The National – A New Richmond Landmark
Richmond has seen several music venues come and go. The Flood Zone closed years ago, it’s historic space still occupied by the popular dance club and hook-up spot Have A Nice Day Café. Toad’s Place, which opened in late 2007, closed in March of this year. Lucky for Richmond music lovers and visitors to the area, The National is still going strong.
The National offers a little something for everyone. It books all the same bands that travel through The Norva in Norfolk, VA, so it gets all sorts of national acts and draws in travelers from many neighboring cities. In July of 2009 alone, The National will present such acts as Hank Williams III, The Avett Brothers, Sonic Youth, Cake, Queensryche, and a “British Invasion” concert that will be recorded for a PBS special.
In the past, the cozy 1500-person capacity venue has hosted acts like Weird Al Yankovic, YES, Ben Folds, and many, many more. In a city that has hungered for a music venue that would bring in great national acts, The National has been a God-send.
Plus, it’s pretty. It is a beautiful building, inside and out, with a rich Richmond history to boot. The National opened for the first time in 1923 and was the place to go for silent movies, vaudeville acts, and musical acts. The venue stayed open until 1983, when the last film shown was Hercules, starring Lou Ferrigno. A cult classic now? Of course. Then? A far cry from Orson Welles and Basil Rathbone. There was talk of demolishing the site, when in 1986 Richmond’s historical organization saved The National from becoming no more.
Now The National is open, and careful renovation has restored the original friezes of capering nymphs, and even an uncovered nursery mural – used in the original building’s nursery – a service provided in the 1920’s to patrons. There are cushy balcony seats (with cup holders!), and nice VIP boxes off to the side (but those are reserved for VIP sponsors of the club). The first floor is all open standing area, although certain acts ask that seating be provided there as well. In that case, the management sets up folding chairs, but you can still stand off to the side or in the mezzanine area.
There are three downstairs bar, one upstairs bar (not including the VIP bar), and The National serves food…mainly because it has to. Luckily, Gibson’s Grill has opened up next door, so if you want some decent nosh instead of regular bar food, we suggest you go to Gibson’s first to get your grub on.
Drink prices at The National are par for the course for a music venue in Richmond – a draft beer is going to run you $5-$7, and highballs will run you $6-$10 depending on the quality of liquor. The beer offerings are not the best – but you can certainly order a Yuengling or a Magic Hat. The National is a non-smoking building, but there is an open-air smoking section next to the open floor…and the bar has a window to service their tobacco-loving patrons as well.
If you’re new to the area, just passing through, or a Richmonder who has not yet checked out Richmond’s great rock hope, get thee to The National.
The National – 708 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219