A Richmond boutique hotel has become one of the hottest overnight stays in the South
by Katherine Hafner
RICHMOND | When Ted and Katie Ukrop opened an art gallery on Broad Street in 2005, they wanted it to be approachable, not like one of those imposing – even snooty – galleries you find in a big city like New York. They named it Quirk, to denote whimsy and invite curiosity.
Some 10 years later the husband-and-wife team carried the same thought forward when they launched the Quirk Hotel, a boutique business that draws in tourists and Richmonders alike. Since then, it’s skyrocketed to the top of almost a dozen travel lists, like Travel and Leisure’s “Best Places to Travel in 2016” and Conde Nast’s “Top 60 Best New Hotels and Resorts in the World.”
With good reason: Its design uses tall ceilings, muted colors and clean lines to give the space a cosmopolitan feel in the heart of the capital city’s art district. White columns frame the first floor, while restaurant booths serpentine seamlessly across it.
And there’s a lot of pink. A lot.
“Think of having a drink in a bar themed after a Wes Anderson movie,” one Yelp reviewer observes.
The Ukrops’ Quirk Gallery used to sit about a block down Broad, but they’ve moved it next door. The hotel lobby offers a direct side entrance into the gallery, through a courtyard and gift shop. And the hotel rooms double as a sort of live-in studio/gift shop where you can buy the art off the walls and nearly everything else, from the $8 wine key to the $225 alarm clock.
But the Ukrops argue that their spectacular hotel is not just a place to lay your head, it’s also a launching point to check out the Richmond arts and culture scene.
“I feel like Richmond has been an underrated tourist destination,” says Ted Ukrop, a Richmond native whose family is a major philanthropic and business force in the region. “We have a lot more to offer besides Civil War history.”
The area around the hotel has grown, and improved, considerably from when he was a kid. Now 53, Ukrop remembers when Broad Street was the place for drug deals, decaying fences and overgrown yards. Now it features a collection of high-end restaurants, sought-after retail, including Rider Boot Shop and the headquarters of clothier Ledbury, and plenty of hip bars. You’re in walking distance of Virginia Commonwealth University, popular concert venue The National, the Virginia Repertory Theatre and the Saison Market, where you can find anything from hard-to-get vermouth and bitters to a great burger or pork chop.
“Most cities in America, outside New York and Chicago probably, their downtown shopping districts followed the rooftops and went out to the suburbs, and Richmond was no different,” Ukrop says. But hoping to propel the city’s revitalization, his father and a business partner bought up several buildings in the 1990s, creating commercial space on the ground floor and apartments above.
The building that now houses Quirk was built in 1916 as the J.B. Mosby and Co. dry goods store, which closed in 1929. Much of the original architecture remains, including the columns and expansive windows.
Ukrop felt the city was lacking a unique hotel, aside from the Jefferson Hotel three blocks away. Over the years talk of a hotel became more serious, until the recession put it on hold. The Ukrops dusted off their plans a few years later and opened in September 2015 after using $7 million of state and federal tax credits and just a year of construction.
“Our first guest was Harry Potter,” Ted says with a laugh. (Daniel Radcliffe had been filming in Richmond.)
The goal, Ukrop says, was to make the hotel “a unique Richmond experience,” and by most accounts they succeeded. Rooms run an average of $200 a night but vary according to supply and demand. There are 74 total across the 65,000-square-foot property, and the beds are made of floor joists repurposed from the hotel’s renovation.
The food – high-end twists on simple, rich ingredients – focuses on sourcing from local farms and changes with the seasons. Chef David Dunlap, who’s worked at other hotels in Virginia, including the Inn at Little Washington, changes the menu of the hotel’s Maple & Pine Restaurant daily or weekly.
During my visit I enjoyed a braised leek, gruyere, oyster and mushroom fondue appetizer served with French baguette, and a seared duck breast entree complete with squash spaghetti, all beautifully presented.
Also a draw are the bar’s creative signature cocktails – make sure to try the High Tea (Earl Grey-infused Belle Isle moonshine, lemon, lavender and simple syrup).
Having a successful food and drink scene was always a priority, Ukrop says, because that’s how you draw in the locals. “We wanted to build a hotel that Richmonders would come to, getting back to that authentic feel.”
Quirk even has a popular rooftop bar that offers great views of the city. When the weather is nice, seats are hard to come by.
The Ukrops plan to open another hotel: Quirk Charlottesville, which broke ground last month and should open in fall of 2019. But the Richmond location will always be something special, Ukrop says, uniquely nestled in the city’s cultural heart.
“When areas start revitalizing, the artists are the first to come. And then the restaurants and then the retail. We’re kind of on that third leg now. …
“This was done because this building deserves something, it was too cool of a building to just go to waste. We did it for Broad Street and part of its revival. And we did it for Richmond because we love Richmond.”
When staying at Quirk be sure to:
Eat at Graffiato – Located right across the street from the hotel, this is the Richmond cousin of the popular D.C. restaurant by the same name. Italian-inspired small plates. Try the luscious bone marrow appetizer. Tip: It can take long to cook, so order it first.
123 West Broad Street. GraffiatoRVA.com. 804.918.9454.
Grab a drink at Max’s on Broad
This Belgian-French eatery with white tile walls and a jazzy musical backdrop is just a couple blocks away. Great place to stop in for a specialty cocktail, like the Norwegian Woodsman (a twist on a Scotch classic).
305 Brook Road. MaxsOnBroad.com. 804.225.0400.
Get up early for LuLu’s
If you’re hankering for some brunch, this industrial-chic spot is worth a five-minute drive downtown. It’s wildly popular. Try a red velvet waffle or shrimp and pimento grits. | 21 North 17th Street.
Watch a show at The National
This popular spot is the last surviving venue from a city block once known as Theater Row. Built in 1923, the theater’s been added to the National Register of Historic Places and now hosts dozens of concerts per year.
The Decemberists, St. Vincent, The Neighbourhood and Todrick Hall are a few on the schedule this year.
708 East Broad Street. TheNationalVa.com. 804.612.1900.
Visit the Edgar Allan Poe Museum
If you’re looking for something a little more quirky, the Poe museum fits the bill. This museum in the town the writer called home walks visitors through stages of Poe’s life through historic documents, paintings and furniture saved from his estate.
1914 East Main Street. PoeMuseum.org. 804.648.5523.
Check out some art at Gallery5, or 1708 Gallery, or Anne’s Visual Art Studio. All are within two blocks of the hotel: 200 West Marshall, 319 West Broad and 208 West Broad.
Make Quirk’s signature drink, the Annabel Lee, at home
- 1½ ounces vodka
- ¾ ounce lemon juice
- ¾ ounce herb simple syrup
- 1 ounce (a splash) POM
Chill a martini glass. Build all ingredients in a shaker. Shake, then strain into the glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.