#235 - Swiss Hotel in Sonoma, CA
On the Plaza, in Sonoma
I remember spotting the Swiss Hotel a couple years ago. It was right across from the historic Plaza in Sonoma.
Maybe I was just hungry, but something about the sign made me think of a Swiss chocolate candy bar!
Or maybe the folks dining at the cafe tables on the porch, made me hungry.
I chatted with a friendly gentleman and his pup. The place seemed very inviting.
On that pretty fall day 2 years ago, Don and I were lured in for lunch.
There were two entrances. We went through the doors, with martini silhouettes, under the windows. We eventually found the lovely garden patio and feasted on pulled pork sandwiches and spinach salads!
This past October, Don and I returned to the Swiss Hotel.
This time we had reservations for one of the 5 rooms. I was excited to spend a night in the building that had been home to Don Salvadore Vallejo, in the mid 1800's.
From Home to Hotel
The words on the sign stated, " Swiss Hotel Since 1909", but the Vallejo home became a stagecoach stop and hotel, long before that.
The hotel had at least a couple names, but it was called "Swiss Hotel" by the time the Masstelotto family bought it in 1923. The 4th generation is running it today.
Jenny checked us in at 3. She was very helpful, giving us hints on everything from wineries to parking.
Jenny let us know where the continental breakfast would be served. She said there were trays available if we wanted to enjoy eating on the veranda. She was very cheery, yet professional. I wondered if she was family.
While Don finished up, I peeked around the lobby at old photos. There was a lone dining table in the front window, near an antique phone and clock.
There was a cute little sitting area near the doorway to the dining room. I remembered from before, seeing that curious, square window/door between rooms.
I also took a look in the dining room, which looked welcoming with white cloths and roses.
While looking at some of the old photos, I was approached by Dawn, who was delighted that I was impressed with the history. She also graciously handed me a fancy little flashlight. "Just in case." She told me, without a hint of worry to her voice. She explained that there was a chance Pacific, Gas & Electric would be turning off power in the night. Fire concerns... yikes.
Up to Room 2
We headed for the hall where I spotted more photo covered walls... and an antique phone booth. I love phone booths.
Our room was in the opposite direction. We passed through a doorway which took us to another hall.
Was this a newer wing that had been added onto the back? Rats. I always prefer staying in the oldest part. But I was pleased, when we turned the key and walked into our own little entry, with 3 doorways.
Our 3-room suite with its convenient vanity and contemporary art, felt more 1980's than early 1900's. But the space felt cozy-retro with angled ceilings and slanted floors.
The sitting room was a nice surprise with windows overlooking the garden patio. It was charming in a simple down home, grandma's guest room way. I loved the grapevines that were trying to grow in the bedroom window!
Chat at the Bar
The bar was occupied by all locals when we arrived at 5. After a couple of days in touristy Napa and Sonoma, it was fun to be surrounded by people who knew one another, but were open to outsiders like us.
Don and our bartender talked World Series for a while. When I asked friendly guy (so wish I remembered his name) where he was from, he pointed to a photo on the wall of his mom. He said he grew up in Sonoma and his mom worked at the bar. He had good memories of coming over after school for burgers.
Ghastly Photos and Ghostly Occupants
A couple at one of the tables asked if we were staying at the hotel. The woman offered to take our picture. My creepy (drunken) expression does not match my pleasant, relaxed memory.
After taking our photo, the woman asked if we were staying in Room 5, which is evidently the most haunted. She said she'd had a friendly ghost encounter in the restroom once. "Some think the ghost is Freddy." She said as she pointed to a photo of Freddy the cook, in 1945.
Cozy Bar Vibe
On the wall, I spotted a photo of the old bar and compared it to one I took 2 years ago. It looks like little has changed in 4 generations.
I was so delighted that the small gathering of folks made us feel at home. Sometimes Don and I feel intrusive, when we sit at a bar with regulars.
Regulars and Celebrities
I had a good time checking out some of the people photos that covered the walls. There were quite a few famous faces, like President Kennedy. Not sure how may actually visited the bar.
My favorite photos were of the local celebrities. There were images of townspeople in aprons, in overalls... by a barber pole. I would love to know the stories behind these people!
Above the double doors, there were more faces smiling down!
Don and I walked under those faces and took a peek through those doors to check for open tables. The cafe tables near the sidewalk were all full.
To the Veranda
So we headed to the porch upstairs, with it's long planks of redwood. Were those actual holes, patched with metal?
The wind was beginning to pick up, as the sun lowered. There was an eerie feel in the air. We had heard from people in the bar that the schools had decided to close, in anticipation of the power outage.
I was still a little confused about how this was going to help prevent the spread of the fires. We sat there on the porch, wondering... and remembering our lunch at the Swiss Hotel 2 years ago. The devastating fires of 2017, started up as soon as we returned home to Texas.
By the time we headed back down to the sidewalk tables, it was dark. The tables were still full, but it was entertaining hearing all the local chatter. The diners all seemed to know each other, with lots of talk between tables. One woman owned a nearby winery. Some talked about worries over the power outage.
A table opened within minutes and we sat at the quieter end of the porch. A nearby couple recommended the #2 Pizza, which was incredible. They shared their memories of the devastating fires 2 years ago and all the worries and complications. I knew that every person around us had stories.
We were stuffed after our pizza, but determined to try the signature coffee-cocktail of Swiss Hotel. Glariffe, supposedly has some connection to Ernest Hemingway, but I don't know what. The frosty chilled sort of Irish coffee drink has a recipe so guarded that the recipe is kept in a safe deposit box.
We heard that Starbucks wanted to the recipe and they were turned down. ?? We just got one and shared it like we were at the malt shop! It was smaller than we expected for $12. but plenty potent. Yum!
We headed up for bed, wondering if we would need our flashlight at some point. Our phones were charged and we were checking out in the morning. So no real worries.
I woke after midnight when our room suddenly got quiet. The clock was no longer glowing. In the early morning I used the flashlight/lantern to get dressed and tiptoed downstairs. There were actually candles lighting the hallway and one, flickering inside the phone booth.
All Well So Far
I wandered around the Plaza and all was quiet. When I returned Dawn was busy getting the continental breakfast ready. She apologized that she couldn't make coffee.
Don and I skipped showers and checked out early, to get on the road before traffic got worse. Cars were already backed up at non-functioning traffic lights. We felt lucky that the power glitch had only slightly inconvenienced us.
Fire concerns will always be a part of our Swiss Hotel memories. It wasn't long after we left Sonoma that the Kincaid Fire began spreading and destroying hundreds of homes and buildings. Now that the fire is 100% contained, I can feel relief to know the town and our sweet hotel is safe... and focus on the good memories of our visit!
Mostly I'll remember the homey feel of our historic hotel, bar and restaurant. Our hosts and servers were all gracious and welcoming, despite the worries they may have had. The locals were also friendly and entertaining. The building itself was charming with all its history and the location was hard to beat!
Hope to return!
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My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!