By now most New Year’s resolutions have gone by the wayside, and old habits are back with a vengeance. Why not embrace your inner badass with a tour of some of the finest vices our region has to offer?
Abraham Lincoln observed that, “… folks who have no vices have very few virtues.” So in the interest of improving my character, I headed out to historic Leesburg and wild and wonderful West Virginia last weekend with some of my favorite people.
Leesburg Cigar and Pipe Shop
The knowledgeable staff at Leesburg Cigar and Pipe hook customers up with just the right smoke, whether you’re a newbie or a chimney. This boutique tobacconist offers a huge selection of cigars and cigarillos as well as pipes, tobacco, imported cigarettes and accessories. The walk-in humidor is one of the largest in the area, keeping cigars fresh and hydrated.
The shop is comfortably situated in an old station master’s house and appointed with rich leather seating and a big-screen plasma TV. Manly, yes, but I like it, too.
The Bloomery Plantation Distillery
Limoncello? In West Virginia? Everything about the Bloomery Plantation Distillery is unexpected, from the diminutive 1840s log cabin distillery to the handcrafted fruit cordials it produces. And if the word cordial conjures memories of grandma’s after-dinner drinks, think again. Unless grandma was nana and she hailed from the old country.
When Linda Losey and partner Tom Kiefer traveled to Italy for the canonization of his great-great-aunt Mary MacKillop — now known as Saint Mary of the Cross — they returned with a love for limoncello that the local liqueur stores just couldn’t quench. In fact, they didn’t find a single drop that lived up to its Italian counterpart. So, they made their own. And it was very good.
The next logical step was to buy a ramshackle log cabin and 12 acres of land via craigslist. Then Linda hired Rob Losey — her ex-husband — to cultivate 2,000 Caroline raspberry plants. She bought a greenhouse, hauled it back to the farm, filled said greenhouse with 40 Santa Theresa lemon trees, and hung a shingle out by the road.
Of course — because that’s what I do when I’m craving a drink …
No matter how illogical it all sounds, it was absolutely brilliant. And so are the flavors you’ll sample while gathered near a fireplace at the restored cabin’s tasting bar. Linda crafts her cellos to capture the essence of each flavor in a way that’s pure, clear and bright but never bitter, using organic fruit and zesting the lemons by hand to avoid the nasty pith.
She gives tours of the grounds, pointing out the original structure — one of only two slaves’ quarters remaining in Jefferson County — with siding that was salvaged from an old C&O Canal boat to expand the living quarters. Linda welcomes you into her greenhouse, where she tends trees that will produce future batches of heavenly hooch.
Rob mans the bar — doling out samples of the fruits of their labor, sharing recipes and exercising a quick wit alongside Rita, his significant other. Tom’s often there, too, and the group looks like one big happy family. Their motto might well be: All you need is cello.
Tours and tastings are free, with a menu that includes the Limoncello that started it all, as well as Raspberry Limoncello, Cremma Lemma (aka Moonshine Milkshake), Lemon Ice, and Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cello. All are available to purchase by the bottle for consumption at home. Live music — folk rock, reggae, blues and soul — is enjoyed with coffee from 6 to 8 p.m.
Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races
Entering Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races is, for the uninitiated, a bit like falling down the rabbit hole. Plastic palm trees and counterfeit cacti fringe rows upon rows of one-armed bandits — over 3,500 video slot machines in all — with names like Vegas Shindig, Super Fireball Frenzy and Unicorn Dreaming.
My tip: Stay away from themes that ooze cuteness — I lost a fair share of money on Dog Days just trying to see the goldendoodle prance when I scored three in a row. Gambling is an emotional sport and, in retrospect, I may have been better off with the homage to John Wayne. But I can’t prove it. Win, lose or draw, you’ll be entertained by the new and improved venue.
In 1997, Penn National Gaming bet on a comeback for Charles Town Races, purchasing the facility and beginning a $175 million upgrade of the facility. In 2010, table games — including poker, blackjack, mini-baccarat and roulette — made their debut, and today the facility features simulcast racing, numerous dining options and two huge parking garages. The ¾-mile racetrack draws some of the East Coast’s best trainers, horses and jockeys.
Book a table in the Skyline Terrace for dinner with an expansive view of the track. The restaurant offers a full menu and, on Friday and Saturday nights, a prime rib and seafood buffet that reaches from here to there and back again for $25.95.
Bets may be placed with tellers next to the Poker Room on the same level, but for the ultimate experience call ahead and reserve a big table with its own betting machine. Upon arrival, set up an account and load up a debit card with the evening’s mad money for one-swipe gambling.
The dining room is designated nonsmoking, but you can light up down on the apron of the track, where the action is. You may even pick up a few hot tips on upcoming races from the regulars.
Hand-rolled cigars, hooch and horse racing — it’s the perfect trifecta of vices. Whether you’re truly a badass or merely a wannabe, I’m willing to wager this is a day trip you’ll remember — and want to repeat — as a chaser to thrown-over New Year’s resolutions yet to come.
Elaine Jean is a writer with an incurable case of wanderlust. She and husband/photographer Paul are roaming the planet, starting in the mid-Atlantic region. Learn more about this and other day trips at www.roamingtheplanet.com.