Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Liked It Better the Old Way: The Virginia Inn

I know that change is inevitable. In Belltown, it seems to be a necessity. Every 20 years or so, the neighborhood undergoes a near-complete transformation. We're currently smack in the middle of one of those 20-year cycles. I hope what we get in another 10 or so years is slightly less ugly than what we've got now. I'm not counting on it, though. So yes, I welcome change - especially when it's an improvement on what came before. In the case of the Virginia Inn, I prefer the old version.

Now, I've never been a VI regular, but there was a time back in the nineties when I considered it. It was a cozy place with a ton of colorful, hard-drinking semi-elderly regulars who smoked like chimneys. It was just this very nice little neighborhood bar that had ambiance, intimacy and strong drinks. Then two things happened: first, years before the voter-instituted law, they banned smoking. As a dedicated smoker (until January of this year), that kept me away. Apparently, the colorful, hard-drinking semi-elderly regulars went elsewhere, too. And there went the old-Seattle vibe. Second, last year the VI took over the Billy King Gallery space next door to it and the place went double-wide. Observe:

These aren't the greatest photos in the world, but follow me off to Imagination Land and picture the place at only half the size. That's when it was good. This version is not. I've been there three times since last year's renovation and let me tell you, it's completely different from the VI of song and story. Gone are the intimacy and the ambiance. The place is just too big, bright and loud. The hexagonal tiles on the floor make it seem like one big restroom and the seating is way too far-flung. On top of the terrible atmosphere, everything is really expensive. You're now paying $5 for that $3 pre-reno beer. I'm told that the owner expanded next door because he wanted a larger kitchen so that they could bulk up their meager menu. All well and good, but the food is also really expensive - and it's not particularly super-tasty. My only conclusion for all this is that the VI has slowly geared itself toward luring in tourists. They're always wandering around those parts, either going to or from the Market. Why else would the prices be so high and the atmosphere so neutral?

Yes, it was once dim, smoky, small and slightly intimidating. That's gone forever. And it's really too bad. I'm sad to say it, but the new VI sucks.


mindi said...

I have to respectfully disagree with you on your review of the VI. I agree that the prices are a little high, and that you should be able to get a beer for under $5. However their food is amazing. Have you tried the lightly fried duck egg, or the fresh salmon? I love their new focus of using fresh NW ingerdients. Even their homemade chips that come with your lunch sandwich are delicious. All of their small plates are half off from 4-6 daily. See photos of their delicous food on their website

Igor Keller said...

I've only eaten there once, so I guess that my judgment is a little premature. I'll give it another try when everything is cheap. But I'm curious as to your take on the old (small) vs. new (double-wide) vibe. That's the thing I really want to stress in the post. It's just not a very fun place to be any more.