A Southern tradition
One of Lexington's favorite restaurants will return to Main Street a year after a fire destroyed it

Photos courtesy of the Southern Inn Restaurant (left) and Lexington Fire Department (right)

The Southern Inn's iconic sign will again light up Main Street in June 2011.

The call came at 1:41 a.m..  Smoke was billowing from a building on South Main Street. The Southern Inn was burning.

In the early hours of July 9, George Huger woke up to reports that his downtown Lexington restaurant was ablaze. 

Firefighters battled the fire for half an hour, but “the fire [grew] beyond control” and they had to fall back “into a defensive mode,” according to the Lexington Fire Department.

Ultimately, the fire caused part of the second floor and the roof of the nearly 200-year-old building to collapse.

The Virginia State Police conducted the investigation of the fire.   The cause was determined to be lightning, which struck the building’s electrical system, sparking the fire.  It took with it 78 years of history.



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Becoming the Southern Inn

Peter and Florence Macheras opened the Southern Inn in 1932.  A few years later, Peter passed away, leaving his wife with the restaurant. Huger said Florence ran the restaurant after Peter died.

“She worked in the restaurant pretty much as long as she could,” said Huger.

And later her son took over.  George Macheras and his wife, Eve, ran the Southern Inn until they retired in 1989.

“[They] had four boys, all of them smart enough not to remain in the restaurant business,” Huger joked.  

Over the next 11 years, two different owners stepped in.  It was during this period that the restaurant was expanded to include the bar area. 

George and Sue Huger purchased the restaurant in 1998.

The couple had been searching both Lexington and Baltimore for a possible business venture. 

“We closed for about a month, and renovated the kitchen a bit and did a few other minor things and created what most of you know today as the Southern Inn,” Huger, a Lexington native, said.

A Second Chance

The Southern Inn II, the Southern Inn’s temporary alias, opened in September 2010 in Rockbridge Square Shopping Center on East Nelson Street.

“We made the decision to open a temporary location so that we could keep our employees working, keep our catering business going and, to a certain extent, just keep our name up and going,” Huger said.

Time was another factor in Huger’s decision to open a temporary location.  The renovated Southern Inn on Main Street is expected to open in June, close to a year after the fire.

“[A year] is a long time not to be open,” Huger said.

But business isn’t the same.  The Southern Inn II doesn’t get the same foot traffic that a downtown location provided.  For Huger, the restaurant’s momentary home is “out-of-sight and out-of-mind.”

Nonetheless, the new location offers the same warm atmosphere for which the Southern Inn was known.

Even some of the furniture is the same—the tables and chairs that fill the dining space are survivors of the fire, according to Washington and Lee’s Rockbridge Report.

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A Lexington Tradition

For nearly eight decades, the Southern Inn served as a social hub on Main Street.

“[The Southern Inn's] role or contribution to the community has changed over the years," Washington and Lee professor Art Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith reminisced about the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the restaurant was a popular venue for live music from local artists.

“For many years [bands would set up] in the bar area, which obviously was less than ideal, but it would pack it just to show you how much the community really enjoyed that venue,” Goldsmith said.

Now, Goldsmith says, the Southern Inn is one of Lexington's primary eating establishments. Its destruction sent shockwaves through the community.

“The fire was really unsettling to people on a number of levels because the Southern Inn is part of the old façade on Main Street and the town takes great pride in its architectural authenticity, ” said Goldsmith. “I think people were worried about whether it would be rebuilt in a way that captures and reflects that.”

Moving Back to Main Street

Reconstruction and renovation are well underway.  With reopening only two to three months away, crews are making progress daily.

“We are trying to keep the same feel, the same look,” Huger said.  “A lot of wood, a lot of the same colors.”

The new construction must be up to current codes, so diners will see a few updates when the building reopens. 

“Even I will admit the bathrooms were a little small,” Huger said.  Previously unusable space on the second floor will be transformed into upstairs dining as well.

One thing that won’t change is the famous Southern Inn sign.  It will be lighting up Main Street again in just a few short months.




Produced by Washington and Lee digital journalism students.