An 18-point golfer's guide: Richmond Off-Course

By Alan Katz, Contributor

Richmond is the kind of city that takes people by surprise. You never hear anyone say, "You've just got to visit Richmond!" At one time it had a reputation for crime and grime, and it was haunted by its segregationist past.

Richmond, Virginia sky
Richmond, Va.: The kind of city that takes people by surprise.
Richmond, Virginia skyRafting in Richmond, Va.Byrd Park in Richmond, Va.
If you go

But in recent years Virginia's capital has come a long way. Former tobacco warehouses were converted into condos, and kayakers now enjoy the formerly polluted St. James River. New riverside walkways, hiking trails and bicycle paths have made Richmond an enjoyable place for outdoor recreation.

For a city of its size (population 200,000 in the city proper), Richmond is a shockingly good restaurant town. It's also steeped in history. British explorers journeying up the St. James founded the city, 90 miles west of Jamestown, in 1607. It's where Patrick Henry delivered his famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech. Under the command of Benedict Arnold, the city was burned by the British in 1780. It recovered, only to become a Confederate stronghold and the scene of eight Civil War battles. Thousands of soldiers buried in cemeteries here are evidence of the greatest American tragedy.

The city has statues commemorating Jefferson Davis and generals Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart - all Richmond natives. In modern times, tennis great Arthur Ashe was raised here.

Stay and play

Place to stay if you're filthy rich: A National Historic Landmark, the Victorian-era, Mobil five-star Jefferson Hotel has a spectacular entrance hall, grand rotunda and a lobby with a 70-foot ceiling. All 246 rooms are fully remodeled and redecorated. 101 W. Franklin St. Tel. 804-788-8000.

Place to stay if you're simpatico with the Cheap Bastard: The Quality Inn on Carey Street offers simple, clean rooms for well under $100. It even has an exercise area, and it's within walking distance of downtown and the interesting Shocktoe section. 201 E. Carey St. Tel. 804-788-1600.

Place to stay if you're on a business trip: The Omni Richmond Hotel in the heart of the financial district has complimentary wireless Internet access in the rooms, and it's just eight miles from the airport. 100 S. 12th St. Tel. 804-344-7000.

Place to stay if you want a truffle on your pillow: The Berkeley Hotel offers old-fashioned European-style and service, and dramatic up-to-the-ceiling windows look out on the cobblestones and lamplights of the Historic Shocktoe Slip. 1200 E. Carey St. Tel. 804-780-1300.

Dining out

Place to smoke a rope and eat spaghetti: Little Venice is an upscale, traditional Italian favorite where you can sit at a smoking table in the bar and choose from nine brands of cigars, including Macanudo and Montecristo #3. Glen Eagles Shopping Center, Ridgefield Parkway. Tel. 804-741-6022.

Place to eat prime cow: Flemings is another of those fancy steakhouses where the prime aged cuts of beef are unbeatable. (Some people argue for Morton's; we think it's a tossup.) You know the drill: Bring an empty stomach and a full wallet. 9200 Stony Point Pkwy. Tel. 804-272-7755.

Place to let barbecue sauce drip down your chin: Extra Billy's Barbecue brings the ribs, pulled pork, turnip greens and cole slaw in a clean, somewhat sterile environment with good service. For a funkier experience, try Double T's. 5205 W. Broad St. Tel. 804-282-3949.

Place to go on a date: Comfort is Richmond's big date restaurant: exposed brick walls, airy atmosphere, Southern-fried catfish and broiled chicken, and a happy, bustling crowd. 200 W. Broad St. Tel. 804-780-0004.

A diner with the modern touch: An old renovated diner that people love so much there's usually a line out the door, Millie's has the best brunch in town for the money. Just be prepared to wait. 2603 E. Main St. Tel. 804-643-5512.

Place with the strangest pizza: Local foodies swear Bottoms Up has the best pizza in the whole civilized world. Some of the pies are a tad weird - how about Gulden's brown mustard, sausage, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers? - but don't knock it 'til you try it. 1700 Dock St. Tel. 804-644-4400.

Place for Sunday brunch when someone else is paying: The five-star Jefferson Hotel has a $39 brunch with everything to eat imaginable.

Drinking and sightseeing

Place to go salsa dancing: Thursday is salsa night at Gypsy Café at the Matrixx Room, and it's worth planning for. Free lessons begin at 8, with dancing afterwards for experts and shlubs. 401 E. Grace St. Tel. 804-225-8686.

Place to pretend you're in Vegas: A restaurant and lounge with a Las Vegas theme, Lucky Lounge is where the ghost of Bobby Darin would perform if he were in Richmond. 1421 E. Cary St. Tel. 804-648-5100.

Place most like an authentic Irish pub: O'Tooles has remained a friendly, unpretentious neighborhood restaurant and pub for 40 years and counting. 4800 Forest Hill Ave. Tel. 804-233-1781.

The one must-see tourist destination: Civil War buffs shouldn't miss the Museum of the Confederacy. Adjacent to Jefferson Davis' former home, the museum has a rich collection of civilian and military Civil War artifacts. 1201 E. Clay St. Tel. 804-649-1861.

Place to hear about Richmond's history: Take a ride in a flat-bottomed boat and hear all about colonial Richmond from some dude decked out in Revolutionary War-era apparel.

Place for sports fans: The Richmond Braves, Atlanta's Triple-A affiliate, play at The Diamond, seating capacity 12,000. It's in a cruddy location off Interstate 95, but the brand of baseball is as good as it gets in the minors and you'll be plenty close to the action. 3001 North Blvd. Tel. 804-359-4444.

Alan KatzAlan Katz, Contributor

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