Whether you’ve been a resident of this city for the last couple of decades or you’re just passing through, it’s helpful to know where to go. Despite its relatively diminutive size, downtown Norfolk and its surrounding neighborhoods have an eclectic array of cultural and culinary amenities that need not be overlooked. We at NFK will tell you where your dollar and your time will be best spent. Welcome to the first of our local guides series.
We’re beginning our first guide in one of Norfolk’s newest cultural strongholds: Chelsea. Geographically, it’s pretty much West Ghent. According to city files, this area was once upon a long time ago known as South Ghentland, which arguably sounds way cooler. If it’s craft beer that you’re after, pop into one or both of Chelsea’s award-winning breweries. Smartmouth is the ideal meet spot for live music, pop-up markets, and mouth-watering food trucks from all over Hampton Roads. Grab a dependable Safety Dance pilsner or opt for one of their many limited release beers (while supplies last–stop reading this and go there now).
On the other side of Chelsea, you’ll find what we and many others consider to be our city’s most experimental beer factory: Benchtop Brewing. Seriously, who makes a gose with carrots and cucumbers and has a near endless portfolio of IPAs? Upset that nobody has ever made your dream beer that features oysters as the key ingredient? Rest assured, it’s here. Benchtop is sure to satiate even the hardest to please out there. While we’re here, just across the street is a reputable tattoo parlor by the name of Otzi Tattoo Agency. They have a breathtaking mural of a T. Rex (the extinct dinosaur, not the late glam rocker) and you must take a photo with it for social media’s sake.
Need a grand idea for a date? Walk your dog (and your date) down the Elizabeth River Trail (ERT). Stop off at Norfolk’s newly-renovated Plum Point Park before heading into Chelsea. While most businesses in our area are dog-friendly, we also highly recommend dropping your pup off at Dogtown, which is conveniently (dangerously?) located next door to Smartmouth. After that, check out Chelsea’s newest hangout spot called Grandiflora for an expertly assembled cheese plate and one of their highly-curated wine selections to wash it down. You’re now ready to walk down Claremont Ave and take in a show at The Little Theater of Norfolk (see their website for COVID-19 updates). If you’re looking to hang outside, grab a seat by the fire at Torch Bistro in between cornhole games. Fun fact about Torch: the building was formerly occupied by a karaoke-heavy drinking hole called Cruzer’s. If you know, you know. You might be reading this thinking: “I used to cry my eyes out singing Foreigner songs in the wrong key all the time here.”
Let’s talk a little more about food because Chelsea has a continuously growing assortment of restaurants to fit your mood. Best pizza? Bakehouse at Chelsea. Don’t sleep on their pastries or freshly baked bread either. It’s worth noting that you should absolutely go next door and have a beer at The Birch while your pie is getting its star treatment in Bakehouse’s stone oven. On the other end of Orapax St is a purveyor of Greek cuisine that is named, you guessed it: Orapax. They started slingin’ lunches to the shipyard workers back in the 1960s and continue to be a local favorite to this day. With their traditional Greek dishes, gourmet pizzas, expansive vegan menu, and rotating beer and wine selection, one can’t go wrong here.
So, what else does Chelsea have to offer? You can enroll in a fitness class and burn off your Torch burger and fries at LaceyLee Fitness. Improve the flow of your home by stopping into New Leaf for decorative plants or Princess Anne Estates for that vintage chaise lounge you didn’t know you needed. You can do all these things while your car gets its belts changed at Ottacam Automotive.
Andrew Rios wields the mighty red pen as the editor of NFK Currents community-driven content. With an English degree from Norfolk's own ODU, Andrew got his first taste of professional writing as a digital copywriter in the bicycling industry. Currently, he's a corporate desk jockey by day and a vegan food connoisseur with a record-buying addiction by night.