A July 2003 trip
to Morgantown by kjlouden
Quote: Waterfront bike trails with dappled sunlight, riverfront jazz in the sun, and nights of theater magic, all in designated landmark settings -- this formula for perfect days is compliments of the nation’s "#1 Mainstreet Organization."
I’m not the only admirer of the home of WVU. In the 1970’s, Joni Mitchell characterized
its carefree supposed provincialism in "Morning Morgantown": "Buy your dreams a
dollar down." I hum the tune as I zip along the paved Caperton Trail past decks and
patios of my favorite local eateries, like Oliverio’s with Italian food so good they sell it in
supermarkets. I pass it this time, and stepping up onto the deck of La Casa, I
anticipate the best guacamole north of the Rio Grande. The old Gold Medal Flour
warehouse with cool brick walls entices me inside, and as I sit facing the river, I am
oblivious to the city of 27,000 and the university of 30,000 outside the front door with
other worldly wonders. Provincialism, indeed! This river community satisfies the
longing! I peddle back to the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheater for live blues and
meander under brightly striped canopies of local pottery and print artisans. (Nice work!)
It’s a metamorphosis on the Monongahela, and I am James Joyce making peace with
On Don Knotts Blvd., my perfect river world is hidden by the new 16-story Radisson and
a new University facility with impressive complementary architecture. At the Westover
Bridge, the front of Wings Ole’ (healthy Mexican) hardly hints at the water town in back
of its deck, and a few blocks further up University Avenue toward campus, the front of
West Virginia Brewery (good grilled menu) hides its deck and steps down to the park. I
turn my back to the river and walk a block to High Street, center of downtown and my
favorite shopping in the state. With two major malls just outside the city, Morgantown’s
resilience is apparent along its sidewalks: a busy, colorful, quaint wonderland with clean
storefronts from decades long ago, an enticing mix of ethnic and specialty shops, and
several landmark buildings of neo-classic design.
As I pass the recently restored
Metropolitan Theatre (1924), the "Opening Soon" banner on its clean facade recalls
vaudeville and the mystique of Helen Hayes, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope. The city
promises over 100 live performances here each year, as well as film events. For now, I
admire the building hailed as "West Virginia’s most beautiful playhouse" and one of the
best surviving examples in the region of neoclassic revival. I notice the high mock
columns and Greek key cornice for the first time and realize what competition shop
windows create. "I’ll check that opening date at DowntownMorgantown," I resolve,
and continue to M. T. Pockets, an "alternative" theater--dress down and forget
architecture!--on Spruce, another block from the river. Every stage in town overflows with talented graduates from WVU’s
School of Drama--actors, directors, even
make-up artists have resumes that include Hollywood. They create the illusion of theatre
as surely as Morgantown Mainstreet preserves the memory of time.
Performance shedules are at the info desk, Mountainlair student center, just steps from
downtown and at Visitor Info, Seneca Center, Beechurst Avenue, once Seneca Glass,
Jackie Kennedy’s choice. They have walking and guided historic tours, boat and kayak tours of Mon River history and locks, glass tours, and others, plus
info on festivals--many festivals.
Thanks to WVU football, plenty of hotels, many major chains, are not fully booked except for home games. The most elegant is landmark Hotel Morgan (a Clarion), a city institution with fabulous restaurant serving beef Wellington and the like. Several chic establishments serve similar menus, and eateries of every genre abound.
Once downtown or at Evansdale Campus, the PRT or Personal Rapid Transit (50 cents)
stops at several points. This is a people mover, the first in the country, another
"experiment" Morgantown’s demographics garnered for the city to add to its impressive
infrastructure. There is also a reliable bus system for points in town and to outlying areas,
particularly those connecting with the rail/trail system. Maps and schedules are at info
centers. I recently read a newpaper article quoting a city official saying, "In the future
when you think of Morgantown, you’ll think of bicycles." This should suffice to express
the major initiative of this city in favor of bikes. For the river and three parallel streets
downtown--University, High, and Spruce (and side streets and alleys with historic
shops)--walking is sufficient and fun.
Restaurant | "La Casa Mexican Grill"
Students, professors, waiters, and Sunday-school teachers all came for chicken enchiladas
smothered in silky white sauce, great banana desserts, and heavenly margueritas. We
couldn’t dine at other Mexican restaurants without feeling experience letdown. A
new influx of people from Mexico moved into the region and opened restaurants of their
own--their food wasn’t La Casa’s. (We couldn’t complain to people who didn’t
speak English! They didn’t understand, "We want real Mexican--white sauce!")
Back to our favorite, we tried to analyze the feeling of well-being, the complete
satisfaction we felt after every meal. We even tried meals without the margueritas--still
mystifyingly happy! La Casa was a sensation! The sophisticated Mexican stole
With the development of the warehouse district, the restaurant moved to the river, upscale
warehouse location in a listed landmark building. The large room with wooden floor and
brick walls has a rich wooden bar, long, with several seats, and tables inside and on
the deck seat a few hundred. The right amount of tasteful Mexican decoration
complements the Old West atmosphere of the second-floor honky-tonk. (There is a an
upright piano.) Three sets of double doors and the patio face the Caperton Trail, the lone
stretch that brings riders past other watering holes to this saloon: La Casa
The menu hasn’t changed much--still large and varied. After a few years away, I still
have a memory of the guacamole. "That’s it!" I exclaim. At the moment of contact, I can
almost describe the difference that makes it better than any other. My chicken enchilada
swimming in sour cream sauce is better than the ones I’ve learned to make--and they in
turn second only to La Casa’s! Their sauce is richer, their tortillas more
wholesome, and their taste with a spice I can’t identify as cumin or nutmeg--some magic
ingredient. We left happy with that sense of perfect well-being that mystifies me still.
I sense another decade of La Casa commitment ahead. I’m hooked again.
Service is excellent, as this restaurant keeps personnel happy, too. One can drive to Clay Street or walk on the trail from Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park. There’s an outdoor wheelchair lift.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 29, 2003
156 Clay Street
Morgantown, West Virginia 26501
Decor lacks the special ambience of Wheeling’s or Pittsburgh’s breweries with their
loft/art/history/ethnic touch, but this pub on the river may be just what the doctor ordered
to an overworked peddler hot off the trail. As we walked through the diningroom to the
deck, we noticed only that the decor wasn’t especially designed to delight or impress, and
that there were plenty of wooden tables. The menu is long and varied with grilled meat
and seafood selections, both sandwiches and dinners, and pasta, both red and white.
Some marinated selections sounded German--the waiter only knew he didn’t like them!
Salads are huge, and pasta with spinach and artichokes and a trailing list of veggies
I wanted a protein fix, so I decided on the salmon. They were out, but I forgave them on
this busy Saturday of the Arts and River Festival. I ordered a grilled (blackened) chicken
breast sandwich, and my friend would have the French dip. In somewhat of a hurry to get
to the theater before our tickets were cancelled, we had chosen selections quick to
prepare, but we waited an uncomfortably long time for our meal. My friend enjoyed his
French dip, and the highlight of my platter was the fries I hadn’t even ordered ($1 extra).
The blackened chicken breast was good ($1 extra for blackening), but the thick home-cut
fries with skins were outstanding--I found the Belgian frites!
With all the extras, our bill was over $20 for 2 sandwiches in the $6 range. No matter, we
enjoyed the food and fresh air--and we made it to the theater on time. Service and decor
were adequate; food, good; location, great. The West Virginia Brewing Company
says, "I am what I am." She’s a brew pub in a university town on a bike trail just a block
from main campus. Those committed to the location--or the beer--will return.
For hours and menu, including descriptions of WV brews, see WV Brew.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 29, 2003
WV Brewing Company on the Trail for a Good Brew
1291 University Avenue
Morgantown, West Virginia
Attraction | "M. T. Pockets Theatre Company"
We are excited as we walk down Spruce St. to the awning of Morgantown
Florist--that’s our landmark. Miss it, and we miss the door to the steps down. It’s not a
"beatnik" cellar, either, so we don’t expect style. The room with commercial tile floors,
fluorescent ceiling fixtures, and black velvet curtains strung all around is a temporary
home with all the basic requirements: air conditioning, adequate stage lighting, and
elevated platform seating on stackable chairs. Voila! Theatre! Now it’s up to the cast to
create the illusion. To see what kind of spell they plan to cast, we consult their website:
M. T. Pockets.
A great number of plays conform to the company’s stated mission: to create parts for
women. However, the performance schedule deviates from this objective occasionally to
offer Twentieth Century intellectual favorites, like Waiting for Godot, and visiting
events, such as An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein. We’ve seen three plays
there: The Deer and the Antelope Play, a Texas family drama about teenage
depression, by Mark Dunn; The Death of a Miner (a woman coal miner) by Paula
Cizmar; and most recent, Waiting for the Parade, a character study of five women
without their men during WWII. All have been well-acted and directed with sets and
costumes that seem authentic.
We chose the downtown theater Saturday night in preference to the West Virginia Public
Theater production of Ain’t Misbehavin’. My favorite character in Waiting
for the Parade (set in Calgary, Canada during the 1940’s) was the German woman
who kept reminding those who scorned her: "I’fe liffed in Calgary since I
vas eight." She sang in German--even smoked like a German--and was
appropriately gruff. Another character, the "do-good" organizer of the volunteers, was
justifiably too intense, and her stiff jaw was convincing. Another was pert, curt, and sexy
as she painted lines (seams) on her legs. It was a bravado performance that
received a standing ovation--chairs and feet clattered on the wooden platforms as we all
clamored to get up.
We share the excitement of this company. Indeed, no guest at their performances could
avoid interest in the group, as well as the plays. They are succeeding in creating a
community proving ground for talent the area is overflowing with. The need was there,
and M. T. Pockets fills it.
M T Pockets Theatre Company
233 Spruce Street
Morgantown, West Virginia 26505
Caperton Trail is the downtown riverfront rail/trail link Morgantown has built its entire
municipal revitalization program around. It is incorporated into the Hazel Ruby McQuain
Park and Amphitheater on the water (site of free concerts and festivals), new upscale
residential, business, and University complexes, at least one new hotel (so far), several
restaurant relocations and a few new ones, the restored Train Depot and Wharf District,
bike rentals, and the list goes on. Restored historic structures interspersed with attractive
new glass-brick architecture create an interesting riverfront community. For long
distance travelers, this is an important link for all their needs, either on the trail or a block
Eight miles of pavement connect at each end to the larger rails-to-trails system. From the
Water Treatment Plant on the southern city limit to Osage on the northern end, bikers find
smooth sailing all along the Monongahela River, followed by more miles of limestone
and packed sand. The Train Depot in the Park is the trailhead, and just a few doors south
is a bike rental. A little further, the restored Wharf District offers an entrance to Deckers
Creek Trail that runs all the way to Reedsville in Preston County. Only three miles of this
second trail is paved (through Morgantown) before it changes to limestone. All surfaces
counted, 27 miles or more can be executed without exiting the trail.
A good stop for solitude and the shade of an old-growth forest is WVU’s Core
Arboretum, just north of all the downtown development along the trail. Anyone who
wants to drive there would be advised to start slowly down the hill from the
Coliseum toward downtown and look for a place to pull off to the right. If you miss the
first, another one further down shortens the steep walk down to the river. Ninety acres of
marked specimen trees and plants are beautiful with clean undergrowth. A small old coal
mine is evident, but filled by the University. I’ve always found the Arboretum deserted,
but classes do venture out here. Even for one used to old forests, this one is a treat in the
middle of the city. Three miles of walking paths afford benches, and at the top is WVU’s
Evansdale Campus with people-mover (PRT) stations (50 cents) and Trolley stops.
Trolley has bike racks and takes riders to points of interest to them both in town and to
outlying areas, including all trail points. For schedules, see BusRide.
Life is changed in Morgantown. I have read that many businesses and jobs have been created by this new pristine community along the water, and I wonder why other small cities are so slow in constructing their rail/trail links. My hometown, for example, a ways upstream, has contributed nothing to the rail/trail system, which is finished to the city limits on both sides. Bikers have to get off the trail and ride for several miles through busy, congested streets breathing exhaust fumes from trucks and stopping at traffic lights when they could be sailing along the Monongahela River, which runs straight through the middle of town. A river runs through it, but a trail doesn't! Only a few blocks from the river, I have to put my bike on the car and drive several miles to the outskirts of town, so . . . I keep on going . . . to Morgantown! Too bad for merchants in my city, that's where I spend my money.
West Virginia, United States