t @ me. 

Helen’s – Duh. Here’s the thing about Helen’s. It’s objectively very cool. By all hip metrics, it’s a bingo. Great interior design, excellent and loyal staff, adorable owners, been around for almost 90 years etc. It’s been the coolest scene haven for the stylish, the beautiful, and the wild since I can remember – and I can remember a looong time ago. The trick to enjoying Helen’s is to go a LOT. Being a regular here is rewarded in ways most bars (and I mean anywhere, not just Richmond) don’t have the heart to offer. It’s too small to be our Studio 54, but it definitely tries. I’ve not experienced better DJ sets in town than what they throw down here. The dancing is joyful, the bodies unjudged, and the fashion is fire. The staff is attentive and it feels great to get a hug when you walk in (see benefits to being a regular). Add to that reasonably priced drinks, a wrap-around patio situation, people-watching galore, and you’ve got my pick for best bar to be lit at. 

Honorable mentions: Cobra Cabana, Sticky Rice, Locker Room, Patrick Henry Pub, Penny Lane, GWAR bar, En Su Boca, Mr. Pulpo, Get Tight, Bamboo Cafe

…GET A BEER AND WATCH A BAND!

IT’S A TIE!!

Get Tight Lounge  – RVA wouldn’t be half the city it is without its wealth of musical talent. Get Tight invested in a great backyard stage, covered and lit with bars of red neon. There’s a backyard bar station so you don’t have to go in and out of the damn place every time you need a drink. I’m going to honorable mention a few places that come close but Get Tight is booking great acts in my opinion. Get Tight made a point of making outdoor experiences here, well, tight. This is a Summer Guide after all. They get points for that. The bar is cozy with an extra outdoor addition out front where you can grab a smoke without having to leave your drink inside. That is, if you aren’t already out back nodding in rhythm to any one of our sick local bands. This is definitely a vibe bar. It knows it’s cool without overselling it. 

Fuzzy Cactus – Is Northside Richmond’s Bushwick/Echo Park? No. It’s Richmond’s Northside, no comparisons necessary. While half my friends now own houses up there and something new pops up every eight minutes or so, the anchor, the landmark, the bulge in the too-tight jeans, is Fuzzy Cactus. A very large space bifurcated along its longer axis, it combines venue and bar exquisitely. If rock and roll ever died, this would be its tomb. It’s a place where studded belts and denim back patches still shine. It’s a place where pinball and whiskey blend better than manic panic and heavy eyeliner. For the Summer need to get out and do hood shit, Fuzzy delivers a great time, a sidewalk picnic bench enclosure, sorta-surly ne’er-do-wells, and the coolest bar staff in the city.

Honorable mentions: The Camel, Richmond Music Hall at the Capital Ale House, Révéler Experiences, Bandito’s 

…BE LGBTQ+!

Thirsty’s – To Richmond’s credit, I don’t know a single bar here that isn’t LGBTQ+ friendly. But sometimes you just need your tribe around you. You have great chances of making out better on the “are they or aren’t they” flirting roulette too. I would totally have put Babe’s in this spot up until this year. I still love Babe’s but Thirsty’s has a bit more joy in my experience. Thirsty’s is in its own little oasis just on the south side of the River. Kitchy and cluttered decor just fits right in this cute nook. The holiday string lights and the very friendly bartenders seal the deal. Super close to anyone coming from the Fan, Oregon Hill, or areas nearby. It has a great regular crowd that seems to be having the most fun and I’m jealous of them. I don’t hang there half as much as I’d like to, but I intend to change that. Pride Month is here during a very troubling year, so support them and the other businesses in the honorable mentions as much as possible.

Honorable Mentions: Babe’s, Fallout, Godfreys, Papi’s 

…BYOB, BLAZE, AND BE IN THE PIT!

The Warehouse – We are NOT going to write about it. Just know it exists. 

Honorable Mentions: VSC, Bike Lot, that’s all you get. Gotta figure out the rest for yourself!

…GET AWAY FROM EVERYONE!

Forest Hill Park – There are four thousand parks in Richmond. That’s not really true but it seems like it. Of all the parks remotely close to the city’s most populated areas, Forest Hill Park is the only one I ever feel like I’ve gotten away from everyone at. Just want to fuck off for a while and not hear screaming kids, have to do that head nod of acknowledgment thing to passing strollers and joggers every two minutes, or even see a single human? Go here. Obviously weekends are tougher, but going to a city park for solitude on the weekend is dumb anyway. 

Honorable Mentions: The Byrd Theatre, Movieland at Boulevard (non-weekend nights and most days), Amuse at the VMFA – not because it’s empty, but because people will generally leave you alone and be quiet, Chimborazo Park

…BE IN SCOTT’S ADDITION!

Harry’s at The Hof – Between the time I write this and the time it gets published, there will probably be four new giant airport hanger-sized bars in Scott’s Addition. It’s a weird time to be in the neighborhood as it draws in the suburban crowds and the curious as to what hell is going on behind Arthur Ashe Boulevard and Broad St. That’s not exactly a bad thing. Here’s hoping it proves to be a gateway to the more established RVA gems closer to the center of our web.

Of all the places popping up around there, we still default to one of the originals that relaunched last year: The Hof. With three stories to explore every night, it’s a great place to get a fancy cocktail or delicious meal on the bottom floor at Harry’s, enjoy an intimate music venue dance party on the second floor, or take in the best view of the city from the rooftop bar on the top floor.

Honorable Mentions: Bingo Beer Co., The Veil, Ardent, Brambly Park, Paper Moon

…TAKE The PARENTS / KIDS SOMEWHERE.

The Boathouse (parents) – I don’t know your parents. I certainly don’t know your kids. But I know Summer vibes, and if they don’t like these places, get a new family. For the parents, I say the Boathouse. Especially if they’re from out of town. It seems much fancier than it is. By fancy, I mean expensive. The cocktails are spectacular, the oysters are better. The service is spotty at times but you can bond with your Boomer parents over that. Your father-in-law might stop grumbling about you behind your back if you take him here, maybe even get a pat on the back. It’s located right on the River in Rockett’s Landing, a place I often forget exists, to be honest. Not because it’s not dope, but more because I forget a lot of things.

Honorable Mentions: Amuse at the VMFA, The Hill Cafe (brunch), Can Can, Edo’s Squid

The Lily Pad – For summer dining, I’m recommending the Lily Pad. I’m doing this more for you than the kids though. Also located on the river, Lily Pad offers up a great seafood menu and frozen drinks. Lots of space for the young’uns to run around where they won’t be bothering the other guests and a boat dock to gaze at the riverbend from. ‘Surprised I didn’t say the Children’s? Me too. It’s indoors. That’s the only thing I have against it for a summer guide spot.

Honorable Mentions: Children’s Museum, Science Museum, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

…IMPRESS MY DATE!

Quirk HotelIf James Bond were to have a daytime cocktail in a linen suit while chatting up some villain’s girlfriend in Richmond, it would probably be here. Great roleplay prompt for you couples out there btw. You’re welcome! Really, this place is classy af. Everyone looks like they’re discussing plans for their next film or regaling friends about their last sailing adventure. Clearly it’s much more down to Earth than all that, but it “smells” like success in there. It’s very sunny during the day and lit with an amber glow that brings out the highlights in your eyes at night. You really do look beautiful tonight you know. How about we get outta here and watch Evil Dead on my futon?…

Honorable Mentions: The Jasper, The Jefferson Hotel, L’Opossum, Common House

…WORSHIP THE SUN!

Maymont ParkRichmond is rich with parks. Overflowing with them. But for pure, idyllic pastures and a lesser amount of goose shit (I said lesser, not nonexistent), Maymont offers majesty and wide open lawns dotted with old growth shade trees perfect for a picnic and a fat J. I would normally recommend the James River, but I’ll get to that in a second. I cannot even begin to cover all of the areas perfect for sunbathing but the one I like best for accessibility is the lawns close to the Meadow st entrance to the park. Once through the gate, hang a right and walk about 200 yards. You’ll see what I mean.

Honorable Mentions – Forest Hill Park, any big rock in the James River, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

…GET WET!

The James River (obviously) – Specifically, the riverbanks of Belle Isle. There are sooo many places to clamber down to through brambles, woods, and winding paths on the James, but none of them match the options of Belle Isle. This is the crown jewel of living in Richmond. If you aren’t checking out all the landings to find your favorite spot – if you don’t have one already – you’re doing RVA wrong. The 42nd Street entrance (south bank) has some good spots too. Belle, however, has a great suspension bridge entrance – great for impressing visitors – and so, so many options for places to pop a squat. The River is frequently gross though. Check the city’s water quality index before going. If there’s been significant recent rainfall, the river is probably a mess of runoff from roads, sewage, and who knows what else. In that case, and if you don’t feel like driving two+ hours to the beach, check out the honorable mentions below.

Honorable mentions: Highland Hills Pool (membership required), Randolph Pool, your friend’s pool at the new condo they live in. 

…WATCH A BAND I DON”T LIVE ACROSS THE STREET FROM!

The National – There’s but so many times that you can take up Johnny from work on his invites to see his band play The Camel. Sometimes you need to go see a rich old fuck prance around in leather pants and sing songs you rocked out to when you were sixteen. For like $70. Richmond used to look on in envy as all the big name acts played Norfolk, Williamsburg, and Charlottesville. We were always picked last like wallflowers at a school dance. Norfolk I get. But Charlottesville? C’mon, there’s like 80 people there. 

Then there was a renaissance of venues. Bing, bam, boom – The Broadberry, The National, Richmond Music Hall etc, Ember Music Hall – real Promoters promoting real shows from real bands that don’t practice in their garages they had to move the minivan out of. Be happy you live here now. In fact, if there’s anything at all that has improved about RVA in the last decade, it’s this. Head and shoulders above them all though? Gotta be The National. It’s big, has great sightlines, great acoustics and just feels like a venue great bands belong in.

NOTE: Red Light Management’s Coran Capshaw is taking RVA to the next level by building an amphitheater dug into hallowed Confederate ground and I couldn’t be happier. 

Welp, that’s it for this edition of my summer guide. If you have suggestions for very specific prompts to include in the next installment, email me at cd@rvamag.com!

Photo by Brendan Stephens

Christian Detres

Christian Detres

Christian Detres has spent his career bouncing back and forth between Richmond VA and his hometown Brooklyn, NY. He came up making punk ‘zines in high school and soon parlayed that into writing music reviews for alt weeklies. He moved on to comedic commentary and fast lifestyle pieces for Chew on This and RVA magazines. He hit the gas when becoming VICE magazine’s travel Publisher and kept up his globetrotting at Nowhere magazine, Bushwick Notebook, BUST magazine and Gungho Guides. He’s been published in Teen Vogue, Harpers, and New York magazine to name drop casually - no biggie. He maintains a prime directive of making an audience laugh at high-concept hijinks while pondering our silly existence. He can be reached at christianaarondetres@gmail.com




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