Taubman Museum of Art
Taubman Museum of Art

Roanoke Railhouse Track 1 Amber Lager
It was a night of visiting with old friends, revisiting old haunts and an introduction to all things new. As a former news photographer for the Roanoke (VA) Times I was invited to an opening of an exhibit of news photography as part of the paper’s 125th anniversary.
It’s been 22 years since I worked for the paper. It was like I left yesterday…. It was like I left 100 years ago. Some things are the same… others very different.
One big difference was the Taubman Museum of Art, a very modern museum on Salem Avenue, not far from where I once witnessed hookers and transvestites arguing over which side of the street they could work. That was part of being a news photographer. You got to experience the gritty and the glitzy sides of life. I remember one snowy afternoon at the corner of Salem and Jefferson a homeless man grabbed my hand and with a vise clamp grip locked me into a 15 minute discussion on how undesirables were eating “our food at the shelter.” This grizzly old man hadn’t seen a bar of soap in weeks. Remnants of every meal he had savored was apparent in his beard. He pulled me close to make sure I heard every word.
A block over at the old Art Museum of Western Virginia in Center in the Square, Peter Rippe once showed me a Renaissance painting of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus and how underneath the paint, using a black light, was a second painting with the Baby Jesus looking like a demon.  (there was an art movement that believed Jesus came into the World to straighten out sinners rather than forgive them. Once that movement failed rather than toss out artwork they simply repainted it). The painting was amazing.

How I miss those days.

I felt honored by being invited and seeing three of my photos in the exhibit. Although honored I hope someone doesn’t think that these three are the highlight of my photography career. The photo of Chuck Berry moonwalking across the stage (the way Michael J. Fox imitated him in Back to the Future) was cool. The flood shot showing the old Transportation Museum in Wasena Park under 5 feet of water was okay but the other 2 photos I took within 5 minutes of that one…. a man in waist deep water rescuing a dog… or the Transportation Museum director reacting to the museum being under water… would have been much more dramatic. The third photo kind of tied things together. It was a photo of Peter Rippe in the middle of some art donations to the museum’s collection.

Me with 2 of my photos
Me with 2 of my photos

I saw old friends and colleagues. John Cook, my old boss. Don Peterson, who knew how to chase down a good story. Stephanie Klein-Davis, who I last saw at the 96 Olympics in Atlanta. And Natalee Waters, who I worked with in Augusta at the Chronicle. The shock of the evening was realizing that the elderly gentleman rattling off photographers’ names in a group photo from the 60’s was none other than Oakie Asbury. I replaced Oakie when he retired in 1978. The 5 days I spend working with him on the night shift still produces some stories over a beer. Oakie took the famous “Siamese Frog Photo” that was really of… but that’s another story for another day.

The Taubman Museum is nothing like the Roanoke I left. Lots of curves and glass. Very modern. Naturally everyone I talked to said that it’s a cool looking place but lots of folks in Roanoke didn’t like it or the way it looks. Too modern.

There’s something to say about Virginians, especially Roanokers. How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to change the light bulb, and nine to talk about how great the old one was. I wanted to know the history of the Taubman. I turned to Wikipedia and found it is it a descendant of Art Museum of Western Virginia, where I used to frequent. The $66 million dollar facility I think is quite striking. But as with anything this ambitious there has to be more controversy than someone not like the way it looks. The Wikipedia article says that they take in about $110,000 in attendance fees yearly despite needing almost $1 million each year to the doors open.

After the tours were over everyone took off to enjoy their Friday nights. I walked downtown looking for a place to eat. The City Market Building has gone through its umpteenth renovation and has yet to reopen. (I remember watching Pete Apostolou’s pro wrestlers practice up on the top floor). Center in the Square, which houses several of the local arts agencies including Mill Mountain Theater, is closed for renovation. Wertz Country Store is no longer. Even the little wine and beer shop I bought some great brews last year when I stopped was closed for the evening.

The Texas Tavern
The Texas Tavern

All the new restaurants, even the one in the old dirty bookstore location, didn’t appeal me. I then answered the call. I walked up to the Texas Tavern and ordered me “two hots without, a bowl without and a large milk.” Those words came out of my mouth on a regular basis 25 years ago. They put a yellow cabbage type of relish on the dogs that is unique. I never ordered them with onions (that’s the ‘without’ part) or you would pay for it later. After I gobbled them down I realized I forgot to take a picture so I ordered another… unfortunately he put onions on that one. I didn’t want to throw it away so I paid for it….. twice so to speak.  The only thing that has changed at the TT was the ancient coffee pot with the perpetual flame underneath had been replaced as well as the old NCR cash register. The same old faded Eric Fitzpatrick prints were on the wall, as well as the framed signs that read “We don’t cash checks or play with bumblebees” and “We seat 1,000 people, 10 at a time.”

God, I miss this place.

Don Peterson told me of the new Roanoke Railhouse Brewery located in South Roanoke, started by a friend of his. I found their Track 1 on tap at Table 50, a nice upscale restaurant on the Market. The tap handle features an iconic J-Class steam locomotive built in Norfolk & Western’s Roanoke shops back in the 40’s and 50’s. I had the honor of riding in the cab of the famed J-611 when it briefly returned to service in the 80’s. The legendary Bob Claytor, Chairman of Norfolk-Southern, was at the throttle. I digress.

Drawing Track 1 at Table 50
Drawing Track 1 at Table 50

This beer first reminded me of a smoked porter I tried from Alaska Brewing while working in Juneau. But only slightly as that Alaskan brew had a smoky flavor that whacked you up side the head. This was much more subtle. This isn’t a porter but it has some attributes of a porter. A roast flavor rather than a smoke flavor. Distinctive roasty-toasty chocolate malt flavors jump out at the start then comes the bitter hops to complete the finish. But the “bittering hops” as they described it on their web site, are those kind of hop flavors where the first taste is not the same as the second. Just like food can alter the palate, a beer can also alter the palate after the first taste. They say “our signature lager is a true session beer that is very drinkable, yet robust in flavor.”

I could argue over calling this a session beer. I found myself drinking it like it was Friday night and time for a beer. If you treat this as a session beer then you will taste the slight bitter finish over and over as you take more time to drink it. Drink it a bit quicker and you might find the bitter finish greatly reduced and enjoying the malts a bit longer. But then again I could argue that it should be a session beer so you could enjoy it longer.

Here’s what else they said about their beer: “Track 1 has a ruby hazelnut color, medium light body, with moderate carbonation, and a roasty, nutty malt character balanced with the appropriate amount of bittering hops. A clean balanced tasting lager with chocolate bitter notes along with a lightly sweet and bready malt character. All of which is balanced out by a low bittering hop character. Its aroma is reminiscent of chocolate and toasted malts and bread. This beer has 4.8% ABV and 18 IBU’s.

I stopped by Kroger and picked up some of their other brews… but couldn’t find a bottle of Track 1. I think Mark and Brett would have loved it. With that I headed back to a friend’s house and a quick night sleep before leaving for the Clemson-Auburn Game.

Still the same. Nothing’s the same. About what I expected.
From: Roanoke, Virginia
Brewery: Roanoke Railhouse Brewery

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