By Fran Endicott Miller | Photos Courtesy of Calistoga Inn
In the late 1800s, California’s first millionaire, Sam Brannan, envisioned Calistoga as a healthful gathering spot for the rich and famous. Main Street featured resorts, inns, and hot springs that catered to visitors from the big city. And though much has changed since Brannan’s time, his inspiration continues to fuel Calistoga’s popularity as a locale. Many of the original buildings from Brannan’s time now house eateries that are part of Calistoga’s “food row,” such as the popular Calistoga Inn Restaurant and Brewery at the southern end of Lincoln Avenue.
Cozy and inviting in the cooler months and a convivial gathering spot during warmer weather, the restaurant and brewery are housed in historic, late 1800s structures that have long served as both eatery and inn. Recognizing the need to stay ahead of the hospitality curve, owner Michael Dunsford recently gave his property a major facelift, including a full remodel of the pub and main dining room interiors, construction of a new indoor-outdoor patio bar, and upgraded landscaping throughout the patio and beer garden areas. Improvements to the entryway have also opened up the popular patio that stretches along the Napa River and where music can be enjoyed from May through October from 6 to 9 p.m.
“After 30 years of ownership, it was time for a refresh,” says Dunsford, who purchased the restaurant and inn in 1989 with his mother, Rosie, former proprietor of Rosie’s Café in Tahoe City. “We saw the potential in the beautiful buildings and the prime location, and we’ve been fortunate to have maintained popularity for three decades,” he explains. Two new Calistoga resorts—The Four Seasons on Silverado Trail and Calistoga Hills on the other side of town—are near completion, and their clientele will likely come to the eatery with a high level of expectation of service, food quality, and ambiance. “We are positioning ourselves to attract these new visitors and to continue to claim our distinction as one of Napa’s top destinations,” he adds.
Executive Chef Santiago Garcia mans the kitchen, where several employees have served since the Dunsford purchase. His vast menu features locally sourced wine country cuisine. Lunch favorites include the Shrimp Louie Salad, the Heirloom Tomato and Fig Salad, and the Best Burger. Popular dinner items include wood fire grilled steaks and seafood. The wine list features local luxury wines, including Duckhorn, Shafer, Rombauer, and Frank Family.
Dunsford also operates Napa Valley Brewing Company out of the historic water tower on the property, featuring a 7-barrel gasfired brew house in which he brews five principal beers: American Wheat Ale, Palisades Pilsner, Calistoga Red Ale, West Coast I.P.A., and Blue Collar Porter. Seasonal beers are also produced throughout the year. “After a long day of wine tasting, there’s nothing like a cold beer on the patio at the Calistoga Inn,” says Dunsford.
And, as the name states, the property also boasts an inn. Seventeen cozy rooms occupy the second floor, and a single cottage provides additional privacy, allowing guests to have their beer and wine and drink it, too.