On April 9, 1968, Jane Neblett Tims ’68 donned a navy linen A-line dress, borrowed a classmate’s rose-colored cable-knit sweater, and went on her first date with Washington & Lee University law student Jay Tims. They did not pick an upscale bar or a fancy restaurant. Instead, they headed for the legendary Lynchburg dive known as The Dahlia.
“That’s the best thing I got out of the Dahlia,” Tims recalled recently as the couple prepared to celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary.
Stories about The Dahlia, which opened in 1947, abound. The restaurant closed two years ago but was recently reincarnated into an upscale gastropub that has once again attracted many Randolph and Lynchburg area community members.
Jim Peterson, a Randolph English professor and director of the Creative Writing Program, remembers what an institution The Dahlia was for students and faculty alike.
“It was so dark and smoky you couldn’t see your knife and fork on the table,” he said. “The joke used to be that it was a good thing it was dark so you didn’t have to see the food.”
Peterson, who arrived at Randolph in 1998, enjoyed the blue-collar feel of the old Dahlia. While he was privy to gossip about harmless dares that took place— like students dressing strangely or having to stand up and sing in front of the restaurant customers— Peterson saw The Dahlia as integral to the College experience.
“Most of the people who went there were hard-working people who came in to blow off steam,” he said. “I think that was the allure for the students. They didn’t want to feel as safe as they felt on campus. It got them away from the academic world—to a place where there was the potential of something exciting happening.”
A few visible relics of the past remain in The Dahlia, including the weather-beaten sign on Bedford Avenue and the blue neon sign behind the upstairs bar. New owners James and Angel West are also planning to reopen the downstairs, which once boasted the longest bar on the East Coast and a bartender Tims still fondly recalls.
“She was a middle-aged woman, and I think she had a special feeling for the Randolph-Macon girls,” Tims said. “She would have made sure nothing bad happened to us.”