Photos by Reid Schiff of The Creative Creatives
Owning a bistro-style restaurant had always been high on Delynda Woods’ wishlist. For years she worked as a corporate higher-up for popular food chains like Outback Steakhouse, learning the managerial ropes for restaurant operations. Next, nearly a decade after she moved to Virginia Beach, Woods and her husband, Kevin Rowell, co-founder of the famous Burton’s Grill, established their first co-owned eatery, Whiskey Kitchen circa 2014.
The rustic gastropub offers one of the largest Virginia beer selections in the city and is highly revered for its delicious and sophisticated approach to pub style eats. With four years as a successful restaurateur under her belt, Woods was ready to tackle her bistro project.
Woods searched all over Virginia Beach for vacant storefronts, ultimately securing not one, but two suites just outside the back doors of Whiskey Kitchen. Woods immediately removed the wall that once divided the former tanning salon and local diner, Fresh Eats N’ Drinks, and began designing the corner suite that would soon become Civil Libation.
When I first heard the name Civil Libation, the image of a Prohibition-era tavern brimming with pilsners and local townsmen surfaced in my mind. While the Strawbridge bistro also strives to become a popular watering hole for local residents, its open concept design and high-end cocktail menu transcend the classic neighborhood pub.
Distinct from Whiskey Kitchen, Civil Libation celebrates Woods’ refined style. Both the bar and main dining area are colored in sleek grays, polished cognac surfaces and strong black accents. Lining the restaurant’s left-most walls are vibrant prints designed by Woods’ friend from her home state of California.
Across from the bar, custom built booths sit flush against the floor-to-ceiling windows, flooding the restaurant with natural light. Situated right down the middle of Civil Libation’s entrance is Woods’ favorite element, the communal high-top.
One of Woods’ many goals with Civil Libation was to facilitate community. She longs for friends, families, strangers and the like to take a seat at the long, rectangular table and imbibe, socialize or even share an appetizer with a barstool neighbor. She hopes Civil Libation feels like home when patrons walk through the double glass doors and that each and every diner feels as though they are contributing to the social mission that is Civil Libation.
Whiskey Kitchen may be home of the brews, but Civil Libation is hot on the heels of local bars with a stunning selection of cocktails handcrafted by Woods’ bar manager, April. Not only did April create the sweet and creamy libations herself, but also hand-painted Civil Libation’s cocktail menu with whimsical watercolor displays.
Appearing first on the dapper beverage list are eight colorful concoctions like the tropical Spring Fever, a zesty Hotsy Totsy with jalapeño and chili lime salt and the house favorite, Friends with Benefits, mixed with 1800 Coconut Tequila.
April also crafted a list of dessert-like night caps dubbed Good Night Kiss. Among the sweet treats are a red wine ice cream float, a boozy chocolate cold brew and a creamy rum cocktail made with Three Ships Coffee. Children and non-drinkers can enjoy a selection of dry libations too, like the fresh and fruity Mojo Jam and tart Ladies & Gents.
Rivaling the craftsmanship found in April’s libations is the culinary genius of Executive Chef Joe Steinert, formerly the head chef at Whiskey Kitchen. Steinert places as much care into the preparation of his dishes as he does their presentation.
During my afternoon visit to Civil Libation, the table overflowed with an exquisite spread of fresh and fried samplers. On the seafood end, Chef Steinert prepared a vibrant and spicy Hawaiian tuna tower served with sesame wonton strips and a trio of tender coconut shrimp and a saucer of citrus aioli dip.
Also on the docket for hand-battered eats were crisp butternut squash rings paired with vegan chipotle aioli, a dish Woods recreated after visiting a restaurant in New York City, and savory steak rolls stuffed with sliced ribeye, grilled onion, cheese and a side of jalapeño ketchup.
Chef Steinert prepared two vegetarian eats as well, tender zucchini rolls smothered in a house red sauce and a fresh beet salad dowsed in mustard vinaigrette.
Focusing once again on community, Woods sources ingredients and fresh produce from local farmers whenever possible. She also incorporates spices and mixes from Virginia Beach’s Ashburn Sauce Company and fresh breads from Carter’s Specialty Bakery in Ivy.
Stop by Civil Libation during their daily happy hours from 4–6 p.m. and enjoy $2 off any drink.
Civil Libation is located at 2135 General Booth Blvd., Suite 132, Virginia Beach.