Town guide: Bluefield
Head south for savory cuisine, carefree entertainment, and intriguing history in “Nature’s Air-Conditioned City.”
Big Whiskey’s BBQ Company smokes pork, chicken, and ribs to southern perfection. Locals love the tender meat, which appears in specialty sandwiches, wraps and steak burgers. Plus, you get tangy sauces on the side.
There’s also The RailYard, a modern joint with exposed brick walls and a swanky bar. Start with appetizers like duck-bacon wontons or chicken waffle nachos, then proceed to entrees like Wicked BLT sandwiches and Honey BBQ Chicken wraps. Burgers get an upgrade, too. Weekly events also give you a reason to visit. Wednesdays are jazz night, for example, and select wines are half price.
Patty Joe’s Restaurant is a no-frills family joint with fresh, satisfying fare. Its claim to fame is Atlantic seafood; the haddock sandwich, paired with sizzling fries, is simple but delicious. You’ll also come across crowd pleasers like linguine with meat sauce and garlic bread; BBQ brisket sandwiches; and luscious desserts: pistachio pie, “choconut” cake and brownie sundaes.
Since 1964, the Ridge Runner Train has taken generations of folks on leisurely rides. Now you can become a fan, too! Catch the next trip at Bluefield City Park, where the miniature locomotive runs on weekends from April to September.
Bluefield also has a surprisingly rich musical past. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Fats Waller visited and performed here. It’s also where Teddy Weatherford — the “Count Basie of the East” — lived and studied music theory.
For these reasons, the Bluefield Blues Festival is a prominent annual event. Previous guest performers include the likes of Biscuit Miller & The Mix, the Tommy Cox Band and the Jamal Millner Trio. Local restaurants also chip in with delicious catering. Expect the next show to start in late August.
Have a creative itch? Bluefield Yarn Company provides all the inspiration you need to start a new hobby or project. Stop by for patterns, books, kits, needles, tools and rainbows of yarn. You can even sign up for workshops or lessons.
For country home decor, quilts, wreaths, and dolls, head to Apple Barrel Primitives. You’ll also have plenty of digging to do at the Ugly Duckling Antique Store. It overflows with jazz LPs, rare books, vintage furniture and artwork. The owner also has signed Salvador Dali prints.
Thanks to its high altitude, Bluefield is known by many as “Nature’s Air-Conditioned City.” In fact, local shops provide free lemonade if temperatures climb above 90 degrees. It’s a consolation prize that doesn’t happen too often, though.
Until then, you can visit places like Bluefield City Park. A playground, miles of trails and tennis courts fill the spacious grounds. It’s also home of the Ridge Runner Train and Holiday of Lights, a festive Christmas display with more than 900,000 bulbs. The show typically opens Thanksgiving evening and lasts until December 31.
Another attraction is Mountaineer Bowling Lanes. You won’t have trouble fitting friends and family here, with 28 lanes, snack bar, gameroom and billiard tables as entertainment. There’s even a pro shop. Enthusiastic employees will also give you bowling lessons if you ask them.
No sports fan should miss watching the Bluefield Blue Jays, either. Head to Bowen Field, where this minor league baseball team plays home games. The old-fashioned stadium has plenty of charm and great views of the mountains.
Bluefield’s origins date back to 1780, when settlers erected a fort. But not until the 1880s did the city, located near a coalfield, become an established community. It was also one of the first in America to have a skyline.
By then, the city’s name changed from “Summit” to the one inspired by abundant bluegrass and periwinkle chicory flowers. It’s also when affluent residents gave free rein to their imaginations. Architect Alex B. Mahood, graduate of the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, built mansions in Colonial and Tudor revival styles. Some of his homes still remain on Oakhurst Avenue and Edgewood Road, among others.
The Granada Theater is another Bluefield attraction. Built in 1927, it featured silent films, all enriched by a Wurlitzer organ. Music legend Fats Waller even stopped by one evening to play the instrument. There’s no doubt he enjoyed those multiple sound effects!
A historical preservation society is restoring the theater, which will eventually have movies and live performances — just like old times. The original organ is still there, too!
Interestingly, Bluefield is also the hometown of John Forbes Nash, Jr., the celebrated mathematician and inspiration for the biography and film, “A Beautiful Mind.”
Where to stay
The Bluefield Inn is the city’s most distinguished hotel. Dating back to 1904, the elegant southern mansion was a focal point for high society. President Woodrow Wilson, JFK, John Nash and other characters once graced its halls.
The inn hasn’t lost an inch of glamour over the years, either. Austrian crystal chandeliers grace the ceiling, while a reception hall, sunroom, veranda, and garden evoke old grandeur. Your room is just as pleasurable, too. Suites come with luxurious beds, thick sheets and vintage lighting.
Crave even more charm?