Norah's Cafe in Taubman Museum of Art: A Great Cup of Coffee Over Art in Downtown Roanoke, Virginia

by DerdriuMarriner

Norah's Café began serving cold and hot drinks and homemade dishes with Taubman Art Museum's opening in November 2008. The café's artistic and historical setting are glimpsed.

Universal appeal describes the reaction of the individual who gets a great cup of coffee at Norah's Café. There is just one size in hot drink cups. But that size will hold among the most straightforward and steamiest of hot decaffeinated or regular coffees to be had in
downtown Roanoke, Virginia.

The café is located in the Taubman Museum of Art. Its doors opened with the official opening of the visual arts center in November 2008. It welcomes customers to its convenient location on the museum's accessible, attractive first floor.

namesake of Norah's Café: Mrs. George James Gribble (Norah Royds) (1859-1923)
1888 oil on canvas by John Singer Sargent (January 12, 1856 – April 14, 1925)
1888 oil on canvas by John Singer Sargent (January 12, 1856 – April 14, 1925)

Norah's Café

Norah's Café is named in honor of English beauty Norah Royds Gribble (1859-1923), whose portrait was painted in 1888, by John Singer Sargent (January 12, 1856–April 14, 1925), the American expatriate painter renowned for his depictions of Edwardian era (1901-1910) luxury. The painting was acquired by the previous incarnation of the Taubman Museum of Art, the Art Museum of Western Virginia, in 2001 through funds provided by the Horace G. Fralin Charitable Trust. Creating a spectacular impression, measuring over 9 feet (110 inches or 279.4 centimeters) in height, the portrait of Mrs. George Gribble is considered by Taubman officials as an overlooked treasure from the early years of Sargent's artistry. 

caricature of John Singer Sargent's portrait of Norah Gribble
fur stole transformed into snake
fur stole transformed into snake
Come for the coffee and stay for the art, or, come for the art and stay for the coffee.
shady overhang and railing of patio for Norah's Café
shady overhang and railing of patio for Norah's Café


Serving hours in the café coincide with regular operating times for the museum. This generally means a Tuesday through Saturday schedule. But the café also tends to be open the first Sunday of the month, albeit for a shorter stretch of time than usual.

Specifically, the café typically accommodates late morning to late afternoon eaters. Doors open at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Additionally, the café welcomes First Sunday Brunch visitors an hour later, at noon, on the first Sunday of the month.

Norah's Café typically closes 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. But the convenient, previously mentioned schedule entails two exceptions. On the first Friday of the month, the café and the museum host Art By Night. On the first Sunday of the month, the café offers its First Sunday Brunch. The café consequently welcomes customers until:

  • 8 p.m. on first Fridays;
  • 3 p.m. on first Sundays.

What particularly draws customers to repeated visits of Norah's Café are the atmosphere and the menu. In terms of the environment, the café gives a comfortable but dignified, spacious impression. It has ceiling-to-floor windows and light-colored fixtures and furnishings. It looks onto a terrace which functions as an outdoor seating area during Roanoke's generally agreeable weather. But whether indoors or outdoors, seating provides diners with views of Roanoke's historic architecture and Mill Mountain vista. The view inevitably will inspire diners to amble through the Market Square neighborhood in which the café and museum are located.

In terms of menu, Norah's Café allows guests to choose among hand-crafted salads and sandwiches as well as homemade desserts and soups. It also lets visitors select from adult, children's and express items. Drink options will include:

  • Bottled alcohol (domestic and imported beers, red and white wines);
  • Bottled fruit juices;
  • Bottled water;
  • Coffee and tea.


Every angle gives a different perspective of the Taubman Museum of Art.
Every angle gives a different perspective of the Taubman Museum of Art.

Taubman Museum of Art


The Taubman Museum of Art adds distinct, unforgettable, unmistakable flair to the spatial and temporal skyline of Roanoke, Virginia. The building can be considered as much a footprint of the city's future as a monument of modernity. Perhaps less obviously so it nevertheless constitutes a concurrent portal to the past. 

The future beckons from every aspect of the building's design. The building's appearance is the creation of Randall Stout (born 1966?). Randall makes his living as a California architect based in Los Angeles. But he remains true to his Southern States heritage, what with:

  • His native homeland being Tennessee, Virginia's neighbor on the west;
  • His B.A. degree being from the University of Tennessee;
  • His M.A. degree being from Rice University.


Randall Stout, architect of Taubman Museum of Art (2008) and of Art Gallery of Alberta (2010)
Randall Stout, architect of Taubman Museum of Art (2008) and of Art Gallery of Alberta (2010)


Randall's implemented design of the Taubman Museum accounts for 75,000 square feet total space. Total construction costs amount to $66 million. That averages to $880 per square foot.

More than one-quarter of the total building costs are covered by a $15+ million contribution from Roanoke residents Nicholas and Eugenia Taubman. The Taubman donation is honored in the museum's name. It reflects Nick's enduring belief in, and Jenny's long-standing committed actions to, the visual arts in Virginia.

Modern challenges and comforts abound inside the museum. For example, interactive learning assumes the hands-on forms of: 

  • Conversational dialogues and lectures by guest artists and scholars;
  • Drawing, painting and printmaking programming through Art Venture for children and youth;
  • Studio classes and workshops with visiting artists through the Museum School.

Additionally, there is the skills-building environment of the Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore Resource Lounge to advance and guide educational, personal and professional interests in collecting, curating and researching art. Also, the Advance Auto Parts Auditorium, City of Roanoke Atrium, and Taubman Theater serve as venues for performing and visual arts-related events.


"Corrugated Bernini", James Grashow's 3- dimensional cardboard version of Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of 4 Rivers), designed in Rome in 1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Dec 7, 1598-Nov 28, 1680)
Taubman premiere June 2010-Feb 2011
Taubman premiere June 2010-Feb 2011


Past and present blend in the museum's permanent collection and temporary exhibits. Specifically, the Taubman Museum claims over 2,000 items within its permanent collections of:

  • Art handbags by Judith Leiber;
  • Folk, nineteenth and twentieth-century, regional, southeast contemporary, and visionary art of the United States of America.


an exquisitely designed installation of approximately thirty handbags and pillboxes will highlight selections from the more than 110 Leiber hand-held works of art owned by the Taubman Museum
Judith Leiber's art handbags from Taubman Museum's permanent collection
Judith Leiber's art handbags from Taubman Museum's permanent collection


It also hosts such changing exhibits as:

  • Blue-eyed and Japanese friendship dolls of the 1920s;
  • Depression Era photographs by Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895-October 11, 1965;
  • Earthly and earthy photographs by twentieth and twenty-first artist, author and scientist Alan Cohen (born 1943);
  • Fabergé jewlery of pre-revolutionary nineteenth and twentieth-century imperial Russia.


Glass-enclosed Market Square Pedestrian Bridge spans massive tracks of Norfolk Southern Railway to connect historic Hotel Roanoke (1882) with event-filled downtown hot spots such as Taubman, Historic Roanoke City Market (1922) and Market Square.
Market Square Walkway
Market Square Walkway

Nicholas Frank Taubman and Eugenia Lev Taubman

Nicholas Frank Taubman (born March 18, 1935) is a native of Roanoke, Virginia. He is the son of Arthur Taubman (July 15, 1901 - March 15, 1994) and Grace Ann Weber Taubman   (September 18, 1906 - August 27, 2002). But his higher education predominantly links with Pennsylvania.

Nick attended the Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the private college preparatory boarding school in 1953. He then started undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, which culminated in his Bachelor of Science degree in economics from the University's highly competitive, prestigious Wharton School of Finance and Commerce.

Nicholas Taubman as U.S. Ambassador to Romania: honored with Star of Romania, highest civilian honor, at the end of his exemplary ambassadorship
Ambassador Taubman
Ambassador Taubman

Upon completing his undergraduate studies in Philadelphia, Nick became a military man. His nevertheless brief military career involved service in the U.S. Army. His tenure ran from 1957 to 1958 and from 1960 to 1961.

After his military service, Nick advanced concurrent careers in business and politics. In 1969, Nick became President and Chief Executive Officer of the Advance Auto Parts store chain which his father founded in 1932. He remained in the position for 36 years, until 2005.

In November 2005, 43rd U.S. President George Walker Bush (born July 6, 1946) appointed Nick to the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest (Municipiul Bucureşti), Romania (România). Nick had prepared for his diplomatic, political and statesmanly career as:

  • Republican Party supporter;
  • Roanoke City Council member, 1976-1978.

He served as U.S. Ambassador to Romania from December 2, 2005 to December 3, 2008. At the end of Nick's exemplary ambassadorship, President Traian Băsescu (born November 4th, 1951) awarded him with the highest civilian honor, the Star of Romania.


Jenny Taubman has served on the Museum's board ~ VMFA houses largest U.S. collection of Peter Carl Fabergé eggs bequeathed in 1947 by Lillian Thomas Pratt (c. 1876-1947)
main entrance to McGlothlin wing of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
main entrance to McGlothlin wing of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond


Eugenia Lev Taubman (born December 2, 1939) is Nick's wife. Jenny is a native of Sofia, Bulgaria. She left her homeland to settle in Israel in 1953. She served in the Israeli Military from 1959 until 1961.

In 1966, Jenny became a citizen of the United States. She can be considered a native speaker of Bulgarian. But she also is fluent in five pivotal world languages:

  • English;
  • French;
  • Hebrew;
  • Russian;
  • Spanish.

Additionally, Jenny can be considered as adept and energetic at business and diplomacy as her husband. Specifically, she developed careers relating to communications and image. Her professional life therefore has ranged from interpreting to:

  • Fashion design;
  • Fashion modeling;
  • Image consulting;
  • Public relations consulting.

At the same time, Jenny always has demonstrated great interest in community development. She therefore has participated on the boards of such institutions and organizations as:

  • Virginia Israel Advisory Board for the Commonwealth of Virginia;
  • Virginia Museum of Fine Arts;
  • Western Virginia Foundation for the Arts and Sciences.

She is on the Capital Campaign Committee of the Taubman Museum of Art.


completed in 1907, modeled after Philadelphia's Independence Hall; operated continuously 1907-2007; added to US National Register of Historic Places in 1973
brick walkway leads to Fire Station No. 1
brick walkway leads to Fire Station No. 1

Roanoke, Virginia and the Taubman Museum's Market Square Neighborhood


Big Lick can be considered the original name for Roanoke, Virginia. Its permanent settlement by Europeans is dated to 1852. It was named after the area's wildlife-friendly salty outcroppings.

Big Lick received its charter in 1874. But in 1882, the settlement underwent a name change to Roanoke. In 1884, it was transformed from the town, to the independent city, of Roanoke.

The name Roanoke evokes cultural associations and history's unanswered questions. Specifically, the name honors the Native American tribe of the Roanoke (or Roanoc) of Roanoke Island and coastal North Carolina. The Roanoke numbered among the southernmost speakers in the Algonquian subfamily of North America's pre-European languages. They most likely totaled 5,000 to 10,000 people at the time of the journey to London and back by their last known Chief, Wanchese, in 1584. Chief Wanchese was responsible for the English learning the Algonquian language through his interactions with the explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh (ca. 1554 - October 29, 1618), and the polyglot Thomas Harriot (ca. 1560 - July 2, 1621).

But Chief Wanchese's tribe did not survive European settlement patterns. The Roanoke's pre- European existence nevertheless is memorialized through many names both within and beyond their known settlement areas. One such tribute to the Roanoke will be found in southwestern Virginia's largest and most important city.


Constructed in 1949, Roanoke landmark is world's largest freestanding illuminated manmade star.
Mill Mountain Star at night
Mill Mountain Star at night


Roanoke indeed can be described as a big city, but one that is made up of distinct, diverse neighborhoods. For example, movement through Roanoke is referenced in terms of different city sectors. Specifically, downtown Roanokers may speak of the historic Elmwood Park, Gainsboro and Market Square neighborhoods.

Downtown Roanoke can be accessed by the Elm Street and Orange Avenue exits from Exit 143 (I-581) of Interstate Highway 81. The Taubman Museum is located downtown, between the two above-mentioned Roanoke exits and therefore between Elmwood Park and Gainsboro. Specifically, it will be found within the Market Square neighborhood of: 

  • Center in the Square history and science museums and planetarium;
  • Galleries;
  • Restaurants;
  • Shops;
  • Street festivals.


farmers' market rows at night
Roanoke's Market Square
Roanoke's Market Square


Taubman Museum in downtown landscape


The Taubman indeed cannot be missed. It constitutes Market Square's most futuristic, modern and unique building. In contrast, Market Square gives a timeless impression, what with:

  • Narrow streets;
  • Norfolk-Southern railroad tracks;
  • Old-fashioned coffee and soft drink building façade advertising;
  • Sidewalk seating options for diners.


Built by Norfolk and Western Railway (now part of Norfolk Southern) in 1882 in downtown Roanoke's historic Gainsboro neighborhood, Hotel Roanoke was added to National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Tudor style of Hotel Roanoke
Tudor style of Hotel Roanoke


Additionally, the Taubman's Market Square location is a refreshingly short walk to:

  • English Tudor-styled Hotel Roanoke, for a great cup of coffee;
  • Gainsboro branch of Roanoke City Public Library, on National Register of Historic Places;
  • Roanoke Civic Center, across from McDonald's coffee;
  • Saint Andrew's Catholic Church and National/State Landmark.


sited on one of Roanoke's highest knolls; dedicated in 1902; Gothic style built of buff brick and Ohio sandstone; 15 stained glass windows by Franz Mayer of Munich; added to US National Register of Historic Places in 1973
interior St Andrew's Catholic Church
interior St Andrew's Catholic Church



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Taubman Museum's spectacular sea foam green staircase, with backlit glass treads, maple wood risers and stainless steel handrails
heading up, Norah's Café is to the right of foot of staircase; heading down, Norah's is to the left
heading up, Norah's Café is to the right of foot of staircase; heading down, Norah's is to the left

Sources Consulted

"Norah's Café." Taubman Museum of Art. (Last accessed October 5, 2013.)

  • Available at:

Taubman Museum of Art. (Last accessed October 5, 2013.)

  • Available at:

U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service. "Gainsboro Historic District." September 30, 2005. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. (Last accessed May 10, 2012.)

  • Available at: 128-5762_GainsboroHD_2005_ final_nomination.pdf


Wells Fargo Tower (background); Taubman Museum of Art (foreground); on 1st floor Norah's Café nestles invitingly in right corner of Taubman's sparkling glassy façade.
Roanoke landmarks
Roanoke landmarks
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

A Walking Tour of Roanoke, Virginia by Doug Gelbert

As befits its legacy as a railroad town, we'll start our walking tour hard by the historic tracks and begin by looking across to a relic that dates back to the very earliest days of train travel in Roanoke.
Roanoke VA-themed books

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia - Black Bear and Cubs ~ black t-shirt

Southwestern boundaries of Shenandoah National Park are sited near Waynesboro, about 95 miles (152.8 km) north of Roanoke, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia - Black Bear and Cubs Spring Flowers
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 09/24/2016, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 10/06/2013

JohnnyKnox, Even more impressive than a photo is actually being there. I was fortunate enough to attend the building's opening, and I regularly visit the Café and the exhibitions. It's a case of something that is as beautiful inside as it is outside! Roanoke is indeed blessed in benefiting from the expertise and philanthropy of Nick and Jenny Taubman. Thank you for visiting and commenting.

JohnnyKnox on 10/06/2013

A building with an impressive architecture. Having a coffee at Norah's will certainly be a nice experience.

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