January 19th, 2014

We talk a lot about how great our California weather is. We boast about Christmases spent outdoors in t-shirts, Thanksgivings held on patios. It’s a selling point, a bragging point, and very often both at the same time. A “Mediterranean climate,” as ours is called, does have its down sides, though. One of those is a tendency to drought, which is what’s going on right now.

As you may have heard, our governor, the beatific Mr. Jerry Brown, has recently declared this current drought of ours to be a state of emergency. It sounds scary, but this does happen periodically. A lot of why it has to be declared an emergency has less to do with the availability of water to, for example, shower with than it has to do with mobilizing funds to transport water and staff fire departments in the neighborhoods of extra dry hills, with their tendency to ignite. Still, though, growing up in California we all learned to turn the tap off when we brush our teeth, to not be too indulgent with the pleasures of a long hot shower, little things like that. So, attempting to keep all traces of fear mongering or environmentalist shaming out of this sentence, now is a good time to keep water use in mind. Think about not having your sheets and towels changed every day when you’re here with us, though never keep them one day past what’s comfortable. If you like to stand in a very long hot shower to relax at the end of the day, remember that we have a hot tub. But if you’re attached to the ritual, stick with it. Find a couple of little ways to reduce your use while you’re here with us, if nothing else just to feel like you’re participating. This drought will pass. Next year we’ll probably get flooded. All will be well.

January 18th, 2014

There is no snow in the mountains around Lake Tahoe. It’s eerie, driving around up there in what should be a winter wonderland, knowing it’s January, but looking out on a perfect spring landscape. People walking around in hats and gloves seem like they just don’t want to give up their cool weather fashion and are suffering for it. This is not the ideal time to be planning your Northern California ski trip.

Skiing, though, is not the only reason to head to Tahoe. It’s pretty much an out door adventurer’s paradise, whether your idea of an outdoor adventure is a gentle stroll through outlandishly beautiful scenery, or a punishing backcountry trek. Right now, in fact, is kind of a rare and wonderful moment to go for a hike up there because you don’t need to take all the gear and precautions that winter normally demands, but neither do you have to deal with the heat of summer. Plus there’s a little dab of snow here and there to slide around in, the odd snow man standing his ground, and even an occasional frozen lake to tiptoe a few disbelieving steps out onto. We all are, and should be, very concerned by this drought, but so should we allow ourselves to delight in the strange little bits of magic it delivers us. The Tahoe area, in this moment, is one of those.

The other reason to head to Tahoe in these next weeks, if you find yourself with a weekend to explore California, is that they kind of need you up there. More than maybe anyplace else in the state, their economy is driven by the yearly influx of snow sports enthusiasts and so they suffer the most when we get into one of these drought years. That said, don’t go because you feel guilty. Go because it’s an extraordinary place that’s probably on your list of California destinations, or at least should be, and this just happens to be a great moment to do it.

January 17th, 2014

It’s a new year, which kind of means nothing except that time is passing. And, with the passage of time come changes. Luckily the staff update this time around is short on goodbyes because, as you know, we’re not very good with those. This is more a story about the kids growing up.

Jonathan, one of our sales manager, who started working here, as a bellman, when he was in high school is now a married man. It shouldn’t be so very shocking as he was engaged for quite a while and has all the bearings of a responsible young man. Still, though, carrying the shadow of the boy we first met the way he does, it’s a little bit crazy to think he may soon have his own kids.

It’s a similar feeling with Matt, who’s been working behind the front desk since high school. He has, in fact, always used this job as the rock to lean on as he got himself through school. That time has ended. He’s a college graduate. We’re both proud and also bracing ourselves. Now that he’s got that degree, the time may soon come when he’ll want to use it.

Joe, who recently became our front desk manager, also recently became engaged. This is great, light, easy news for us to congratulate him on. Joe came to us as an adult, and adults do things like get engaged. Besides, engagements are the period when all your friends and family get to transition into the idea of you being married. So, great, he’s engaged!

Finally, we have one departure to report. Dave/Pee Wee, who was our bar manager and the weeknight bartender at the Grand Hotel, has left us. Sometimes the time just comes for a bit of change. We hope he finds what it is he’s looking for.

January 16th, 2014

Hobee’s InteriorThere’s a sweet little chain of diners in the Bay Area that’s so ubiquitous, such a normal, taken for granted part of the landscape up here, that it’s taken years to even remember that maybe you all don’t know about it, and would like to. The chain is called Hobee’s and there are five or six of them in the pretty immediate vicinity, though this is the only place in the world where there are any Hobee’s at all.

Hobee’s, whichever one you end up in, is a good place to eat pancakes late on a Sunday morning, or a club sandwich with fries after work. If you go with kids, you’ll be given crayons for them to draw on the table with. If you don’t go with kids you can ask for crayons anyway. They like to lean into their status as a California diner and so give a lot of space to being “fresh” and “healthy.” Their specialty, though, is giant slabs of blueberry coffee cake, which come on the side of everything you might order in the morning and are heavily encouraged at all other meals as well.

Hobee’s is not exciting. It’s not a fun new place for you and your co-workers to have a work-travel adventure in. I doubt anyone has ever been on a date at a Hobee’s and I’m pretty sure they don’t even serve wine. Still, though, there are plenty of times when you want comfort. This is why sweat pants exist. Maybe Hobee’s is the sweat pants of restaurants. And maybe that’s exactly what you need some nights, away from home, looking for something wholesome, simple and grounding. That’s Hobee’s all the way.

January 15th, 2014

This month we’re going to head down south to find our wine. As some of you may very well know, quite a bit of wine is now being made a few hours south of here. We, admittedly, can tend to get stuck with our heads pointed north, needing to be reminded again and again that good things are happening on that southern coast. It’s not yet as grand and romantic as the Napa Valley, but, then, neither was the Napa Valley just a few short decades ago.

What’s nice, in learning a bit about the Ancient Peaks Winery, is realizing is that in Southern California it’s still possible to get into the game if you’re not a millionaire. The last Napa Valley winery I read about, for example, was founded by a man with a Stanford MBA, who had worked in business his whole life, and then retired into his dream of having a little winery. Which is great, except that it sets the bar for how to get your own little winery very, very high. Ancient Peaks, on the other hand, is made from grapes grown on a vineyard that is collectively owned by three local families. Those owners are all natives of Paso Robles, where the vineyard is located. One is a rancher and director of the Mid California State Fair. Another, in addition to his work with wine, is president of Filipponi & Thompson Drilling. The version of winemaking that’s being practiced in their neighborhood, it turns out, is not another story about the hobbies of the 1%.

It’s possible that this will be the winery that gets us to reorient in a more southerly direction. It’s also possible that by next month we’ll forget and just head north again. Remember that we said this once, though: the future is in the south.