Upper Lake’s vintage Tallman Hotel anchors a throwback downtown
Tucked away on the north end of Clear Lake, a summer vacation hub and wine region, the village of Upper Lake welcomes visitors with an arch over Main Street, announcing the founding of the town in 1854. In the mid-1800s, the first vacationers arrived in stagecoaches, then cruised the lake on steamboats to waterfront health resorts. Then, the main attractions were “taking the waters” at natural hot springs, which were believed to have healing properties.
Nowadays, the hamlet of Upper Lake is a weekend destination, where visitors linger on the
two-block Main Street, discovering Old West-style and late Victorian buildings lined up along wooden sidewalks.
Anchoring the town, as pure white as a wedding cake, with rocking chairs on wraparound porches, the 17-room Tallman Hotel once hosted stagecoach passengers, ranchers and loggers. After four decades of neglect, the stately landmark, listed on the California Register of Historical Resources, was purchased and restored by Lynne and Bernie Butcher, and now offers the most elegant accommodations on the lake. Unique here are private patios with Japanese ofuro-style soaking tubs and commodious ?Eastlake-style room interiors.
A swimming pool hides behind lush gardens, and roses run rampant around the property.
“Much of the town was abandoned when we decided to restore the property,” Bernie Butcher said. “Since then, our town has come to life, and visitors stroll the street, wine taste, and browse in the antiques and gift shops.”
Hotel guests and denizens of the town linger under the maple tree-shaded courtyard at the hotel, enjoying live music, libations and pub fare from the adjacent Blue Wing Saloon Restaurant. Demolished during Prohibition, the original watering hole was reconstructed by the Butchers with a striking interior of old-growth redwood and black walnut, and a fancy 1870s-era back bar, to hold forth today as an architectural icon under festive striped awnings.
The annual blues festival and barbecue held in the courtyard is a sellout every Labor Day weekend, when the hotel’s original 1902 piano gets a workout.
Martin Buckman, the guest services manager said, “I moved out here from New Hampshire, and I find that Upper Lake has a similar feel in vintage architecture as my hometown, which is also famous for its lakeside resorts. Our guests here have definitely been discovering us, as we get many first-timers, travelers from Europe and Canada, and wine lovers.”
Lake County wineries
A one-stop shop for the discovery of Lake County wines is just across the street from the hotel at Lake County Wine Studio, a sophisticated art gallery and tasting room specializing in locally grown and vinted wines.
In some cases, this is the only place, besides the wineries themselves, to try them. Popular with townspeople and hotel guests are the frequent art shows, winemaker nights and new wine releases, and food-and-wine pairings.
With more than 40 wineries in seven American viticultural areas, the county is famous for sauvignon blancs, petite syrahs and big reds like tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon, all grown in volcanic soil at elevations from 1,300 feet to over 3,000 feet. Showing off nearby wineries, the Tallman Hotel hosts a series of winemaker dinners, each with appearances by vineyard owners and winemakers; and, the wine list at the Blue Wing Saloon features only Lake County wines.
Shopping Upper Lake
Across the street from the hotel, Oliveira Antiques specializes in Western history and Americana. Powell’s Antiques is also on Main Street, and the 10,000-square-foot Vintage Antiques emporium has a “first Saturday” parking lot sale every month.
By the circa-1914 town clock in the old bank building, Upper Lake Mercantile is a cross between an art gallery and a boutique, loaded with curios and exotic goods.
Owner Ann Gerard imports Talavera pottery from Mexico and metal artworks from Haiti, and features jewelry, hand-tooled leather goods and colorful felted hats, all created by Lake County artisans.
Vintage Station Barbecue sports red-and-white classic gas pumps and a 1950s interior, where popular favorites are brisket, ribs, mac and cheese, “burnt ends” pork belly and tri-tip.
Annually in June, Wild West Day recalls the good old days of Upper Lake, population just over 1,000. Kids ride buckboards in the parade, cowboys ride into town, townfolk compete in the beard and bonnet contests, and steam-powered farm machinery and antique fire equipment are on display. McCarty’s beautiful blonde Belgian draft horses pull a wagon full of revelers, and are often seen in town on summer weekends. Food trucks assemble on Main Street, hometown bands play, and an old-fashioned strawberry ice cream social ends the day.