Legendary author F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "There are no second acts in American lives." The man obviously never had dinner in Richmond.
Restaurateurs know that in this city, you can't escape history, so you may as well embrace it. They breathe new life into forgotten, historic spaces. You can feel their appreciation for the past in the exposed beams, original brick walls and restored tin ceilings. Sometimes they even feature sandwiches named after famous dead people. But I believe they can do better.
Now: A stylish and contemporary take on American cuisine. The kind of place that can make crispy pork belly, baked beans and pickled green papaya play nice together.
Then: The corner building was the headquarters of The Hauke Press, a small-scale printing company. The shop's equipment included an old-school letterpress that used movable lead type, a machine that had not changed much since it was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century.
How can they embrace the past? Since chefs at Acacia already make much of their own pasta, it's logical that Alphabet Soup should become a menu staple. The twist? Give folks their choice of font. (Mmm ... tastes like Times New Roman.)
Now: An old-fashioned chophouse featuring thick steaks, wood paneling and a wine rack that stretches for a half-mile.
Then: Many years ago, the inconspicuous strip-mall location was home to Virginia Leisure Products. They sold hot tubs.
How can they embrace the past? Is it wrong to enjoy a 20-ounce, bone-in ribeye while soaking in hot, bubbly water up to your chest? Then it's probably just as wrong to think of using that same water to slow cook the lobster for the World's Greatest Surf-and-Turf Experience. But who cares?
Now: A spacious, white tablecloth bistro that promises "A Taste of Europe in Your Own Neighborhood."
Then: The cavernous space was the Korman Furniture Company showroom on the stretch of Broad Street once known as Furniture Row.
How can they embrace the past? The idea of eating veal saltimbocca in a leather recliner sounds like the kind of luxury dining experience that was once reserved for leaders of the Holy Roman Empire. Except ancient Rome didn't have Barcaloungers, so this is actually better.
Now: A cozy downtown spot known for its homey American cuisine and signature pizza.
Then: After the Civil War, the space was home to a shoemaker's shop. It became a corner drugstore from 1883 until the mid-1950s.
How can they embrace the past? Put a guy behind the bar in a white lab coat who will only serve special, super-strong drinks to customers who have a "prescription" from their "doctor." Or just add an apothecary section to the menu that touts the latest in gourmet elixirs, ointments and tinctures.
Stronghill Dining Company
Now: Upscale, casual Southern fare in a dramatically renovated space on the Boulevard.
Then: A not-so-flashy home for the hundreds of alternators, mufflers and brake pads sold by the Virginia International Parts Corporation.
How can they embrace the past? You give me a free oil change with Sunday brunch, and I'll never order another Devil's Mess from Millie's. OK, "never" might be too strong a word.
Now: An environmentally-conscious, health-minded "green" cafe committed to social responsibility and sustainability.
Then: The cafe shares a massive 1920 warehouse space where the Atlantic Corrugated Box Company once worked its magic.
How can they embrace the past? They already use biocompostable cups, containers and utensils. Why not just put cardboard on the menu? Use the corrugated stuff for paninis. Just think of the karma points — if not the taste.