• Kathie Scalf

A Few Days in Bristol VA


Having recently added Southwest Virginia to my territory route for work, I spent the first part of this week becoming acquainted with my longtime not-so-distant neighbors across the border. As a born and raised Tri-Cities gal, it actually was a surprise to me just how little time I’ve spent on the other side of the street, but was very pleased to discover some old favorites as well as some of the newer additions!

Being the location I spent the bulk of my time, The Bristol Hotel seems like a logical place to start. Beautifully styled from the front entryway all the way to the rooftop bar Lumac, I was thoroughly impressed with the amenities and accommodations at this boutique hotel, located conveniently adjacent to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. (While most instantly associate Nashville with country music, it was actually the Bristol Sessions of 1927 that sparked the “big bang of country music.” Make sure to carve out time to tour this affiliate of the Smithsonian to gain a thorough understanding of the deep musical roots of Appalachia.) I enjoyed several delicious meals and drinks during my 4 day stay at the hotel, but my top pick has to be the grilled lamb chops with a side of brussels sprouts at Vivian’s Table downstairs. Do yourself a favor and spring for a wine from the bottle list, as they carry Barboursville Vineyards Cab Franc and it’s the perfect complement to the gamey, grilled meat.

I was surprised to see another new-ish boutique hotel in downtown Bristol, The Sessions having seemingly sprung up overnight. While I didn’t get to experience the interior rooms firsthand, the spa services, rooftop and outdoor mini amphitheater look incredible! And being familiar with the menu at Southern Craft’s Johnson City location, I know the food is not to be missed as well. It’s looking like I’ll be giving this place a try on my next work trip at the end of the month.

For something a bit off the beaten path of downtown Bristol, I ventured out to Abingdon Vineyards. Nestled off of winding, mountain roads and accessible by boat off South Holston Lake, I was in heaven at this quiet cove. Of course with my deep love of wine, this was a no-brainer for me, but another unexpected added bonus was the lack of cell service. As someone who is attached to 24/7 work emails, texts and phone calls, being completely off the grid while enjoying locally grown grape varietals felt like vacation, if only for an hour or so. (I was there on business after all.) I had a wonderful time getting to know the owner, Loren Gardner, and was fascinated by his family’s rich Napa Valley history and their journey to our little neck of the woods. With harvest having just begun, I’m already looking forward to seeing what’s new on my next visit.

Along the same line as Abingdon Vineyard, I was made aware of Nicewonder Farm. While I didn’t have time to fit it into this trip, I have every intention of coming up early to at least enjoy the tasting room in a few weeks, if not just making a mini vacation out of it and booking a stay in one of their yurts. Their fine dining venture, Hickory, looks amazing and with over 450 acres to play, stay and imbibe, this resort destination is a much needed dash of luxury to our mountain home.

It seems there’s no shortage of entertainment in the Bristol and Abingdon area as well. With the annual Rhythm & Roots festival bringing over 60,000 people to enjoy the likes of Tanya Tucker and Roseanne Cash this weekend alone, Bristol seems to be holding fast to its reputation for country music royalty. The newly designed marquee of the Cameo Theatre also boasted a slew of upcoming famous names like Blues Traveler which I tucked into the back of my mind for future travel scheduling. But even if you don’t recognize the names, I highly recommend checking out a lesser known act on a whim. Even here in Nashville, some of the best talents are still relatively undiscovered, and you never know who might be the next rising star. It’s always cool to be able to say “I knew them when,” and Bristol is just the town for that.

There have been many new bars, restaurants and retail spaces added to Southwest VA since my move 4 years ago, and even more under construction as we speak. I am so excited to continue exploring this side of the Tri on my more frequent visits to the area. It goes to show you can still be a stranger amongst the old familiar, and taking even a small step out of your comfort zone can yield high rewards. I highly recommend joining me in my exploration!