December 18, 2018

8 great and cozy spots in famously mountainy and snowy Mammoth Lakes, California


High Sierra: Highway 395

8 great and cozy spots in famously mountainy and snowy Mammoth Lakes, California

Whether you visit the majestic Mammoth Lakes area in winter or off season, you’ll want a spot to wind down from the mega activities so popular in the area.  Cozy spots--which aren’t always small--are found throughout the town, including at a distillery, a brew pub, and an environmentally-friendly coffeehouse.

landmark mammoth statue at Mammoth Lakes, California
landmark mammoth statue at Mammoth Lakes, California


1.  Black Doubt Brewing Co.  “We don’t brew the same beer twice,” says owner Drew Wallace--a former home brewer.  There’s always a little variation because they are always tweaking the recipes.  This nano brewery produces just 120 barrels per year.  The brews are available only here, but it is possible to can a favorite brew on the spot to take home.  I tried a lager, a sour, and their most popular brew--the rich, nutty, and dark Peanut Butter Imperial Stout, which also became my favorite.  No food is served, but patrons are encouraged to bring in take-out and some local restaurants will deliver orders.  Monday night is open mike and very popular with locals, live music is scheduled on some other nights, and kids and dogs are welcome.

tasting flight at Black Doubt Brewing Co. in Mammoth Lakes, California
tasting flight at Black Doubt Brewing Co. in Mammoth Lakes, California


2.  Bleu Handcrafted Foods  This large boutique market offers restaurant and bar service as well as one-stop gourmet shopping.  You can taste California olive oils and vinegars while you view the glassed-in bakery that prepares breads and other goodies like shortbread cookies--all made with 100% organic flour milled in San Francisco.  You can pick up some house-pickled vegetables, deli salads (the Asia noodles and kale-quinoa are particularly delicious), and Fra Mani salami from Berkeley, as well as soups and sauces--all made with quality ingredients, and perfect to pack along for a picnic lunch at Yosemite or a trek to Devils Postpile.  And you can also dine on site.  One delicious lunch for two began here with the soups of the day--a carrot ginger and a steak chili--and continued with a tri-tip steak sandwich on housemade roll.  Drinks were a craft IPA and a glass of rose, and dessert was French-press coffee with beignets.

deli case offerings at Bleu Handcrafted Foods in Mammoth Lakes, California
deli case offerings at Bleu Handcrafted Foods in Mammoth Lakes, California


3.  Devils Creek Distillery  The entire grain-to-bottle process for this small batch craft distiller is handled on site by the Mendel family.  Bailey, their English black lab, hangs around offering encouragement.  White Mountain Rum is aged in used zinfandel barrels and in new oak barrels.  “The distillation process is all about leaving things behind,” comments son Clayton.  When I visited in June of 2018, the distillery was on the verge of opening.  The plan is to produce 1,200 gallons per year.  My rye tasting included a spectacular bourbon-bacon chocolate chip cookie.  State law requires that the distillery charges for a tasting.

barrel tasting at Devils Creek Distillery in Mammoth Lakes, California
barrel tasting at Devils Creek Distillery in Mammoth Lakes, California


4.  Mammoth Brewing Company  This is the highest-altitude brewery on the West Coast.  Seating options include being tucked away on the main floor by the bar, upstairs in an expansive open room with a tree-line view and sports-tuned TVs, and outside in a giant open-air, semi-sheltered beer garden.  The way to go for first-timers is a flight.  Food is ordered at a counter inside, and options include the Chop Chop Chicken Salad, Damn Good Burger (though they were out of it when I visited), and the Holy $#@& Dog, which I opted for--it was made with kobe beef, over a foot long, and delicious, but I could only eat half.  Everyone raves about the double nut brown porter, and seasonal beers include Cherry Sour in summer.  And don’t forget the house-brewed root beer.  Unfortunately, and unbelievably, I tried none of them and will just have to come back again.  The brewing operation takes place partially outside, and this microbrewery produces 9,000 barrels each year.

beer garden at Mammoth Brewing Company in Mammoth Lakes, California
beer garden at Mammoth Brewing Company in Mammoth Lakes, California


5.  Mammoth Tavern  Appetizers and a drink are a great way to go here--think fried chicken sliders, croquettes, warm spinach-artichoke-jalapeno dip--perhaps with a Moscow Mule.  Sandwiches (including a short rib grilled cheese), a popular burger, and both bigger plates (steak, fish, shepherd’s pie) and fondues are also available.  The Weak Wallet Wednesday special might be a salmon filet atop a kale salad plus a white wine or a beer.  The menu changes regularly.  The bar is inviting, and ‘most everyone gets a beautiful mountain view.

bar at Mammoth Tavern in Mammoth Lakes, California
bar at Mammoth Tavern in Mammoth Lakes, California


6.  Petra’s Bistro & Wine Bar  6080 Minaret Rd., (760) 934-3500.  Looking like a Swiss chalet on the outside an assortment of welcoming flags, this spot carries through on the inside with an Old World decor.  Opened in 1972 and named for the owner’s mother, the structure has been added on to through the years.  The accomplished kitchen produces some delicious items.  Starters on the continental menu might include strawberry-arugula salad or cold gazpacho, while salmon filet, coq au vin, and butternut squash ravioli might be among the main courses.  Desserts fall towards the classics--banana cream pie, chocolate mousse.

exterior of Petra's Bistro & Wine Bar in Mammoth Lakes, California
exterior of Petra's Bistro & Wine Bar in Mammoth Lakes, California

Outside, around the back, and down some stairs, is the subterranean Clocktower Cellar wine bar.   But plenty of beers are on tap, too.  Don’t miss a stint on the outside ski lift chair swing before departing.

bar at Clocktower Cellar wine bar in Mammoth Lakes, California
bar at Clocktower Cellar wine bar in Mammoth Lakes, California


7.  Stellar Brew  This popular, cozy little coffeehouse features a cheery atmosphere and rustic decor.  Outdoor seating on a spacious patio is also available.  Former barista Andrea Walker opened it in 2009 when she was in her 20s.  Now a 36-year-old nursing mom with three kids, she manages to oversee her business and run several other enterprises as well.  The motto here is “where the grateful are fed.”  The organic fair trade coffee is roasted in Bishop, and pastries and sauces are made on site.  And in consideration of the collective good, straws are made from corn starch and compostable.  I loved the giant, coconutty Homestead cookie, which I paired with an off-the-menu improvised iced hot chocolate, but the breakfast menu also offers an acai bowl, housemade granola, and smoothies.  At 11 a.m., sandwiches and salads join the menu. 

interior of Stellar Brew in Mammoth Lakes, California
interior of Stellar Brew in Mammoth Lakes, California


8.  Whitebark  Situated off the lobby of the Monarche resort, this nicely decorated restaurant with a warming fireplace features a sushi bar.  Service is good, TVs are in the bar, and good views of the woodsy surrounds are an additional treat.

hotel lobby of Whitebark restaurant in Mammoth Lakes, California
hotel lobby of Whitebark restaurant in Mammoth Lakes, California


More things to do in Mammoth Lakes.

More things to do in nearby Yosemite.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images and video ©2018 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

December 12, 2018

San Francisco: Axiom Hotel + Turn Cafe; hotel review + restaurant review


San Francisco

Axiom Hotel  28 Cyril Magnin St., 3 blks. from Union Square, (415) 392-9466.  152 rooms; 6 stories.  Fitness room; communal game area.  Restaurant; room service.  Valet parking $59-$64/night.  Pets ok.

exterior of Axiom Hotel in San Francisco, California
exterior of Axiom Hotel in San Francisco, California
Built in 1908 in the Beaux-Arts style of architecture that was popular when San Francisco was being rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, this newly remodeled boutique hotel is a mix of artsy and contemporary minimalist (think exposed-pipe ceilings), yet retains its vintage design elements.  High ceilings are found throughout, and it features a beautiful original staircase with iron banisters but also has two modern elevators.  And though the official front door on Cyril Magnin Street is where guests unload their cars, the alternative Powell Street entrance is one of San Francisco’s best--right smack in front of the cable car turnaround.  The reception lounge holds a small library stocked with San Francisco- and California-related books, and Astro the hotel’s pet robot (he delivers items to guest rooms using a storage space in his head) rests here when not working and accommodates selfie requests.

lobby of Axiom Hotel with delivery robot in San Francisco, California
lobby of Axiom Hotel with delivery robot in San Francisco, California

Guests can refill their personal water bottles at a Brita Hydration Station located on each floor, and quiet, motion-activated central heat and air conditioning turn on and off automatically as guests enter or leave the room.  Plumbing is new, and double-paned windows keep street noise way down.  Additionally, the hotel is techie-friendly with everything from alarm clocks with iPhone 6 charger attachment, to Smart TVs that you order room service though, to grey hoodie sweatshirt robes.

guest room bed at Axiom Hotel with delivery robot in San Francisco, California
guest room bed at Axiom Hotel with delivery robot in San Francisco, California


Turn Cafe is a super casual lobby restaurant and bar.  Happy hour specials include delicious Cajun kale chips and carne asada tacos, both of which pair well with the photogenic rye “Axiom” house cocktail that is laden beautifully across the top with four big red, juicy maraschino cherries (I adored this cocktail).   I plan to return to try the breakfast Acai Bowl and French toast brioche.  The eclectic menu for the rest of the day has something for everyone and includes several burgers, tacos, and pastas.

interior of Turn Cafe at Axiom Hotel with delivery robot in San Francisco, California
interior of Turn Cafe at Axiom Hotel with delivery robot in San Francisco, California


carne asada tacos at Turn Cafe at Axiom Hotel with delivery robot in San Francisco, California
carne asada tacos at Turn Cafe at Axiom Hotel with delivery robot in San Francisco, California


cherry-heavy Axiom cocktail at Turn Cafe at Axiom Hotel with delivery robot in San Francisco, California
cherry-heavy Axiom cocktail at Turn Cafe at Axiom Hotel with delivery robot in San Francisco, California


Way more things to do in San Francisco.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images ©2018 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

December 4, 2018

Berkeley: The Bear’s Lair Tavern; restaurant review


80 North

The Bear’s Lair Tavern  2465 Bancroft Way/Telegraph Ave., in Eshleman Student Union, (510) 664-4191.  L-D M-Sat.

interior of The Bear’s Lair Tavern in Berkeley, California
interior of The Bear’s Lair Tavern in Berkeley, California

The BLT isn’t your grandpa’s Bear’s Lair.  With a new name and a new menu, the Lair has also opened up into the light.  No longer the dingy downstairs retreat of yesteryear--a real lair--the Lair today has moved away from the original Student Union and is now a first-floor, table-and-chairs kind of place with an abundance of light provided by walls of windows, one of which looks out to Lower Sproul Plaza and has a view of the Campanile.  However this Lair does make a nod to the good old days with its blessedly familiar upbeat sound track--think “Good Vibrations” and Sugar Pie, Honey Bun.”  The bar dispenses an assortment of local brews and a variety of cocktails.  Whatever you do, don’t miss the refreshing vodka-powered Butterfly Soda made with exotic butterfly pea blossoms from Thailand.  Through a biochemical reaction, the drink turns from blue to lavender right before your eyes as it is prepared.



Now inching away from typical student fare towards gourmet gastropub cuisine, the menu offers sambal chili-honey chicken wings and a signature fried chicken sandwich.  My dining partner and I shared a simple salmon filet atop quinoa topped again with a dab of chimichurri sauce for a little kick (I would have liked a lot more of that tasty sauce),

salmon with quinoa at The Bear’s Lair Tavern in Berkeley, California
salmon with quinoa at The Bear’s Lair Tavern in Berkeley, California

and a Cobb Salad consisting of romaine lettuce topped with the expected ingredients--avocado, hard-boiled egg, bacon, and bits of that delicious fried chicken.

Cobb Salad at The Bear’s Lair Tavern in Berkeley, California
Cobb Salad at The Bear’s Lair Tavern in Berkeley, California

Of course, this menu must have a burger and so it offers several--a classic patty on a toasted brioche bun, as well as the highly-publicized Impossible Burger.  Pizzas are also an option.  Ordering at the counter helps keep costs down and makes service faster.  The bar offers prime TV seating, but communal tables and traditional private tables are also available.  In good weather, a large beer garden complete with fire pits provides plenty more seating outside.


More things to do in Berkeley.

Way more thing to do in Berkeley.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images and video ©2018 Carole Terwilliger Meyers