Ocean View inspires intense loyalty among the citizens of Norfolk’s most eclectic neighborhood. It seems like every resident has an OV sticker on his or her car or a personalized license plate with some riff on OV pride.
Once known primarily for hookers and crack houses, it’s now an almost schizophrenic mix of new money and old charm. It is comprised of fishermen with deeply lined faces and McMansions with fresh coats of brightly-colored paint. While most outsiders know it primarily as home to an annual St. Patrick’s parade, an unofficial day of public intoxication, Ocean View has a lot more to offer. With uncrowded beaches, a mix of dive bars and upscale restaurants, it’s a place worth a visit for families and singles alike.
There is one must-see stop on a tour of Ocean View for anyone who wants to appreciate the neighborhood’s history, and see how old and new have meshed. The Thirsty Camel, the very definition of a dive bar, was once home to a butcher shop. Walking into the small, dark space feels like descending into a bomb shelter. It’s undergone a minor facelift in recent years but it’s still a great place to get a meal or a beer and listen to a local band or OV lifers talk about which fish are biting or how the Redskins team is shaping up for the season. While the Camel offers great two-for-one meal specials on steak or prime rib on Thursday and Saturday nights, the best time to show up is on a weekend morning and order the Bloody Mary Breakfast. As the name implies, there is alcohol involved — a little hair of the dog for anyone who had too much the night before. It’s the ultimate hangover breakfast, and a hangover is actually required so you don’t think too much about the artery-clogging fat and cholesterol in this monstrosity of a meal including a full strip steak or pile of bacon, sausage, or ham, a mound of toast, three eggs, and potatoes or grits.
Moving east on Ocean View Ave. from the Camel will bring you to another legendary OV bar and restaurant, Greenies. During a summer day, it’s a beautiful spot to hang out on the deck and enjoy their draft beer towers and famous peel and eat shrimp while gazing out across the real star — the Chesapeake Bay. You definitely want to eat outdoors because the inside is thick with cigarette smoke both ancient and stale and fresh and seductively curling around the beer taps. The tiny non-smoking section is never used and hanging out in there feels like being quarantined away from all the action. Outside is where it’s at. The daytime crowd is a mix of families, bikers, and Sailors from the nearby base. At night there’s a definite meat market vibe that gets stronger as the local bands play louder and the drinks go down quicker. Thick-biceped bouncers make sure everyone keeps their hats on straight, their pants pulled up, and on reasonably good behavior.
Just east of Greenies is Ocean View Beach Park, a 6.5-acre area with public parking, a band shell, dance floor, lifeguards, and greenspace for picnicking and playing a game of catch or frisbee.
Another OV tradition is dancing to Big Bands Sunday which takes place from 7-9 p.m. each Sunday evening through Labor Day. Local bands of various genres also play in the park Friday’s through August 19 for the Thank Goodness It’s Ocean View series, which also offers food, beverages, activities for kids, and cornhole, just steps from the calm waters of the Bay.
Beach bums who don’t want to be so close to their neighbors often pull into neighborhood side streets along Ocean View Ave., where there are multiple beach access ramps, and unlike in Virginia Beach, you can park free along the street wherever there’s a spot. While there aren’t lifeguards away from the official park area, it’s usually quieter and the cops who patrol the beach on four-wheelers don’t seem to mind if you pour an illicit beer into a red solo cup. Just don’t be that guy who acts like an idiot and ruins it for everyone.
As you continue down the Avenue you make the transition from West to East OV. Once the very worst part of town, East OV is now where the money is. It’s also a great place to get a fantastic meal. Razzo is an inconspicuous gem that has some of the best Italian food the area has to offer. Literally everything is delicious, but the Penne Ricotta dish with sausage, roasted tomatoes and fresh basil is amazing. They also serve an impressive list of appetizers and meat courses and it’s best to get there early for happy hour from 5 to 6:30 p.m. when glasses of wine are half price.
Nearby is Jessy’s Taqueria, known for authentic Mexican food which goes beyond the typical fare of most area Mexican joints. While a Jessy’s location is now open in Ghent, it’s worth visiting the original in OV because this location also has an incredible little store with Hispanic food staples and a bakery featuring pan dulce and tres leches cakes that you’ll have to take home because you’re too stuffed from your meal.
Finally, travel down OV Ave. until it becomes Shore Dr. to experience the newest parts of the neighborhood. Most of the ramshackle houses have been destroyed in favor of new construction, but a few noteworthy places thrive alongside the generic newer homes. Cutty Sark was once a tiny little dive near the marina in East Beach but several years ago they built a deck which is screened in for all-season use and more than doubled the space. It’s an unpretentious little place where you can watch the sun set on the water and eat a good meal for a reasonable price while listening to an acoustic singer/songwriter most nights of the week.
Across Shore Dr. is Captain Groovy’s Grill and Raw Bar, where there’s lots of shellfish as well as upscale burgers, salads, and seafood entrees. The vibe is casual and laidback, and the food is worth a visit.
Ocean View is still a neighborhood in transition, but the newer residents and the old-timers seem to have found an equilibrium that makes for a special neighborhood with unique charm. There’s a reason so many people who go there never leave, so be prepared to fall in love with this beautifully weird section of Norfolk when you make your plans to visit this summer.
Thank you to the generous sponsor of this post, Rose & Womble.
Rose & Womble Realty Co. was born and bred in Hampton Roads – our owners live and work here in the Seven Cities. We are a family-owned and operated business – with multiple generations working at all levels, from agents to managers.The leadership within the company is LOCAL – not out of state – but right here in Hampton Roads.