Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Do you have any black roosters?"

"It's 4:00; I need some coffee." With those words, Kate walked into the Black Rooster Gallery and Lounge and into an interesting story. The door leading to the Black Rooster from the lobby of the General Francis Marion Hotel in Marion, VA, was open so we assumed they were open for business. Only after ordering the coffee and an iced tea did we realize that they were not due to open for another thirty minutes. Our apology led to an extended conversation with Jay McDaniel from the hotel about our travels and restaurant recommendations in Bristol and Abingdon.

Jay then asked if we had seen the hotel lobby and upstairs rooms. Since we had not, he took us on a tour past the original front desk of the restored 80-year-old grand hotel.

As we left the front desk, we noticed the arches leading to the mezzanine. Jay mentioned that about $4 million had been put into the restoration of the hotel which has earned the status of "the most elegant lodging establishment in Southwestern Virginia."

Jay told us about the history of the hotel. It had opened in the days of Prohibition and the Card Room (right) was the room where the alcohol was stored.

Since the residents of the area were primarily farmers, if one knew the room was to be open that evening, he would ask another farmer, "Do you have any black roosters?" If the second farmer planned to attend, he would answer "Yes, I have all you need." If the person did not plan to attend, he would simply answer, "No, I don't have a single black rooster." Admission to this room was through this same coded question.

Jay then told us to look at the floor in the Card Room. There in the tiles was the association between the identified activity (cards) in the room and the admission password (the black rooster).

This beautifully-restored hotel seems to be one of the primary components of the revitalization of Marion's downtown. More on that topic tomorrow.

We had to shorten our tour and conversation with Jay to head down Route 16 to what must be the curviest, most hilly 11-mile section of Route 58 (The Crooked Road) from Volney to the Mount Rogers Combined School for a jam session. Just arriving at the school was an accomplishment worthy of note.

The school's music program, consisting of a string band, was developed by Albert Hash when he learned that the school with its 88 students in grades K-12 could not support a brass band.

We were led to believe that we could expect "a huge jam session," but the crowd for the session with students of varying abilities was somewhat less than "huge."

We left the school while it was still daylight in order to navigate the hills and curves successfully. We found a spot to park while photographing this scene near dusk.

The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.