While retail arteries like Timberlake and Wards roads pump economic lifeblood through the city, the heart of Lynchburg culture beats downtown.
An influx of young professionals—post-college aged (22-29) make up for 10 percent of the city’s population, as reported by The Roanoke Times, while births have outnumbered deaths by over 1,000 since 2010—is adding a fresh spike of vibrancy to the community, which was named one of the 25 best places to retire by Forbes in 2012.
Rather than quell one another, however, the older and younger crowds complement one another, creating a cultural melting pot.
“We are still working on developing our personality,” said Ashley Kershner, executive director of Lynch’s Landing. “And that’s OK. What was once viewed as a boring, conservative town is now a growing, quirky, friendly, lovely place.”
Though half of the current downtown residents are 18-34, older individuals and retirees are moving downtown at an increasing rate.
“Older Americans are more active and healthy than ever,” Kershner said.
Knowing how important downtown is to the cultural identity, and economic livelihood, of the community, Lynchburg is committed to investing in that scene.
“A healthy, successful and thriving downtown is essential to a successful city,” Kershner said.
Over the past 20 years, Lynchburg has invested well over $1 million in infrastructure, including Monument Terrace, Riverfront Park and the lower Bluffwalk.
“These public spaces provide essential gathering places and encourage people to spend time in shared space,” Kershner said.
This revitalization effort has gained traction in the past five years as new lofts and condos have drawn more residents, and, in turn, more businesses, downtown.
With the new Academy Center of Arts on the horizon, Kershner hopes to see more locally-owned businesses continue to occupy vacant spaces, and continue to shape the landscape, and personality, as Lynchburg grows.
“Locally-owned businesses are the heart of downtown and are the creators of our urban identity,” Kershner said.
“If our downtown was filled with (national chains) there would be nothing that made it special. But for those who visit downtown, we develop a true connection with these businesses and the experiences we have at them.
“There is a lot of love in these businesses, a lot of heart. And we feel a part of that.”
Restaurants play a crucial role in a successful downtown culture, attracting visitors, bringing people downtown and giving urbanites options on where to walk to breakfast, lunch and dinner.
As the revitalization boom continues, here is a look at some recent restaurant openings and what their owners hope to add to the growing Hill City culture.
Fifth & Federal Station
Here’s to our roots
An old Esso Station off the roundabout at 801 Fifth Street has been reconstructed and reimagined as a smokehouse and whiskey bar—Fifth & Federal Station.
Josh Read, a part-owner along with Travis Hundt, Ralph Beck, and Erich Lebeau, said that the project, which was set to open in early November, is intended to be a destination spot—one that celebrates the city’s heritage.
“We want to play into that Lynchburg culture, bring back some of that history and help to educate people about how important Lynchburg is to whiskey and to bourbon,” Read said, noting that pre-prohibition Lynchburg (which pre-dates its Tennessee counterpart) had seven distilleries.
The station’s rustic design includes several historic artifacts, including hand-blown glass bottles over a century old and an ABC license from 1875.
“It’s like a museum of sorts,” Read added, noting many antique items are incorporated into the décor, such as a giant airplane propeller turned ceiling fan. The bar, still bearing original blacksmith’s nails, was floated to town in the 1850s on bateaus. Also featured are some classic cars, including a 1975 Chevy Bel Air that was at one time serviced at the station.
The restaurant’s Southern fare, including burgers and barbeque smoked in-house—as well as smoked bacon and cheddar—is artful in its own sense, a balance of the daring sensibilities of the owners and the traditional craft of the acclaimed “Chef Rufus Rucker.”
And the selection of over 100 whiskeys and bourbons is sure to draw connoisseurs both local and beyond.
Fifth & Federal also has plenty of its own parking and a spacious green area for outdoor events.
Kickin’ it on the Bluffwalk
Facing the Bluffwalk from behind Shay’s Unique Gifts at 13th and Commerce streets is the home of Bootleggers, which was set to kick into gear mid-November. It’s a burgers and beer joint with a robust bourbon selection.
The restaurant marks a partnership between two Lynchburg shakers—Steve Parry, owner of downtown hotspots like Waterstone, Shoemakers and El Jéfe Taqueria Garaje, and Mark Borel, a developer/builder who is a part owner of Neighbor’s Place in Wyndhurst, which, along with Cornerstone, he partnered to develop.
Borel said his business philosophy is collaborative rather than competitive. The idea behind Bootleggers was a restaurant that could complement the offerings already available downtown—giving patrons something different, another destination among several great options.
As a downtown dweller for 20 years, Borel loves seeing the downtown lifestyle getting a boost—and doing his part to encourage that with Bootleggers and a condominium project that sold out 21 units before even breaking ground. (He’s also currently building a new home in the same complex as the restaurant.)
“I am all about people having options,” he said. “With the revitalization there are more and more reasons to go downtown.”
In the future, Borel is hoping to see improvements to mass transit in the downtown area. Though there are spaces, many don’t seem to like looking for them. He thinks that parking lot shuttles could improve that. He is also co-charing a committee looking into making the river visible from the Bluffwalk (without compromising the integrity of its banks).
Emerald Stone Grille/Dublin 3 Coffeehouse
Flavor for downtown life
In November, Keith Sweeney and his wife Adrienne were expected to open the Emerald Stone Grille at 1001 Jefferson Street, as well as Dublin 3 Coffeehouse right next door.
The restaurant is a unique hybrid of modern American, Southern and European cuisine, helmed by a Manhattan French Culinary Institute-trained chef, Mick Markley. Emerald Stone includes a house-crafted fried chicken, with a special flair unlike anything else in town, in addition to steaks, shepherd’s pie (adding some Irish charm) and more.
With outside seating plus room for around 150 in the restaurant, and nearly 50 in the coffee shop, the location has plenty of room, which should draw guests from all over town.
But one of the unique advantages to the location is the nearly 60 lofts above it, with plenty more urban housing options popping up in the area lately.
Sweeney has noticed the boom in downtown living and wanted to elevate that lifestyle by adding some unique flavors to the urbanite’s diverse palates.
“We want to tap into what is going on down there … it is a great place (to live),” Sweeney said.
Dining elevates the social scene, offering gathering places—and there’s no better atmosphere to strengthen personal bonds than around great food (or coffee).
The Water Dog
All play and no work
Early in September, a new pub made a splash on Jefferson Street (1016 to be exact), tapping into the qualities that make Lynchburg unique while also adding something fresh and new to the scene.
“A water dog, a Labrador, when they are out there working, they literally don’t know the difference between work and play,” said owner Dave Henderson.
“We wanted to create an establishment that held that same philosophy.”
The craft beer scene is highly social, he added.
“You show up with a couple of your friends and by the time you leave you’ve made a bunch of new friends.”
A 36-line draught line fuels the taphouse, while a simple, fresh menu lends to the atmosphere.
There are plenty of chef-crafted items that are snackable and sharable, as well as burgers and other handhelds, shrimp tacos, seasonal salads, a kid’s menu and oysters, another unique draw to the spot.
For dessert, warm, house-made chocolate chip cookies are available.
Facing the splash park, The Water Dog seeks to help shape the new Lynchburg culture—vibrant, social and relaxed. The restaurant has a “garage” lounge with a massive projector screen, a ping-pong table, a chalkboard for guests to showcase artistic expression and a patio with couches and TVs.
“Downtown has got so much opportunity,” Henderson said, casting some of his vision for the future. “I’d love for the city to turn (Riverfront Park) from a passive park into an active park. We’d like them to build some sand volleyball courts, so we can really cultivate a fun atmosphere for young professionals to come and play.
“I know it has already been doing that, (but) it feels like downtown Lynchburg is on the cusp of becoming a true destination, one that puts its mark on the map. It really just feels like now is the right time.”
By Drew Menard