BLUE RIDGE ROAD TRIP | Staunton + Blackfriars Playhouse

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With Old Rag *finally* checked off the list we decided to explore the area a bit and check another item off our mental East Coast to do list: see a play at Blackfriars Playhouse.

As it was a game time decision we didn’t have reservations or tickets or really much of a plan at all. We parked in a gas station parking lot and looked up a few motels/hotels before deciding to stay at the HoJos, one of two places near downtown Staunton. We took hot showers, made post-theatre reservations at one of the nicer restaurants in town, got ready, then walked 10 minutes into town admiring all the beautiful architecture along the way. We caught a few songs from a street musician and then slipped into a coffee shop for coffee and a light meal before the play.

Blackfriars Playhouse was a total surprise. I mean, we saw photos online but they didn’t compare at all to being there. I think our reactions were, “whoa, this is pretty cool.” I may have also said, “wouldn’t it be cool if we lived here?” We opted for the cheap seats, but they were actually really great — first row balcony, practically hovering over the center of the stage. A lively band played and sang their hearts out prior to the show. We only realized after that they were also the actors! As for the play — we saw Edward II written by Christopher Marlowe — and it was really good,

Staunton — who knew? What a cute little village-like town with lots of dining options hippie markets, a main street with all kinds of shops, street buskers, a Shakespeare theater, and gorgeous historic architecture for days.


Howard Johnsons // approx $70/night // The main selling points are that this motel is pretty cheap and really close to town whereas most of the other motels in the same price range are located closer to the highway. There’s also plenty of free parking. The rooms are dated, like I’m almost positive the bathrooms are original, but there have been updates to the building (though I was really hoping  the vintage orange and teal zig zag car port would be intact — it was not) and there’s a decent continental breakfast, a pool, and washing machines. It’s a pretty good value, considering. All of the rooms share a long balcony with pretty nice views of the city, especially from the upper levels.

Stonewall Jackson Hotel // $120-$200/night // This was obviously our first chose, but not having prior reservations we were told that the only room they had available cost $199/nt. I’m assuming this was a peak season/fall foliage/weekend rate? At more than 2x the HoJo rate we opted for the cheaper option. Location wise it cannot be beat — it’s right in the heart of town, right next to Blackfriars and a block from the main street with all the shops. I love old historic hotels so maybe one day we’ll be back, just in the off-season.

The By & By // Cafe/Coffee // Inexpensive // We stopped here before Blackfriars to get some caffeine in our bodies. What I loved: cute place, great location, lots of vegetarian/healthier menu items, and our drinks were huge. There is also the cutest little beer garden out back. What I didn’t love: they charged an extra dollar for splitting a plate, which we didn’t realize until after we ordered. I only wanted, and had, a bite of Sly’s sandwich, so that was off-putting. I would kind of understand if we were they type of people that wanted to use free wi-fi all day by just ordering one sandwich between 4 people, but we weren’t. Anyway, obviously a pet peeve of mine.

Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery // Inexpensive // I love my hippie marts and was surprised (?) to find that Staunton had such a good one. In addition to health/organic foods they have a pretty sizeable menu of coffee and breakfast and lunch cafe items.

Zynodoa // Farm=to-Table American / Expensive // This restaurant was right up our alley — we are suckers for local, organic, seasonal, etc and after reading all the positive reviews and after visiting their website, we were super excited to eat here. Reservations on a Saturday were pretty easy and they are used to seating a post-theatre crowd. So, first the good: modern lounge-y interior, organic, farm-to-table, etc, and friendly service. The bad: the amount of food is disproportionate to the price and we were really underwhelmed by the food. Perhaps our expectations were too high? Maybe we are just food snobs? Maybe we didn’t order the “right” thing? Nothing tasted bad, but for $25+ a plate I found myself drawing comparisons to many other similar restaurants in more expensive cities that deliver much better, much more creative food. Maybe missed something or maybe it was an off night. We really wanted to love this place — and certainly all those 5 star online reviews saw something we didn’t, right? Instead we left the restaurant disappointed, wishing we had chosen to eat at the cozy little Indian place down the street instead.

American Shakespeare Center – Blackfriars Playhouse // $20-$40 per ticket // According to their website, this is the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre. I’m no expert on Shakespearean theatres but this place made me nerd out a little bit. The sets were very simple and the lights were kept on throughout the performance like they would have back in Shakespeare’s day. Before the show and during intermission the actor-band performed in the upper stage balcony area and an on-stage wine/beverage/snack cart contributed to a very lively atmosphere. The theatre is small so every seat has a pretty good view. Besides distance from the stage, the seats in the orchestra section differed in that they had seat backs whereas the ones upstairs were bench-like. There was also an option to sit on a chair on the stage — before our performance they asked if anyone in the audience wanted to sit up there. We were perfectly happy with our ‘cheap’ seats though. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area, or even if you’re not.

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