You know you are in a different kind of place when you check in to the hotel and the receptionist tells you, “There’s a bat just sitting tight on the 3rd floor; you are on the 2nd floor so you will be ok. That bat is a cute little thing though.” It’s not every day you are checking into a hotel occupied by winged mammals and maybe even ghosts. But here I was, checking into a time warp at the Burlington Hotel.
I was in Port Costa, California surrounded by remnants of a past heyday and carefully restored to tell its story. “Victorian, dilapidated awesomeness” is how the lady who works at Honey House Cafe, the only cafe in town, described Port Costa. She fell in love with the town the first time she visited, a welcome escape from dreary San Francisco for her. “I needed the sun”, she said. I could see what she was talking about. At eight in the morning, the sun was blazing through the windows of the cafe greeted by wafts of freshly baked cornbread, served with a drizzle of locally made honey.
It’s the kind of town where you can’t really distract yourself with a checklist of things to do. The town center is only one block with the Burlington hotel, the Honey House Cafe and the notorious Warehouse Cafe rounding out the cul de sac. Beyond the train tracks bookending the town lies the water that carried the giant vessels that gave this little town its reason for existence. Founded in 1879, Port Costa was a major center of the grain trade between the Central California Valley and the rest of the world. Waterfront warehouses and saloons were built to support the merchant traders until the town became obsolete with the building of the Benicia bridge.
“It just smells old.” my husband said when we put down our things in the “Ethyl” room at the hotel. I had given him very little information about where we were headed on our first stop during our July 4th California road trip. I wanted him to have the privilege of not knowing, which you only can have if you haven’t spent hours researching and planning. And he was right, it did smell old. Not in a moldy, musty way, but in an authentic way. While the inn had been renovated, it had retained all of its Victorian charm and allusions to its sordid past. The sign at the front of the hotel lays it out for you so you are clear it is not pretending to be something it is not. The owners don’t believe this was a bordello, the sign says, but we have every reason to believe it is. With each of the rooms named after a lady of the night that was known to have worked there, the hotel seems to celebrate its history.
The newest addition to the place is the sensational Bull Valley Roadhouse, by the owners of the Slanted Door in San Francisco. To say it might have been one of the best meals I have had would be an understatement. I got the summer risotto which was pure magic. My carnivorous husband sang its praises as well. All the menu items are locally sourced and paired with pre-Prohibition era cocktails and time travel-worthy decor, it’s a meal to remember.
The end of the night brings you right across the street at Warehouse Cafe, notorious for a good time and an experience unto itself. Strong drinks while being stared at by a giant polar bear amidst a rambunctious crowd all looking to have a good time; what better way to end the night in this trip back in time?!
Definitely a weekend trip worth taking from the Bay Area!
Veggie Delite Tip: The summer risotto on the seasonal menu and the macaroni & cheese gratin side at Bull Valley Roadhouse are to DIE for! Highly recommend the fresh cornbread at the Honey House Cafe.