9:39am, 821 Cafe, 825 West Cary Street, 821caferva.com
Morning around VCU’s campus greets visitors to the campus with students in their cars circling blocks to find parking and those on foot, somewhat, leisurely yawning and walking to classes. On a busy corner that intersects West Cary and Cherry Street, is the attractive 821 Cafe.
The shop is more of a restaurant than coffee shop with its large menu (I was lured in by the large painted coffee cup on the side of the building…so it counts.) As you open the door decorated with a large playful squid, cut from metal, you notice instantly the classic diner feel that seems to have kept its personality in spite of the growth, remodeled and updated university buildings that surround it. And you can enjoy watching the hustle & bustle outside beyond 821′s large windows at the front of the building.
The shop welcomes you with an attractively designed bar, booths that accommodate the visitor with nicely padded seats for comfort and a hodgepodge of different styles of chairs that have been rescued from thrift stores and yard sales to give patrons seating that matches the vintage interior and the appeal of enjoying a meal in a diner that takes its cues from the past.
Traffic and a busy lifestyle around VCU can get in the way when finding yourself rushing thru from one side of town to the other on Cary Street, but when you approach the corner of West Cary and Cherry Streets slow down and look to the right. Because that little cafe with the big cup painted on the side of the building is inviting you in for a small slice of a simpler life.
and with that said, on to the spects…
the place – what’s around?
The area that intersects the VCU tennis courts, the parking garage and the newly redesigned sports and fitness center is a mixture of old row houses down the block that have been tagged with, not so interesting, graffiti and low slung trees that need to attended to by the city arborist. Along the street is also a few more restaurants, hair salons and apartment buildings, but the massive parking structure and VCU’s GRC housing complex kinda sucks the life out of the area and makes it somewhat sterile on that side of the street.
parking – parking lot or “fan” like?
VCU like- The area has parking that is regulated to about an hour in some parts and two hours in others, but nothing on the meter so you can leave the change in the ashtray. Cherry Street has unlimited parking but you’ll have to be careful of the broken beer bottles by the curb, it is a college campus after all.
coffee- good, bad or muggy?
In enjoying a pretty sizable bottomless mug of BLACK HAND, maybe BRAZIL (not really sure.), but whatever it is, it’s going down smooth with this huge piece of Almond Cake from Black Bird Bakery that makes me feel like I walked into someone’s birthday party! A really tasty slice with almonds poking out of it and loads of, not too sweet, cream cheese icing.
menu- bunch or linner?
They have a full restaurant menu, way too many items to list, but you’ll be able to find something to eat for any meal of the day. The plates I noticed passing my table look like like the servings were sizable….far from the small “tapas” dishes that seem to be everywhere in Richmond.
art – rotating or fixture?
Rotating – on the two brick walls that line the interior of 821, they have many color photos hanging up on both walls hung from lattice to ensure not to chip away at the nice brick work.
music- overbearing or background?
Backgound- it was overbearing a while ago and it seemed like the voice level around the room rose to match the volume, so needless to say it got somewhat noisy at times, but it ebbs and flows. Right now its pleasant enough to have a conversation at a normal level .
baristas- friend or foe?
Friendly- Very friendly, not so much a barista, more of a waitress who is constantly keeping tabs on the customers’ needs. She answered my questions and brought my cake while making sure my mug was full for my stay.
noticeable regulars – “cheers” or who are these people?
Regulars- there’s been near constant conversation at the bar since I’ve been here. Interactions between the customers and the wait staff has been seamless and organic.
wifi – wi-not or wi-bother?
wi-bother- Short answer is “no”, which still leaves me wondering why an establishment around a college campus would fore-go accommodating the students, faculty and staff with wifi access. The only real conclusion may be they don’t want the marathon web sitters coming in and spending hours at a time studying and doing papers, all without making purchases, this is a college campus after all. Though, with 821 I think it might work in their favor because it is a restaurant and, for some reason, conversation between the customers seem more in line with the shop’s personality.
seating & meeting – ample or not enough
Ample- 821 has booths and benches along both walls with large, vintage linoleum topped tables, three tables in the center of the room with a total of 12 chairs that are pushed together to make one long table. The bar has eight stools for folks to sit and enjoy a meal or a drink and a conversation with the bartender/waitress.
workspace – second office or read the paper?
Read the Paper – Since there’s no wifi available, web work is out, but there are a few sockets along the wall that holds the coffee station, so you can plug-in on that side, but for the most part, you’re on battery or the laptop stays in the bag. If you’re rolling solo, there’s a magazine rack by the door as soon as you walk in, so you can find reading material if you didn’t bring your own.
clean or not so much –
Clean- For an older building, the staff keeps this shop well maintained and very clean.
821 Cafe is a comfortable shop that has the vintage diner feel going for it without seeming to try at all. I’ll be back and will more than likely bring a friend or two, but next time the laptop stays at home.
Thanx for viewing…