Six new Virginia tourist attractions to visit in 2012

Demonstrations by skilled artisans, Civil War attractions, an amazing new treehouse, and a historic home that will make you feel (or at least sing) “crazy;” visitors to Virginia in 2012 will find several new vacation experiences. Throughout the next year, here are some of the new reasons to travel to the state.

Heartwood
Abingdon, Virginia
Billed as “Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway,” this new facility adjacent to I-81 is home to regional artisans working in music, crafts, food and wine. There are also galleries and interactive exhibits, a shop, restaurant, and coffee/wine bar.
Winchester, Virginia
If Patsy Cline makes you “fall to pieces,” then this new historical site is worth the trip. The modest white house that the music legend lived in from ages 16 to 21 is now open to the public. Furnished with period pieces and some originals, it has been revamped to look almost exactly as it did when Patsy Cline lived there. Guided tours are available for those who want to know all the details on where Patsy Cline lived while beginning her music career.
Hampton, Virginia
After more than 150 years as an army post, the largest stone fort ever built in the United States officially became part of the National Park System on November 1, 2011. Nicknamed “Freedom’s Fortress,” the fort provided a safe haven for hundreds or runaway slaves during the Civil War. In 2012, walking tours of the fort will be available during the summer.

Appomatox, Virginia
The buzz surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Civil War brought new opportunities for the Museum and White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, which will expand its presence with a secon facility in Appomattox set to open in Spring 2012. The $7.5 million museum will focus on the end of the Civil War, the surender at Appomattox, and the reunification of the country.

Williamsburg, Virginia
Known simply as “the Pottery,” Williamsburg Pottery has been a shopping destination since 1938. This April, the site will be reborn with a half-mile of new buildings–including a new cafe, restaurant, and bakery.

Meadows of Dan, Virginia
One of the world’s top treehouse architectural firms has designed a new, unique lodging experience at Primland Resort. Built on the boughs of one of the resort’s oldest and most beautiful red cedar trees (without the intrusion of a single nail), the treehouse overlooks the Dan River Gorge. Inside is a king bed, enormous deck, and other luxurious amentities.
The state will also host several new exhibits, including welcoming the Space Shuttle Discovery at the National Air & Space Museum in Chantilly and hosting a show of Andy Warhol Portraits at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach.

Tucson’s beloved Grill restaurant closes

Tucson Grill
Today marks my second Thanksgiving outside of the US (in Turkey, ironically) and as nostalgic as I am for Pepperidge Farm stuffing and canned cranberry sauce, this week I am missing another important piece of my past: the Grill restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. A landmark of downtown Tucson for decades, Grill (true regulars know to leave off the “the”) shut its doors this week, leaving many current and former Tucsonans distraught and de-caffeinated. Open 24 hours, serving breakfast “until tomorrow,” Grill’s menu offered the helpful tip: “when dining out, insist on food.” If you were to walk by it, you may be forgiven in thinking it was just a diner, but it was much more than that.

Grill was first opened in its current iteration in 1994 by James Graham, a classically-trained chef who made it an amalgamation of a traditional New York diner fare and more haute cuisine. In addition to burgers and fries, an impossible-to-finish short stack of pancakes, and steak and eggs, you’d find surprises on the menu. Toasted and fried “Spanish ravioli” (mysteriously called “depth bombs”). A salad with hearts of palm and fresh mozzarella. Even a big bowl of Cap’n Crunch. Some of those old favorites were left off the menu when James sold it in 1999 and moved to L.A., but his original rules remained in effect: tater tots only available late night and never with cheese. No ranch dressing. Always tip your waiter (that’s just polite).

Beyond the food and coffee, Grill was a haven for many people, with a constant rotation of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. Many of Tucson’s eccentrics, artists, and just plain weirdos called it home; it was a hipster hangout before hipsters existed. I spent much of my adolescence in one of the red booths, drinking coffee, smoking illicit cigarettes, doing crossword puzzles, crying over boyfriends, and occasionally studying. Even my father, a downtown-based criminal defense attorney, was a regular for lunch and we’d occasionally cross paths, each slightly embarrassed to see the other in such a sacred space. Bringing a new boyfriend to Grill was in important test: if you didn’t respect and appreciate Grill, it was a personal affront. When I moved to New York in 1998, I had a special named after me: the Meg Lamb Memorial “You’re Gonna Make it After All” Knish Dish.

Grill changed a bit over the nearly 15 years since I left Arizona. The adjoining Red Room was a lounge space in my day, with a much-used photo booth, an assortment of motley board games, and some antique couches where my high school poetry club used to meet monthly. For the past several years, Red Room was a bar and music space separate from Grill. In my last visit in 2007, it didn’t feel quite the same, but the spirit remained the same: an oasis in Tucson’s occasionally desolate downtown, “open later than you think.”

If you go to Tucson now, you can still find a few spots for late-coffee and eats. The perennial goth favorite, Cafe Quebec, is now the worker-owned cooperative Shot in the Dark Cafe. The bikers hanging out at Safehouse are friendlier than they appear. The Hotel Congress is home to the Cup Cafe, in addition to one of Tucson’s best nightlife scenes. Later this year, James Graham will open a new restaurant in Los Angeles: Ba Restaurant in Highland Park, serving French provincial classics, a major departure from diner fare. A growing Facebook group is trying to inspire a new Grill to rise from the ashes. One question remains: how does the next door Wig-O-Rama stay recession-proof?!

Thanks for the memories Grill!

Photo courtesy James Graham, circa 1994.