The Truly Big News Today At The General Assembly: Richbrau Closes!

Today, the news making the biggest waves throughout Capitol Square isn't the budget, or liberals' reaction to Governor Bob McDonnell's proposed cuts. It's not the speculation on the budget the House Appropriations Committee will produce Sunday or whether the Senate Finance Committee will even meet its budget deadline at all (apparently, it will, Sunday afternoon). It's not conservatives' outrage toward Speaker Bill Howell and the governor over letting HB 119 die in Appropriations. It's not concern over any bill or policy making headlines in the Mainstream Media. The big conversation is about the closing of Richbrau Brewery, a hometown institution that brewed a locally made beer; a microbrewery and not a bad restaurant either, and a fun nightspot. Owner Michael Beirne is something of a city father, serving on the Wilder-Bliley Commission that led to the total scrapping of Richmond's old form of government in favor of the full-time, strong mayor format. He also has served on other boards and commissions and has been a visible and constant booster of the city, especially downtown and the historic riverside neighborhoods of Shockoe Slip, Shockoe Bottom, Tobacco Row and environs.

Richbrau also was the host of the weekly Thursday Night Caucus, where lobbyists, staff and legislators get to know each other a little better away from the business confines and battles within the GAB and the aura of the capitol, while playing pool, drinking an adult beverage, even dancing. It's also where the session-ending Sine Die Party is. Talk about a blast. Despite two months of haggling and outright legislative war, Sine Die is like a college reunion, where liberals and conservatives, lobbyists and lawmakers, this side and that, get together and reminisce, tell war stories and even let the other side in on secrets not dared to slip upon penalty of losing major clients and/or bills going down in flames. . .

You knew what? If you had told me that then I would have voted . . . !

You gotta hear this — remember that blight bill? You know what I told my deskmate before the vote? 

Each Thursday (and one Friday) for about eight weeks, Richbrau is where informal strategy sessions and favor promising took place. Now, it's consigned to the sign of Richmond's times. Fortune 500 companies Circuit City and LandAmerica went belly up last year, not to mention S&K and a number of local prides and joys. Adding insult to injury was the recent news that local grocery giant Ukrop's, which had expanded into the Petersburg area, Fredericksburg, Williamsburg and Roanoke, was selling to a Dutch company. Now, Richbrau, which had remodeled two historic buildings in Shockoe Slip and prompted a microbrewing industry in Richmond that now boasts regional favorite brand Legend's.

It's another blow to the capital if not the capitol as downtown Richmond has no shortage of remarkable places for our two-month visitors to eat, drink and unwind. Surely, as of right now, the Sine Die commitee is scrambling for a new venue. But just as every two years, the General Assembly has different legislators, it remains intrinsically the same. In the end, this, too, will be the same. But it will be different, as well.