"Cosmopolitan with a small 'c'" is a terrific way to describe Napa's continuing evolution from a drive-by town to a vibrant destination for visitors to Napa Valley. Since our story last year on recent development in the city, "Downtown Renaissance," there has been another surge of growth. Here's what's new, from new hotels, restaurants and bars to a revamped wine train.
Archer Hotel Napa
1230 First St.
Telephone (707) 690-9800
This chic five-story hotel with private balconies overlooking First Street changed the Napa skyline. But its elemental design fits into the landscape, with rich textures and natural materials and a grapevine chandelier dripping with crystals hanging from a skylight atrium.
The open lobby is a comfortable gathering place, shared with the lively Charlie Palmer restaurant. Guest rooms feature premium linens, an espresso maker and a wine fridge (there's a wine expert on staff 24/7) and many have a gas-burning fireplace. Cozy robes, slippers and a selection of books to read add to the charm, as do details that are special to Napa, such as original local art on the walls, caramels from Napa confectionary Anette's, and rubber ducks for the bathtub in the shape of grapes. The rooftop restaurant Sky & Vine, with firepits and comfortable lounge chairs, is open to the public, while a ledge pool, private cabanas and a spa are reserved for hotel guests. Archer also brings some much-needed event space to the area, with 17,000 square feet of modern rooms.
Charlie Palmer Steak Napa / Sky & Vine
Archer Hotel Napa, 1260 First St.
Telephone Charlie Palmer Steak: (707) 819-2500
Sky & Vine: (707) 819-2490
Website www.charliepalmersteak.com/locations/napa; www.skyandvine.com
Open Charlie Palmer Steak: Dinner, daily; Sky & Vine: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Charlie Palmer Steak: Expensive; Sky & Vine: Moderate
Corkage Charlie Palmer Steak: $50; Sky & Vine: $35
Chef Charlie Palmer operates two separate concepts in the Archer. At lobby level is the fifth iteration of Palmer's steak-house concept; Sky & Vine is Napa's first rooftop bar, with a spectacular view of downtown Napa and the mountain ranges beyond. Each has its own menu and wine list.
The more formal steak house offers both typical and inventive fare, from oysters and Caesar salad to an American Wagyu beef carpaccio accented by crisp shiitakes, jalapeño, soy-lime and kimchi tapioca. The strength is in the steaks: perfectly cooked, 21-day dry-aged porterhouses, bone-in New York strips and rib eyes. Sides are executed just as well; potato gnocchi with sage brown butter and Parmesan was a standout on a recent visit. The chimichurri sauce option for the steaks paired well with a rich Napa Cabernet. Half of the 400-selection wine list comes from Napa, with plenty of offerings from Burgundy and Champagne as well.
Sky & Vine has both table seating and comfortable lounge seating around firepits, making it easy to linger and soak in the atmosphere. The compact menu features satisfying casual fare such as a fried chicken sandwich, a muffuletta panini, and tender braised octopus on a bed of English peas and fava beans, accented with chorizo. The California-heavy wine list includes offerings on tap and in cans, with most selections under $100. There are some fun twists; a "reverse" happy hour starts at 9 p.m. every night, and on Brown Bag Wednesday, the staff picks a bottle of wine, brown-bags it for blind tasting and asks guests to guess vintner, varietal and vintage. One correct guess means 10 percent off the bottle, two correct guesses is 50 percent off, and all three means the bottle costs only $1.
1300 First St., 312
Telephone (707) 492-8150
Open Lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Monday
"There was no place in Napa we'd like to hang out and drink," explains founder and Master Sommelier Matt Stamp of the inspiration for the wine bar, restaurant and retail shop he opened with Ryan Stetins late last year. The comfortable, welcoming interior extends into a lounge that can further open up to an outdoor patio in the shade of a cork oak tree. There are two wine collections: the 100 selections for sale in the retail section at the front, most priced under $35, and the 125-bottle wine list. Both feature plenty of influences from Europe and South Africa.
Chef Yancy Windsperger has created a menu that he calls a "conversation" between food and wine, focusing on local, seasonal ingredients with a heavy dose of comfort. A half duck might be roasted with wild mushrooms and orange jus, a pork dish served with a savory bread pudding with celery and apples. From 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., there's a daily "family meal" offering—a plate of food and glass of wine for $20. Compline also offers a strong education program, with classes designed to help tourists get the most out of their wine country experience, or for wine lovers to broaden their international understanding.
145 Gasser Drive, Suite A
Telephone (707) 927-5956
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Moderate to Expensive
NapaSport has quickly become a local favorite, offering multiple dining options, but overall known for great service and tasty food. The main entrance opens up to the high-end sports bar with a distinctive floor that looks like a basketball court, a huge football mural, plenty of televisions, a copper bar and large, semiprivate booths. On the other side of the restaurant is a more formal setting, a quiet and cozy TV-free steak house with dark wood and leather chairs and a glass partition that peeks into the kitchen. There's also a takeout menu, with daily offerings like beef stroganoff or meatloaf with sides.
The menu is an even mix of casual fare and steak-house options. Burgers, fried chicken, chicken potpie and deviled eggs are popular to munch on while watching a game, while the grass-fed Omaha prime and American Wagyu steaks, sold by the ounce, cut to order and served with classic sauces, are a better fit for the quieter side of the restaurant. In addition to all of the indulgent dishes are some lighter choices, like a grilled cauliflower steak accented with pesto, or seared ahi tuna with soba noodles. The wine list is entirely California (except for Champagne), with most of the offerings for $60 or less.
Napa Wine Train
1275 McKinstry St.
Telephone (800) 427-4124
Cost Tours $75-$392
Beautifully refurbished vintage cars, a huge upgrade to the food and plenty of tour options have made the train an appealing way to exlore Napa Valley, without having to worry about driving. There are now dozens of packages—winery visits, including trips to St. Supéry, Beringer, Hall and Inglenook (a private shuttle service gets wine lovers to and from wineries not directly on the train route), winemaker dinners, sunset tours, live music concerts and murder mystery experiences.
The Famiglia Tour is a 6-hour adventure that includes a four-course meal and stops at Silverado Vineyards, Whitehall Lane and Grgich Hills for $332 per person; the Castle Winery Tour pairs a visit to the popular Castello di Amorosa with a gourmet, California cuisine lunch and one-and-a-half-hour train ride for $269.