Near the California/Nevada Border
Last June, Don and I visited the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. We stayed the night at the "Border House", in Crystal Bay.
The tidy sign could have belonged to a trendy modern resort, but our hotel opened nearly 90 years ago. It began as a more of a boarding house, but got its current name because of its location, next to the CA/NV border.
Hotel and Casino Connection
We arrived on a drizzly afternoon. The historic bungalow (once named Cal-Vada Hotel) sat just steps away from "Crystal Bay Club Casino"...with its retro sign.
The 2 are now connected by ownership. (We actually checked in for our room key, inside the casino.) The quaint historic hotel and shimmery-retro casino, share some pretty interesting history.
Starting in the 1920's
In 1927, Cal-Vada Lodge was built in Crystal Bay, (Nevada) next to the border. This was before gaming was legal in Nevada.
In 1935, the craftsman-style Cal-Vada Hotel was added. You can spot it, behind the other buildings.
The homey building with shingled walls, was originally used as a resort and casino.
Today, the brown bungalow with its porches and gabled roof, looks much the same. It holds 10 guest rooms.
The casino, however has gone through lots of facelifts. It began as Ta-Neva-Ho, in the 1930's. They seemed to like those tricky chopped-up names, back then!
In the 1950's the complex of buildings was renamed Crystal Bay Club. The North Shore resort area has suffered in recent decades, but Crystal Bay has hung in there. It was purchased and refurbished 20 years ago.
And Now... a Cal-NEVA Resort Tangent!
To complicate matters, there is another resort "next door" to the old Cal-Vada property. It has a similar combo-name and a similar history.
CAL-NEVA is honestly where I had hoped to book our stay. But the old resort closed down some years ago. I was able to pose with the old sign.
On the Border, A Decade Ago!
In 2012, Don and I were exploring the North Shore area. In Crystal Bay, we discovered a curious hotel & casino, straddling two states!
We stopped in and explored Cal-Neva Resort. I was very excited about the grand room with the dividing-lines, painted on the floor. In the photo, my left foot is in California, with my right in Nevada.
From Grand Lodge to Weary Resort
Both interior and exterior were odd and intriguing. With many quirky additions over the years, it was hard to imagine the original lodge, that once competed with Cal-Vada... in the 1930's.
Like Cal-Vada, the Cal-Neva evolved into a somewhat swanky club resort, attracting the rich and famous, like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the Kennedys.
Frank Sinatra eventually bought the resort in 1960. He entertained Marilyn Monroe here, shortly before her death. There's lots more on all this...
The once lively Cal-Neva has been closed for many years. Don and I wandered over to see what the grand old resort looked like in 2023. A chain link fence kept us at a distance.
It didn't look so grand, with dumpster and port-a-potty. We should have stayed for a night in 2012. I did however read about plans for a renovation, but who knows? It will probably be out of our price range.
Back at the Border House
It would have been fun to stay in a kitschy casino, but it was actually pretty curious staying in one of the original resort buildings of Crystal Bay.
We didn't spot any other cars when we arrived. We wondered if we'd be the only guests.
A door on the porch opened to a curiously decorated sitting area.
We took the stairs up to our room, #9.
The door opened to a spacious room, with some curious decor. I appreciated the space and having 2 useable. That was helpful, since the room was warm and stuffy, on a day that looked damp and cold.
The room seemed uncomfortably dim. (more than my photo) The comically lumpy bed and stone fireplace, looked like something from a storybook. Three Bears maybe?
Don searched for a good chair. (back issues brewing) He gave the desk chair a look. Nope.
The velvety chair by the fireplace had potential, but Don's broad shoulders barely fit.
The bathroom was also spacious, with large shower and spa tub. There was a TV high on the wall, if I'd had time to soak.
I appreciated having 2 sinks and 2 mirrors. You can be sure the bathrooms didn't look like this in 1937.
There were a few things that sort of amused me, with our spiffy bathroom set up. Like the oddly wrapped robes and the curtain that served as a door between the guest room and bath room.
The pink sparkle light above the toilet gave me a little chuckle. I must say the towels were very fluffy, though.
Where to Sit?
Before dinner, Don and I searched for a spot to relax with a glass of wine before dinner. That's part of every hotel adventure. But where? The room just felt too dark for lounging. We headed outside to check out the patio and porches.
The patio might have been nice if the rain hadn't left the area so soggy.
So we found 2 wicker chairs on the side of the porch. Finally, Don was able to rest his back and I got to swivel back and forth. (almost as good as a rocker. We wondered if we were the only guests.
Off to the Casino!
Dining at the casino was also part of our "When in Rome" kind of adventure.
We made dinner reservations for 7:30, but arrived early to explore. Besides the sounds of gaming machines and music, the place was fairly quiet.
We wandered into the "Crown Room" with its vaulted ceiling. Duwayne, who had checked me in earlier, spotted us and pointed out the display of old photos.
The large space once held Ta-Neva-Ho's bowling alley, with manual pin setters! I loved seeing the black and white images.
Today the large room has a stage, plus light & sound system. The old bowling alley is now a music venue, attracting locals and travelers.
Crystal Bay Steak & Lobster House
Initially I thought we might want to avoid dining at the casino. I imagined a dining room just off of the casino, with sounds and smokey smells. The menu prices I'd seen online weren't the cheapest.
But Duwayne mentioned that they had a new chef who was fantastic, He also clued us in on the chef's reasonably priced nightly special. He said it wasn't on the menu, so we'd need to ask. Oh I love tips.
When we stepped through the gates, I could see noise and smells would not be a problem. The small bar was comfy and inviting.
I love a bar with no TV! But we passed on through to the dining room.
We stepped down, into a formal room, with rounded booths and rock walls. Only 2 other tables were taken when we arrived. It was a Thursday night...
The ceiling revealed the same octagonal shape as the vintage exterior photos I'd studied. We were told this was the original dining room.
I was happy I'd packed my paisley dress for the retro occasion.
Despite a glass of wine earlier, I had to have a martini in this atmosphere. We kept wishing there was a dimmer switch for that spotlight!
The menu had a pretty fine looking "Surf and Turf" for $115, but I asked our very chipper server about the chef's special. How could I resist then Top Sirloin platter, for $27.00!
Don's Filet Mignon was a bit more at $54., but it was served on a "CBC" plate with a jazzy smear of mashed potatoes and heavenly helping of green beans with almonds. He was more than pleased.
I need to share one more photo of my embarrassing plate! Next to my monster sized meat, were 3 amazing sauces for my sirloin! Creamy-sweet corn and twice baked potato smothered in cheese and crispy bacon. Even the bread (which I should have skipped) was heavenly. I couldn't even eat a quarter of my meal, but it was wonderful!
Before we left, I took a seat at the table where Frank Sinatra used to sit when he dined.
Why would Sinatra dine here, when his own resort was a short walk away? Evidently he liked to escape attention at Cal-Neva sometimes. Supposedly he sat at that very table with Marilyn... I'm not sure I believe that.
We headed back after dinner. In the dimmer light, I tried to imagine the historic hotel and casino, how they looked in the 1950's or 1930's.
Both buildings looked quiet and tidy. So very different than casino resorts of Reno and Vegas!
We spent the night in a hotel that was once part of resort community, back when Nevada just started to attract gamblers... as well as couples seeking fast weddings and divorces.
Our overnight adventure was a mix of historic hotel and retro casino. I wasn't sure how this notable night was going to be, when I first booked. But Don and I both kind of fell for the odd combo. We had fun exploring. We ate well. We slept well, with open windows...
And the nearby scenery wasn't bad either!
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!