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New for Napa
Jenn Thornton | Photo: Courtesy Images | July 1, 2013
With an innovative gastro-cocktail concept and a trendy new downtown hotel, Napa finally gets what it needs—a nightlife scene.
I can’t say that I visit the wine country often (or ever) for “cocktails,” but there I was at the Andaz Napa (napa.andaz.hyatt.com, @andaznapa), a trendy downtown hotel in Napa’s West End, preparing to do just that for the buzzy opening of adjacent newcomer, Empire (empirenapa.com, @empirenapa).
Now perhaps you’re thinking (as I initially did): Andaz, that’s a Hyatt property, right? Indeed. But Andaz Hotels by Hyatt, the megabrand’s boutique spinoff, have produced a procession of outposts in cosmo locales, all flaunting a bonanza of cool-concept bona fides—intimate footprints, modern-indigenous design, good-looking guest rosters and even Andaz Salons, culture clubs that aim to creatively engage guests with local influencers of all stripes.
Well, rest assured. Andaz Napa boasts all of the above, plus 141 guest rooms, where white marble, dual-sided glass fireplaces and the latest in tech trimmings (the TV in my roost makes a full spin for 360 viewing) come standard. On the ground floor, Andaz Farmers Table revives typical hotel fare with atypical good taste, especially for freshly prepared, full-flavored breakfast, featuring generous helpings of morning staples—make way for the meaty bacon! Mercantile Social, meanwhile, brims with zesty bevs and even grab-and-go options. Combined, these spoils spin a fresh regional narrative—now with a new chapter befitting its heart-of-downtown berth.
Enter Empire, a new lounge adjacent to the Andaz with wee hours accessibility. It’s bucking a trend that, historically, has helped keep Napa comatose—closing at 9pm. The launch of this late-night lair (open till 2am on weekends) clips the heels of the Gatsby craze, making the snazzy speakeasy babe even more of a madcap good time. Michael Brennan-conceived interiors push the bounds of au courant with kicky cool styling—this dimly lit dazzler boasts a shouldn’t-work-but-does interplay of plush seating, sensory reds, trippy art, Gothic-tinged accents (flicker-filled candleboxes), and even an illuminated jellyfish aquarium.
Suspended overhead is a celestial ceiling installation, but the real stars are the food and drink. Empire is a create-your-own-experience kind of place—zip in for a quick bite or lounge for hours sampling chef Jennifer Petrusky’s Mediterranean-, Italian- and French-influenced small plates. Especially good is the short rib ravioli, a saucy reinvention featuring a shallot chutney; the cauliflower fritters (its kick comes from chili powder and charred pepper hummus); the lamb belly, with Moroccan barbecue sauce and pickled cabbage; and the DIY potato—genius. Finally, if you’ve not had a mango Kulfi popsicle (this one with peanut caramel), you’ve simply not yet lived.
For drinks, the venue’s rotating vino board innovates the ubiquitous wine list (another reason Napa can be a snooze), while a 12-year bourbon from Elijah Craig headlines its whiskey barrel program (order the Overland for a satisfying taste). There’s also plenty of California-produced microbrews and in-house crafted beer, plus artisanal and carbonated cocktails, with signature sips such as the Ukiah Sour (Mi Casa Blanco tequila, lavender syrup, lime and bergamot bitters) raising the stakes—and bonus points for Empire’s tableside delivery service (libations arrive by cocktail cart).
Told you downtown Napa is on a roll.