Monday, January 3, 2011

Strolling Through Downtown Napa

Well, the weather has cleared up and it was a beautiful day today! Some puffs of clouds here and there, but sunny and relatively warm (well, "mild" would be the term, I suppose.)

Would have been a great day for a hike -- but I woke up too late. Would have been a great day for wine tasting -- but I wasn't in the mood.

So I decided to "run recon" and scout out what's available in downtown Napa these days. It's a travesty that I spend nearly zero time downtown, despite the fact that are a few great restaurants and some interesting shops, the Opera House and some wonderful Victorian architecture.

Sarah (my girlfriend) couldn't come with me today, so I wasn't planning on eating at a restaurant or anything... I just went to enjoy the sights and take note of things I might want to go back and partake of some other point this year.

Well, it's a weekday... in the middle of winter... and it's no longer a holiday. So, as you might imagine, downtown Napa was somewhat empty and tranquil. I walked down past the Opera House (but forgot to check the calendar of upcoming shows)... and past the Downtown Joe's brewery, which is always enticing...

Nearby is "Bounty Hunter" -- I ate there once. Good bar-b-que sandwiches and an interesting atmosphere, with some decent wine flights, as well. The sandwiches were reasonably priced, but the service could certainly stand to be friendlier and more attentive, and some of the wine prices were ripoffs.

Overlooking the Napa River is (what else?) The Napa Riverfront, which is a newish section of built-up condos and commercial spaces, mostly for upscale restaurants. I've eaten at Celadon and really enjoyed the experience, but haven't tried the other restaurants I passed by today, including two I am curious to try -- Angele and Fish Story --as well as Rotisserie & Wine (from what I could tell through the window, that's just what it sounds like! Rotisserie chicken and glasses of wine, overlooking the Napa River), Silo's, and a few others in the area. [EDIT: I read some reviews of Rotisserie & Wine, and it actually sounds much more interesting than I had, at first, presumed... sort of an upscale/fusion take on country/comfort food, run by TV chef Tyler Florence and ex-Ubuntu chef Jeremy Fox]

I've never tried any of the small bars, bistros, or Asian restaurants in the area, but the stretch of Henry's, Asia Cafe (with its neon "Chop Suey" sign) and Zuzu Tapas & Wine always looks tempting.

These are located right next to the attention-grabbing empty shell of Fagiani's -- this bar was the location of the brutal stabbing murder of Anita Andrews (who owned and ran the bar along with her sister) in 1974, which happened in broad daylight but within the dark confines of the bar. Needless to say, the bar closed down for a while, and it's been pretty much vacant ever since. Currently, there are attempts to revive it, but they are being blocked by the City Council due to the schizophrenic nature of the building -- the top stone facade reveals its early (1908) origins, while the bottom is covered in 1950's blue and magenta ceramic tiles, making a two-tiered (and chronologically incongruous) facade. The current owner wanted to add to this yet a third, craftsman-style balcony to the mix, and that was too much for many members of the City Council to handle.
Anyway, a nice little stroll downtown, and I'll definitely be coming back for, at the very least, some food and some beers! (and probably some entertainment at the Opera House, as well)


  1. "Would have been a great day for wine tasting -- but I wasn't in the mood." Wow - I'd love to spend some time in Napa and not feel like I needed to get on with the wine tasting! Must be nice to be a local ;)

  2. Haha... yeah, I know the feeling. Before I moved here, I had only visited as a tourist and... yep, pretty much just wine-tasting (not even any evening activities, since I lived in the Bay Area).

    So I can't blame anybody if they are visiting Napa for a day (or even two) and want to focus solely on the wineries.

    However, whenever I visit other wine regions of the world, I do spend a good solid afternoon of wine tasting, but beyond that I like to get a taste of other local temptations, whether they are natural or cultural. When I go to Willamette (for Oregon pinot noir, my favorite), I also make sure to spend some time in Portland (culture) and the Columbia River Gorge (nature). Same with when I visited Marlborough, NZ (though in NZ, the wine was really an afterthought), Victoria, BC, and California's central coast (Paso Robles/Santa Barbara -- where I take in Hearst Castle, the beaches of Cayucos, the tranquil scenery of Morro Bay, and the quirkiness of Solvang... in addition to all that good syrah and other great Rhone varietals). The way I see it, even when wine is the at the forefront... the more you can experience and feed your senses, the better!

  3. Hey,

    I'm a writer and am working on a story about Napa for a travel website called 10Best. I was wondering if I might be able to borrow your photo of Henry's (in this blog post). I would greatly appreciate it, and of course credit you. It would be great if you could let me know if that might okay.


  4. Yes, you may use this photo with attribution-only (Matthew Gudenius) ... in fact, I have considered making all of my photography attribution-only Creative Commons, but have not yet done so, but feel free to use this one, which may also be found on my Flickr account: