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The Biltmore is no more: Ellie's Country Club rises on the Corner

After serving as a cornerstone of the Corner in Charlottesville for more than 30 years, the Biltmore has closed.

The popular late-night establishment feet from the University of Virginia, which boasted the city’s largest outdoor patio, closed its doors in December.

But, in a testament to the popularity of the UVa-adjacent commercial district, a new bar is already opening in its place, one that promises to retain the live music and beach bar atmosphere of its predecessor.

“I do believe some things run their course,” Anderson McClure, co-owner of the Virginian Restaurant Company, told The Daily Progress. “Except for the Virginian.”

The Virginian Restaurant Company, which McClure owns with his brother, ran the Biltmore and continues to operate several other popular, local eateries including Citizen Burger Bar and Lucky Blue’s Bar on the Downtown Mall and, of course, the Virginian, Charlottesville’s oldest restaurant, on the Corner.

Ashley Major, a UVa graduate and longtime manager with the Virginian Restaurant Company, purchased the Biltmore from the McClures at the beginning of the year.

Since taking over the space, Major has been hard at work transforming the Biltmore into Ellie’s Country Club, what she describes as “a modern country and pop styled bar and restaurant.”

Ellie’s, which takes its name from the bar’s address on Elliewood Avenue, held a soft launch this week, opening Thursday for a “sneak preview weekend,” Major told The Daily Progress via email. The grand opening, she said, will be next Thursday.

“I believe being a woman owned and alumni owned business smack dab in the middle of UVA country is something people could really respond to,” said Major. “We have nothing like that on the Corner, and we don’t even really have anything like that in the surrounding area.”

The new business owner received the blessing and support of her former boss.

“I bought the Biltmore in 2009, so it was a huge deal to me, but honestly, Ashley Major taking over the space and turning it into her modern country bar is as exciting as it gets,” said McClure. “I am so proud.”

The Biltmore made a name for itself over three decades as the city’s (perhaps more specifically UVa’s) beach bar getaway, offering pub fare, outdoor drinking, live music, dancing, game day watch parties and discounted “survivor hours.” Originally a boarding house for visitors to the university across the street, the Biltmore, or at least the first business using that name, opened in 1989. At first a casual dining spot, the real estate took on its most recent iteration in 2009 when McClure took over and transformed the Biltmore brand.

Now, the Biltmore will go through yet another transformation. But the difference between a “beach bar” and a “country bar” remains to be seen. Major’s description of Ellie’s Country Club bears a striking resemblance to the Biltmore: “live music, big bars and great food.”

On a recent visit to the establishment, The Daily Progress witnessed some hints of what changes Majors is bringing: a fresh coat of blue paint, the name “Ellie’s” in big and bold lighted marquee letters and tiki-themed signage from the old Biltmore days in a pile out front.

It’s just the latest in a season of change for the Corner, which in spite of turnover has remained a viable investment for business owners in the city.

A report released by the city’s Office of Economic Development in January on the retail sector identified only three retail properties as vacant on the Corner, which it defined as all commercial establishments between Bank of America on Madison Lane and the Graduate Hotel, including side streets as well as the storefronts on the block of 14th Street to its intersection with Wertland Street (a larger footprint than typically accepted for the neighborhood).

One of those vacancies was listed at 9 Elliewood Ave., home to Coupe DeVille’s. The bar was closed for a two-year stint after a kitchen fire, but reopened in May. Another address that was reported as vacant was 104 14th Street NW, though the building has several tenants, such as Beijing Station, Thyme & Co. and Lemongrass.

The neighborhood is blessed with high foot traffic thanks to its proximity to UVa Grounds, which has allowed older local businesses, such as the Virginian, to survive and newer national name brands, such as Starbucks and Chipotle, to thrive.

In recent years, though, there’s been some blurring of the lines between what constitutes an old and a new business, as new owners have taken over old establishments, menus and brands, preserving here and discarding there.

Both the Virginian Restaurant and the White Spot greasy spoon down the street are good examples. More recently, earlier this year, a handful of UVa alumni announced they had purchased the name, menu and old location of the shuttered Littlejohn’s deli, which had operated on the Corner for 44 years before its pandemic-induced closure in 2022. The group also bought the space above Littlejohn’s that was previously Michael’s Bistro & Taphouse, though they have yet to disclose their plans for the space.

As for the Corner’s newest business, Ellie’s Country Club will be open from noon to 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday before hours become more regular after its grand opening next week.

“I’m as excited as I could possibly be to bring this new style and feel to the Corner,” said Major. “I think UVa and the region as a whole are gonna love it!”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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