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Best of Richmond 2001

Best place to be seen

It has to be the best Sunday stroll in the nation: Richmond's Easter parade. The whole city turns out for a promenade down Monument, one of the most beautiful avenues in the nation. Some homeowners perch on their porches to watch the passersby in their Easter finery. Others throw open the doors to host extravagant parties. Add all of Monument Avenue in springtime bloom, some live music, outrageous bonnets, dressed-up pets and the usual festival food booths and entertainment, and you have Richmond's original rite of spring. There is no better backdrop for being seen.

Carytown, with dozens of interesting shops and even more interesting people, is your second choice.

Best place not to be seen

You wouldn't know it from the number of cars that crowd the parking lots of Richmond's strip clubs day and night (we've been told the main attraction is the reasonably priced food buffet), but you say these outfits are definitely not the place to be seen in Richmond. Cafine's, with its recent run-ins with the law and the Alcoholic Beverage Control board, also received a number of votes as a place to avoid. (Richmond is a fickle town: Last year, readers voted Cafine's best dance club and best gay club.) Apparently, it's also quite uncouth to be spotted patronizing the brightly lighted Rennie's on Main Street. Jail also received a few votes. Must be the bright-orange jumpsuits.

Best place to take out-of-towners

Your out-of-town guest just won't leave until he sees at least one sika deer. You're in luck. You can spy some at Maymont. More than 100 acres of bucolic bliss and 100 species of animals await to test the visitor's nature-naming aplomb. At Maymont, there's something for everyone, says spokeswoman Kate Peeples, from exotic gardens to the new interactive Nature Center. It's why last year the free nonprofit park attracted 500,000 visitors. Plus, there's the Dooley Mansion. Just last month guests came from as far away as Canada, England, Slovakia and Japan. And while locals may be content to while away an afternoon in deep repose, it's a veritable workout for tourists. Richmonders forget what a destination site Maymont has become, says Peeples, adding pointedly: "The out-of-towners aren't coming to relax and stretch out taking naps on the lawn."

Best place for an outdoor nap

Maymont. Ahh. The sweet scent of animal waste from the Children's Farm wafts in the gentle breeze through the cotton-candy clouds as the delicate pollen snuggles deep into your sinuses. OK, enough attitude. Maymont is a wonderful escape. For a great nap on a warm spring afternoon, grab a big, comfy blanket, sneak away under the shade of a perfect tree and feel the tension melt away. Rolling hills. Waterfall in the distance. Jaw-dropping landscaping. Maymont offers sweet dreams. Just watch for errant Frisbees.

Second place for outdoor napping goes to Byrd Park, which isn't far from Maymont.

Best thing to happen in Richmond in the last year

What great things befell our city during the past year? Apparently, not much, according to our readers. This year's big winner is the Canal Walk. But wait — you voted the same way when it opened in 1999 (remember the Great Lee Mural Unrest?). Maybe you wanted to make sure it sticks. Well, OK, we get it. We applaud the city for finally capitalizing on the beautiful, historic James River. It seems like residents are playing along, too. People have flocked to events such as Friday Cheers, which moved there last summer (leaving another of the city's prized projects, the plaza at 6th Street Marketplace and the Richmond Coliseum, quiet and bare). But at least we're there — walking around and jogging, and, uh, looking at it. Or walking around some more. Please, someone, give us some other reasons to go!

So what else was there? Well, the filming of "Hannibal" took second place in the category. Y'all tell us again — was that because we got to gawk like open-mouthed, chaw-spitting rednecks at all the lights and cameras from the hills of Beverly? Was it because our own "newsman" Ric Young got to blur the lines of his career — and the news — by landing yet another bit part in a movie? Maybe it was the bragging rights — not so we could tell our friends what Richmond is, but what once came through town. And went.

Best example of sprawl

Home to every big-box store, fast food joint and quick oil change establishment doing business in North America, Short Pump wins for the kind of development you love to hate. Midlothian Turnpike, with its Motor Mile and acres of asphalt and strip malls, is your second choice for outstanding example of poor civic planning.

Best politician not to cross

You're on a mission to cross a politician. Pick your poison — car tax, vacation reimbursements, men in uniform, unyielding optimism — and proceed to mock the politician until he or she cries or calls it quits. Nobody likes to be jeered.

But when it comes to those really important debates — like anything having to do with the Confederacy — when obstinacy matters, it's a tie between Gov. Jim Gilmore and 5th District City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin for the politician you wouldn't dare cross.

The choices make sense. Iron Jim is staring down just about every politician in the state (and might just win). El-Amin has a reputation as a ferocious fighter.

Even Reva Trammell's rancorous display weeks ago at City Council did little to improve her second-place standing in this category. Mayor Tim Kaine tied with Trammell. It's our guess that's not because he can get pretty snippy in private when he's crossed. It's probably because he uses really big words in tandem, like lieutenant governor, and won't stop smiling.

Best place to work

The collective clapping for Capital One Financial Corp. continues. For the second year in a row, readers dub the credit-card giant the area's best place to work. (Sorry to all state employees who somehow missed our deadline to get their votes in.) Capital One's worker-friendly reputation also has garnered accolades for three years running on Fortune magazine's "best place to work" list. And according to our ranking, folks even prefer the corporate cubicle to the comforts of home — you chose la maison as your second favorite place to work.

So what's all the fuss over Capital One? For starters, the company is the region's largest employer. Maybe it's also the promise of landing a career in one of these exciting fields: customer relations, risk operations, production services, marketing and analysis, information technology, human resources, legal, communications, finance and accounting. Or maybe it's because at Capital One each of the 10,000 area employees has creative freedom, or at the least, stock options.

But more likely, says spokesman Hamilton Holloway, the love affair is due to the many amenities Capital One offers its employees like the Capital Yums culinary delights in its cafeteria, dry cleaning and concierge services and discounts to the YMCA. Oh yeah, and then there's training. Holloway is quick to point out that last month the company topped yet another list as Training Magazine's No. 1 employer for providing innovative and accessible corporate training.

Best job to have if you want to make $107,175 a year, decide your own vacation time, write yourself checks and be completely unaccountable to the people who elected you, City Council or the press:

Richmond Sheriff

Best place to worship

Richmond is apparently a city of druids. How else to explain this year's selection of outside with nature as the best place to commune with a higher plane? Maybe praying to the Great Beyond feels a little more spiritual when it's being done in a sun-dappled meadow than when it's being done in a crowded pew. Or maybe by preferring the copse to the cathedral Richmonders are proclaiming a rebellion against organized religion.

Admittedly, it's not much of a rebellion: First Baptist and Cathedral of the Sacred Heart tied for second place..

Best unsolicited celebrity photo sent to Style:

Richmonder Dr. Joseph Niamtu meets Jackie Chan.

Best new use for an old building

The ambitious new Richmond Ballet building began turning heads last year at Fifth and Canal streets. Starting with the lackluster warehouse Reynolds Metals had given Richmond's professional ballet company, the architecture firm of BCWH (formerly Bond Comet Westmoreland & Hiner) created a comprehensive dance center. It is one of the few such facilities in the nation designed especially for dance. All its studios have large windows to extend dance energy to the hallways.

But the outdoor drama is also considerable. With its slanted, metal roof gesturing toward the river, the building appears, like dancers themselves, to defy gravity. The building appears to be attempting one giant jeté, with the rest of the skyline serving as the backup corps de ballet.

If the ballet building took a nondescript warehouse and made it a landmark, readers were also delighted that Shockoe Bottom's Main Street Station is being given a new life as a downtown train station. State offices, which now occupy much of the shed area, will be moved, and an enticing mix of restaurants and shops should make the station a destination even for those not boarding Amtrak.

Best sense of humor in a public official

What po-faced county politician could compete with Tim Kaine in this category? After all, he's a mayor who in one TV commercial cheerfully gives the so-called Slice Man the "keys to the city" — which very obviously are the mayor's own car keys. (True, he did express regret about taking part in the commercial — after the fact. But that's probably because he saw it.)

So hey, Mayor Kaine, be funny for us! "Um," he replies. "It's hard to be put on the spot and just be funny. But I will say that a good sense of humor is a survival instinct in politics. It makes it much more pleasant and survivable." (Yes, he really does talk like that, in perfect, bite-sized sentences.) "I guess I'll just refer to a quote from the British playwright Joe Orton. He once said, 'Man is profoundly bad and irresistibly funny.' And I firmly believe that."

A mayor who quotes Orton? Who knew? That's probably why second place went to "Do any of them have a sense of humor?" The answer, oh ye of little faith, is Yes. And we've got him.

Best local charitable contribution in the past year

Hmm. You happen to have an extra $30,000 or so from unpaid vacations you cashed in and you're looking give it to charity. Where would the cash best be spent? Fighting homelessness? Literacy programs? Local theater? Nope, you'd prefer to spend it championing the efforts of the beloved Richmond SPCA or helping save the beleaguered breeds rescued by Save Our Shelters. The two oft-sparring nonprofits tied for your vote for the best charity to receive your contribution. It's easy to see why. They have warm and fuzzy fundraisers like the Fur Ball that can be written off at tax time. What's more, after a few glasses of chardonnay, you're convinced your donation is the one that has tipped the charitable giving goal and made a compassionate solution to euthanasia possible.

Best way to get people downtown

A place to park always helps. But our readers had other ideas for encouraging citizens to get to know their scrappy downtown. No. 1 and 2 in this category were, in this order, "free music/ festivals" and "free alcohol/ beer fests." Honorable mention was "at gun point."

Oh. So basically you have to bribe people in some way. Well, they're working on it. They built that Canal Walk, didn't they? And they're putting together the downtown corridor, with all those fancy plans for injecting downtown with some art and culture, right? These projects aren't going to turn into more 6th Street Marketplaces just so a few people can get fat paychecks, either. No sir.

Best example of sensible development

There's universal agreement hereabouts that reclaiming the downtown waterfront for tourism and for 24-hour living makes sense. Ironically, the very things that have cut the city off from the James River — canals, train tracks, cigarette factories and, later, the floodwall — are now the aesthetic and architectural foundations for an entertainment and cultural district that may become a worthwhile destination. The Canal Walk, which includes walkways, resurrected stretches of the James River and Kanawha Canal, and landscaping, and where huge banners now hang saluting Richmond's history, looks a little woeful now: It needs life. But as restaurants and shops are added to the mix, and as the world becomes increasingly high-tech, this gloriously textured area will have enhanced appeal as a high-touch kind of place.

Style readers also saluted the continued development of living units at Tobacco Row near Church Hill as an excellent example of sensible development.

Best news for Irish journalists since the Potato Famine:

Joe Morrissey

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