Russian River Businesses Optimistic for Busy Summer
Businesses in Guerneville are optimistic for a busy summer season this year. The famed Triple R resort reopened a little over six months ago with a new name, r3, and its bar reopened on New Year’s Eve. The landmark Pat’s Restaurant and Bar in downtown Guerneville was just sold to a gay couple from San Francisco and they promise some exciting changes. Pat’s is sandwiched in the middle of some of the trendiest new businesses in Guerneville: Big Bottom Market, the Whitetail Wine Bar, and Boon Eat and Drink, the latter having set the standard for minimalist chic on the strip when it opened three years ago.
The strip of those four newer businesses is heralding what residents hope will be a renaissance for Guerneville. The new r3 hopes to attract the same party crowd that filled the old Triple R, which had been closed for a little over a year. The surrounding LGBT businesses hope to benefit from the crowd who will be drawn to some of the parties and entertainment that will be featured at the r3’s bar that retains the old name, the Triple R Bar and Grill.
This summer will be the first full season for the Whitetail, which opened in mid-July last year, just after the Big Bottom Market debuted. Both are decidedly a step up for Guerneville. The businesses resemble more of the kind of upscale feel you would expect from a trendy cafe in a big city.
San Francisco interior designer Leslie Bahr opened the Whitetail to fill a need for wine tasting in the heart of the Russian River area. She had been a frequent visitor to the river.
"I have been coming up with my ’gay husbands’ for years," Bahr told the Bay Area Reporter earlier this month, referring to her gay male friends, adding, "I have many of those."
The Whitetail features wines from local small-scale wineries in Sonoma County. And despite the trendy upscale decor, her prices are down to earth. She offers 15 top-notch wines for $15 each. Besides the wine, one of Whitetail’s specialties is thin-crust artisan pizza made with locally grown ingredients.
Big Bottom Market is a restaurant and gourmet market that got its name from what Guerneville was once called. The town was once known as the Big Bottom because of the low flood plain that helped nourish the town’s once abundant redwood forest. The market offers locally-produced wines, cheeses, and a selection of gourmet honey. It is owned by business partners Michael Volpatt, Kate Larkin, and Crista Luedtke. Volpatt and Luedtke split their time between Guerneville and San Francisco. Larkin lives outside of New York City but gets to Guerneville once a month.
For the uninitiated, Guerneville is about 90 minutes north of San Francisco and has one of the highest per-capita populations of same-sex couples in the country. The town of about 2,500 is named after George Guerne, a Swiss logger who ran a lumber mill there in the 1800s. Guerneville and the Russian River area eventually became a vacation spot for fog-weary San Franciscans. But by the 1960s, the area became depressed as the Russian River fell out of fashion as a place to vacation. Starting in the mid-1970s, gays helped spawn a resurgence to the river. In late 1980s, AIDS had tempered Guerneville’s party scene but more and more coupled LGBTs moved to the town year-round. Now, gays are helping start Guerneville’s new evolution to the upscale.
The newest change will happen next month when a landmark business changes hands. Pat’s Restaurant and Bar, in the very heart of Main Street, has been owned by three generations of the Hines family since 1945. One side is a rustic straight bar and the other side is a restaurant. The new owners are life and now business partners Eric Edenfield and Chris Morano.
"We’re proud to do our part to ensure the River stays a successful, iconic, and a very gay-friendly place that welcomes everyone," Edenfield told the B.A.R. "We intend to enhance the menu with fresh local products as well as retain and improve on the many all-American favorites. The interior will get a gradual refresh, with an eye to returning to its roots of the 1930s and 1940s. We’re hitting the ground running with the busy season already upon us and will make changes subtly and over the next few months."
The Russian River area has three gay resorts: Highlands, the Woods, and r3 are all in downtown Guerneville. The upscale gay-owned boutique properties in Guerneville, the Sonoma Orchid Inn and Boon, and the Village Inn in neighboring Monte Rio, are among the finest in the Russian River region.
The r3 was re-purchased by Ray Allen along with other investors. Allen had owned the Triple R between 1992 and 2005. The next owners lost the property to foreclosure in September 2010 and the resort sat vacant until October 2011, when Allen and company reopened the hotel. The resort includes a bar and restaurant and the outdoor barbecue will reopen in time for the summer. R3 has 23 rooms with springtime rates starting at just $65. The resort is party central. Day visitors are welcome to hang out by the pool.
Highlands is perfectly situated in a redwood grove on a hill, just a couple of minutes’ stroll to the heart of downtown Guerneville. The 16-unit property features cabins with a large clothing-optional pool in front and a hot tub in the back. A continental breakfast is also included. Day use is $10 on weekends and $5 during the week and from November to April. The rooms in the main house across from the pool have TV but the cabin rooms do not, so the Highlands is a great place to really feel like you have gotten away from it all. If cabins aren’t rustic enough for you, campsites are available. Rates start as low as $70 for a cabin room with a shared bath. Camping starts at $20.
The third gay resort in Guerneville is a block from the r3. The Woods is impeccably maintained and features suites with gas fireplaces and full kitchens, cottages with private patios, and smaller single-room accommodations. Like Highlands, its large pool is clothing optional. Most of the 19 rooms share beautiful views of the redwood forest that slopes up from the Russian River. The Woods is a great place to be close to the party but it is a quiet place to get away and relax and rest afterwards. Like the r3, its spring rates start at a bargain $65. Day passes are available for $5.
The Sonoma Orchid Inn is owned by a gay couple who once worked in the high tech industry. The nine-room inn is in Guerneville, three miles east of downtown. It used to be called the Ridenhour Inn, but Brian Siewert and Dana Murphy changed the name when they bought out the property six years ago. Murphy is an orchid aficionado and grows the plants in the greenhouse on the property. The inn was once a farmhouse and is kept in a beautiful, pristine condition that preserves the charm of the house while providing guests with the upscale comforts of a five-star hotel. Murphy and Siewert are the perfect hosts who serve a gourmet breakfast to their guests family style. They still have vacancies for Lazy Bear Weekend and they will host a Lazy Bear barbecue for guests that weekend. Rates start at $149.
The Boon Hotel and Spa is a gay-owned property about a mile from downtown Guerneville. The 14-unit resort is owned by Luedtke, who owns the aforementioned Boon Eat and Drink and is part-owner of the Big Bottom Market. Like the Sonoma Orchid Inn, it is one of the classiest boutique hotels in Sonoma County. But its decor is very different. It has a minimalist modern chic look. A continental breakfast is included. Rates start at $165.
The gay-owned Village Inn is in Monte Rio, the river town just west of Guerneville. The hotel features one of the best views of the river. If you are not staying there, be sure to stop by and have dinner overlooking the river on its spacious balcony. If you are an old-time movie fan, the hotel may look familiar to you. It was the setting for the Bing Crosby 1942 film Holiday Inn. "White Christmas" was written for that film and it was recycled for the movie White Christmas in 1954. Rates at this 10-room property start at $115.
There are two gay bars in Guerneville, the Rainbow Cattle Company and the aforementioned r3. Both are gay, lesbian mixed and are straight-friendly. While other gay clubs have come and gone, the one constant has been the Rainbow on Main Street in the heart of downtown Guerneville. You can’t miss the bar by the neon rainbow flag over the entrance. The rustic watering hole features pool and video games.
For a year, Rainbow was the only show in town, now the Triple R bar is hoping to regain some of the party crowd that kept it packed. Check the bars’ websites and published ads for some of the special events and first-rate entertainment that were a big draw to Guerneville.
Be sure to make a stop at Osmosis Spa in the picturesque town of Freestone. It is about a 30-minute drive on the very scenic Bohemian Highway. Osmosis is very gay-friendly, has a gay general manager, and has an LGBT micro site: http://www.osmosis.com/lgbt. The spa is known for its signature treatment, a cedar enzyme bath made from finely ground cedar, rice bran, and plant enzymes. It’s akin to a mud bath but it doesn’t make you dirty. You just have to brush yourself off when you’re done. The spa’s centerpiece is a beautifully landscaped Japanese tea garden.
The 32nd annual Women’s Weekend is coming up next month, May 17-21. Now that r3 is up and running, it will host events all five days of the extended weekend celebration. Many of the events will be held at the Main Street Station in downtown Guerneville. If you’d rather get back to nature, a photography walk will be held in the Armstrong Woods on Sunday. Fundraising proceeds will benefit the Russian River Sisters Grants Fund and the Center for Sacred Studies. More information can be found on http://www.russianriverwomensweekend.org.
Sonoma Gay Pride Parade and Festival takes place Sunday, June 3. The day gets started with a pancake breakfast benefit from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Odd Fellows Hall. The parade starts on Main Street at 11. The festival will be on the expansive grounds of the Guerneville Lodge from noon to 6 p.m. (The Guerneville Lodge is where the Inn at the Willows used to be.) A Pride interfaith service will be held in Santa Rosa at 7 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.sonomacountypride.org.
The Gay Wine Weekend is June 15-17 and is a benefit for Face to Face Sonoma County AIDS Network. The weekend will be packed with wine tastings, receptions, dances and dinners. Visit http://www.outinthevineyard.com for more information.
The biggest gay event in Guerneville is Lazy Bear Weekend, which will be held this year from August 1-6. The official schedule is not out yet but check the event’s website http://www.lazybearweekend.com later for details. The hotels in Guerneville quickly sell out for Lazy Bear, so if you want to go, make your reservation now. Late comers often have to stay in Santa Rosa, about 20 minutes away.
There’s a growing arts scene in the Russian River area and to showcase local artists, a monthly first-Friday art walk shows off that homegrown talent. More than a couple of dozen shops participate in downtown Guerneville to showcase locally produced art. The 3 to 8 p.m. event includes music and food.