Behind the Rebirth: Inside Story of Harry’s at the Hofheimer

by | Mar 29, 2024 | BREWS & SPIRITS, DOWNTOWN RVA, EAT DRINK, ELECTRONIC & EXPERIMENTAL, GOOD EATS, MUSIC, NIGHTLIFE, POP CULTURE, SMALL BUSINESS, VENUE NEWS

I was strolling down Broad Street on what was an unseasonably beautiful day in March, and as I rounded the corner at Arthur Ashe Boulevard I was greeted by the familiar yet striking architecture of The Hofheimer Building. I was making my way there that day to meet with Carter Snipes, co-owner of the building since 2015, and Natalie McNamara, managing partner who teamed up with Snipes in January of 2023 to help him launch his new concept for the space – thus was the impetus for our meeting on that day. Since the Covid-19 pandemic shut down music and the restaurant/bar scene in 2020, the pair have been trying to revamp the building and turn it into what they always imagined it could be, and I wanted to hear about the vision straight from the horse’s mouth.

I passed into the open door of the downstairs restaurant and found Snipes sitting at the bar sipping a beer. After pouring me one to mixed success, a skill he never mastered, he admitted while laughing, we sat down and he covered a few points about the building’s history and what led it to this point, and how it’s fair in his hands.

Built in 1928 for The Hofheimer Rug Company, the owner of the business was one Mr. Harry Hofheimer. Legend has it Hofheimer bought leftover tiles from the construction of The Altria Theater (then called The Mosque) to add a Mughal-inspired finish to his building. After Hofheimer sold the property it housed a number of businesses including a ballroom dance studio in the 1970s and Adam’s Camera in the 80s. Veteran Richmonders might recognize the name of the old music room that occupied the building pre-Covid: The Dark Room, which got its name from the old developing studio at Adam’s Camera that it occupied.

The building was acquired in 2015 by Snipes, who immediately brought in Peter Chang as a tenant, a restaurateur who still runs the eponymous dining spot on the first floor. The building hosted a series of pop-up parties on the roof called Sunsets at the Hof in 2016 before much had become of the spot. The name “Hof” must have had a nice ring to it, for in 2018 Snipes opened The Hofgarden as a pizza and beer spot, and later that year The Dark Room would begin hosting shows. The business operated for a few years, but as Snipes put it, “We had a really good run, but Covid hit this place really hard, and it kind of went sideways. We were going through the things that people were going through, bad crowds, bad DJs, and all kinds of stuff. I thought, the neighborhood is changing, I want to bring this back to being a community space where it started, and be focused on being a community place…”

Snipes told me about how he brought in McNamara, a friend and marketing guru, to help organize the rebrand that he was looking for. “We were toying with this rebrand, because after covid we want to go more food-centric. All the events got canceled, all the live music got canceled, all the events got canceled, and you couldn’t even go sit down at a table. The Hofgarden was more of a beer garden, with pizza and pretzels and beer, that sort of market demand, we thought, we’ve got to have more of a restaurant. I pitched her on this idea of Harry’s at Hofheimer and she loved it,” said Snipes.

Behind the Rebirth: Inside Story of Harry's at the Hofheimer by Andrew Bonieskie_RVA Magazine 2023
Photo by Mike Guyer

McNamara then joined us at this point and regaled me with stories of their most recent drag brunch, showing me pictures of opulent decadence that seemed as if they belonged in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet. I then got to hear a little about McNamara’s journey to working at this prominent Richmond hot spot.

McNamara owned a marketing company for eight years, and worked her way up to having 15 full-time employees. She too was hit hard by the pandemic and found herself struggling through it as a business owner and a single mom. She was ready for a new chapter right when Snipes approached her to help with this rebrand in early 2023, and she completely ran with it. Though new to the restaurant business, McNamara was undeterred. “The restaurant business is very male-dominated, and women being leaders is very rare,” said McNamara after a recent meeting with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). This didn’t seem to bother either of them, with Snipes chiming in to say, “She’s a badass. She can do anything.”

Behind the Rebirth: Inside Story of Harry's at the Hofheimer by Andrew Bonieskie_RVA Magazine 2023
Photo by Mike Guyer

So what was this rebrand exactly? Well, first and foremost instead of being The Hofgarden, the business now occupying the Hofheimer building is now called Harry’s at the Hofheimer. The name Harry’s is in fact a reference to three different Harrys, and it begins with a pair of famous bartenders who defined modern cocktails in the 20th century. The first being Harry McElhone (1890-1958) who wrote the definitive Harry of Ciro’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails (1923) just before purchasing the famous Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, France. Next would be that of Harry Craddock (1876-1963) who had a similar story as the author of The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), a collection of drinks he created while working at the Savoy Hotel in London. The last of course being in reference to Harry Hofheimer himself, from whom the building gets its recognizable name.

The two took me up to the second floor to explore the redone space and to share their vision of what they wanted for the space. Divided into two distinct rooms, The Library and The Loft, the second floor is a huge multi-purpose space capable of handling just about anything. The Library being the smaller of the two rooms, it will be open Tuesday-Sunday, unless it has been reserved for a private party, and features a cocktail bar and multiple lounge areas. Snipes expressed the desire to get music back in this area, part of which used to be The Dark Room, saying, “We’re gonna go back to some of that dark room programming, where we showcase local up and coming musicians, but in a more loungey vibe.”

The Library will also be the site of the Tuesday night events that Snipes and McNamara have dubbed Manifesto Hour. Recently they had Melissa Rift, Old Forester’s Master Taster, come through to do a tasting and demonstration on distilling at Harry’s, and she was only available on Tuesday night. However, despite the day of the week, according to Snipes, it was a major hit. Now they plan on doing similar events every Tuesday, as McNamara said, “The idea is to just do this every Tuesday, whether it’s wine, or beer, or liquor, or a food product, and we do these tastings and education seminars.” McNamara attributed the success of such an event to a desire for community engagement post-pandemic, saying, “People really want to get back to being in person and engaging with each other.”

Heading out in the larger room dubbed The Loft, McNamara told me about how they mainly use it for large private events. Recently it played host to the glamorous Gatsby themed New Year’s Eve Celebration complete with swing dancers and glitzy costumes, but the space is also capable of hosting weddings. For a larger event like that, McNamara explained, they would do the ceremony in The Loft, then afterwards they would herd the party into The Library for cocktail hour, during which they would flip The Loft around into the reception area. Unlike The Library which will mostly be open to the public, The Loft will only be open to larger private parties.

Behind the Rebirth: Inside Story of Harry's at the Hofheimer by Andrew Bonieskie_RVA Magazine 2023
Photo courtesy of The Hofheimer

After that, we headed up to the roof to see the final space transformed. The rooftop of The Hofheimer building is a truly unique spot in the city, being able to see for miles around from its unique position among the stout buildings of Scott’s Addition. The Hofheimer Building has gone through so many changes, but one consistency over the last nine years is Snipes himself who has watched the neighborhood completely transform. “When I bought this building, there was nothing,” said Snipes. Indeed, as my memory serves, when I attended my first Broadberry show in the Summer of 2016 (People’s Blues of Richmond, if you know you know), for a VCU student, it was the edge of the world. Now Scott’s Addition is one of the fastest-growing and rapidly changing places in the city. Being surrounded by Movieland, The Diamond with the Broadberry right now and dozens of new restaurants and breweries popping up every day, it feels like Scott’s Addition might just be the place to be.

Snipes and McNamara mused about the changing neighborhood, and how they’d like to serve as a community space for this new up-and-coming part of town. “We’re trying to reposition this building. This is one of the oldest buildings in Scott’s Addition, and it has this unique facade…” said Snipes, with McNamara adding, “We’re one of the only cocktail bars in the neighborhood.” McNamara went on about how important it is to her that Harry’s is a central location for people of the community to gather, saying, “One of the reasons we do Manifesto Hour, and other things, is pulling in the community… all of the people in these apartments, they’re looking for stuff to do… I want people to think, ‘I worked all day and I’m tired, let’s go to Harry’s.’ It’s sexy, it’s classy, but I can get some wings and a burger.”

While all these new businesses are popping up around the neighborhood, Harry’s stands poised to dominate with its multi-level concept. Said McNamara, “The nice thing about this three-story venue concept is that it gives us the opportunity to do these different programming ideas. You can come here for a drag brunch, you can come here for a woman’s business panel, you can come here for a concert.”

And speaking of events in space, Harry’s doesn’t just book you and then leave you to it. As Snipes said about McNamara’s event planning, “One of the things I’ve noticed that she’s been doing with these promoters who have been coming in with these creative events is that she really gets behind them,” said Snipes. “We put in a lot of effort to make sure that everything runs smoothly,” added McNamara.

So it’s a restaurant, with bi-weekly drag brunches, a music venue, lounge, multi-purpose event space, and rooftop bar. Harry’s at the Hofheimer is capable of so many things after this post-pandemic rebrand, but what does it all boil down to? Well, McNamara was poised and ready to put it all into one word, saying “this is a place where people go to celebrate.”

The pair are so excited about the new business they’ve built that we stood up on the rooftop sipping our beers for a half an hour talking about all their plans for the future and the positive vibes they want to fill the halls of their space. “Two summers ago… it was not a great team, not a great DJ scene, and I didn’t want this building associated with being a club,” said Snipes, with McNamara jumping to say, “… Or mediocre, or not involved in the community, or not making an impact. That’s not what this building was made for. It was made to be this community space where people could meet each other, hang out and celebrate.”

Behind the Rebirth: Inside Story of Harry's at the Hofheimer by Andrew Bonieskie_RVA Magazine 2023
Photo courtesy of The Hofheimer

Harry’s at the Hofheimer is open six days a week, with The Library open barring a private or ticketed event, and the rooftop is open on weekends until the weather stays consistently warm. The new vision that has worked its way into this classic Richmond spot must be seen to be believed, so I highly recommend you make your way down to Harry’s to see just what the hubbub is all about, and order a delicious craft cocktail while staring out over the skyline of our beautiful city.

More information on The Hofheimer can be found HERE

Andrew Bonieskie

Andrew Bonieskie

But you may call me Bones. I'm the Associate Editor of RVA Mag, and a writer and musician living in Richmond, Virginia. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in music and a minor in creative writing I have gone on to score feature and short films, released a book of poetry, an album of original music, and perform lead vocals with the band Pebbles Palace.




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