A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

It’s 9 a.m. — hours before Barter Theatre’s first performance of Camelot — and a line of theatergoers hoping to secure tickets for tonight’s show is already forming down Main

Madison County Championship Rodeo

It’s 9 a.m. — hours before Barter Theatre’s first performance of Camelot — and a line of theatergoers hoping to secure tickets for tonight’s show is already forming down Main

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

It’s 9 a.m. — hours before Barter Theatre’s first performance of Camelot — and a line of theatergoers hoping to secure tickets for tonight’s show is already forming down Main

A Traveler’s Guide to Abingdon, Virginia

It’s 9 a.m. — hours before Barter Theatre’s first performance of Camelot — and a line of theatergoers hoping to secure tickets for tonight’s show is already forming down Main Street in Abingdon, Virginia. These locals are in on a Barter tradition: At “Pay What You Can” night, anyone can afford to see a Broadway-quality play in their own town.

“Some of these people have been coming here forever, and some have never been to Barter,” says Tina Foster-Jones, who works in Barter Theatre’s lounge. Foster-Jones was in high school when she saw her first play, and each of her school-age children are active in Barter Youth Academy. “Once you go, you’re hooked.”

Located downtown, across the street from the historic Martha Washington Inn & Spa, Barter Theatre is a fitting anchor for the culturally rich town of Abingdon. Just 50 miles from Boone and 60 miles from West Jefferson, Abingdon is a magnet for visitors hoping to catch a show or bike the famous Virginia Creeper Trail. And like Barter, one visit reels them in.

Planning a trip? Consult our roundup of can’t-miss culinary, arts, and entertainment stops to experience the best that Abingdon has to offer.



RESTAURANTS

The Girl & The Raven

Kick off your day with breakfast in a historic 1886 building. The Girl & The Raven offers delicious dishes with regionally sourced ingredients. Try the Hip to be Square: a buttermilk biscuit topped with Hickory Nut Gap sausage gravy and two eggs made to order. And don’t forget to order a cup of Joe or a latte — coffee beans are roasted on-site in small batches, and the espresso machine is top of the line.

380 East Main Street
(276) 698-3333
thegirlandtheravencafe.com

Anthony’s Desserts

For a sweet treat or after-dinner dessert, stop by Anthony’s. Choose from cheesecakes, hand-made truffles, freshly made artisan ice creams, tarts, cookies, and brownies. You can’t go wrong — they make every dessert from scratch on-site. You can also order single-origin coffee with a roast profile selected by Anthony himself.

284 West Main Street
(276) 623-1500
anthonysdesserts.com

Foresta

Abingdon’s newest restaurant, Foresta, is filled with art — both on and off the plate. The enchanted, forest-themed restaurant boasts local artwork and delicious dining. Order a beautiful cocktail — think floating gold flakes — or something more playful, such as a sake cocktail served over cereal. Then discover upscale, artistically plated Mediterranean dishes with an Italian flair.

190 East Main Street
(276) 206-8490

Rain

When owner and Executive Chef Ben Carroll opened this downtown restaurant and bar, he envisioned “a fun, casual place where you could always count on getting great food and outstanding service at a fair price — without the pretentiousness that comes with some of the really high-end restaurants.” Mission accomplished. Order the Honey-Sriracha Confit Chicken Wings to share, and save room for one of Rain’s house-made desserts.

283 East Main Street
(276) 739-2331
rainabingdon.com

 

ARTS AND CRAFTS

William King Museum of Art

Shaded by the grove of trees that surrounds this hilltop high school-turned-museum, visitors to the William King Museum of Art get a postcard-worthy view of Abingdon. After a stroll around the grounds, check out the historic museum’s three rotating exhibits, one permanent exhibit, and a single-artist exhibition — plus five working artist studios. “Our tagline is ‘never the same museum,’ and that’s a big draw,” Director Betsy White says. “People get very excited about the original pieces of pottery that were made here, the beautiful quilts and coverlets, as well as the artwork and furniture.” 

415 Academy Drive
(276) 628-5005
williamkingmuseum.org

 

Holston Mountain Artisans

What started as a craft co-op in 1971 now represents more than 130 local makers. Swing by to see the handmade masterpieces of local artisans, including quilters, woodworkers, potters, and fiber artists, and take a piece of Abingdon’s arts-and-crafts heritage home with you.

214 Park Street
(276) 628-7721
holstonmtnarts.org

At Holsten Mountain Artisans, you’ll find traditional and contemporary items made by locals. photograph by Jason Barnette

 

The Arts Depot

Don’t leave downtown Abingdon without stopping at this 19th-century freight station. Here, you can mingle with the resident studio artists, who produce works in media ranging from fiber and clay to watercolors and oils. With a mission to provide educational opportunities to the community, they’re happy to offer a demonstration of their crafts.

314 Depot Square
(276) 628-9091
abingdonartsdepot.org

This art gallery is located inside a 19th-century freight station right by the train tracks. photograph by Jason Barnette

 

ENTERTAINMENT

Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace

On the 330-mile Crooked Road driving trail, which winds through the mountains of southwest Virginia, music lovers pass more than 60 venues celebrating this region’s rich heritage of old-time string bands, gospel music, and blues. Consider Abingdon’s Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace (formerly known as “Heartwood”) the Crooked Road’s headquarters. This center also introduces Southwest Virginia (SWVA) to the world and serves as a visitor center, retail center for local crafts, music venue, and community space. Take home a piece of SWVA from this space. 

1 Heartwood Circle
(276) 492-2400
swvaculturalcenter.com

 

Barter Theatre

When Barter Theatre opened in the 1930s, it created jobs for starving artists and entertainment for Abingdonians desperately in need of an escape during the Great Depression. If the farmers couldn’t sell their produce? No problem says Kenny Davis, house manager and volunteer coordinator. “They could bring tomatoes from their garden and buy a laugh. Barter coined the phrase ‘ham for Hamlet,’” he adds. “They tied a pig to the front of the building to get attention, and it was a sold-out show!”

Today, people travel from around the globe to catch a show at Barter’s main Gilliam Stage or across the street at the more intimate Barter Stage II. In fact, Davis says, Barter Theatre maintains its tradition of starting each show by recognizing the person who’s traveled the farthest. “We’ve seen people from every continent except Antarctica. What we have here is quite a gem.”

127 West Main Street
(276) 628-3991
bartertheatre.com

The cast of Singin’ in the Rain performs at Barter Theatre. photograph by barter theatre

This story was published on Nov 03, 2021

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.