Pin It
Favorite

Rediscover Atascadero: A staycation reveals all the new things there are to do, see, eat, and drink in the North County city 

We've all heard the insults: Atrashcadero, Atascabama, Mud Hole. If SLO County had a redheaded stepchild city, it would surely be Atascadero, but guess what? A-Town has gone from joke to jewel. If you don't believe me, come along on my 20-hour whirlwind tour of this little hamlet founded in 1913 by E.G. Lewis.

click to enlarge SWANK The Carlton Hotel features a lovely second floor courtyard that's magical at night. - PHOTOS BY GLEN AND ANNA STARKEY
  • Photos By Glen And Anna Starkey
  • SWANK The Carlton Hotel features a lovely second floor courtyard that's magical at night.

It's Thursday, Oct. 7, and my wife, Anna, and I roll into A-Town around 5 p.m. and pull up to the Carlton Hotel. Damn, this place is swank. The old-school boutique property features 52 rooms and a second floor courtyard that's just gorgeous at night. The French doors of our room open onto the patio, where we unwind with an adult beverage.

click to enlarge STACKS OF WAX Traffic Record Store and its proprietor, Manuel Barba, are both A-Town gems—part of a close-knit fabric of business owners committed to reinventing Atascadero. - PHOTOS BY GLEN AND ANNA STARKEY
  • Photos By Glen And Anna Starkey
  • STACKS OF WAX Traffic Record Store and its proprietor, Manuel Barba, are both A-Town gems—part of a close-knit fabric of business owners committed to reinventing Atascadero.
click to enlarge SHH. IT'S A SECRET Glen and Anna Starkey ate sushi at a spot in Atascadero that didn't want the publicity—but if you find it, maybe you can get fresh bluefin nigiri like they did. - COVER PHOTO BY ANNA STARKEY
  • Cover Photo By Anna Starkey
  • SHH. IT'S A SECRET Glen and Anna Starkey ate sushi at a spot in Atascadero that didn't want the publicity—but if you find it, maybe you can get fresh bluefin nigiri like they did.

Our first stop is Traffic Records, the city's first and only independent record store, to say hello to proprietor Manuel Barba, the man who convinced me to spend some time getting to know the city. It's a bitchin' old-school record store with new and used vinyl.

After a chat and a look through the stacks, Manuel drops us off at a sushi restaurant that's so small and so busy the owners don't want any publicity. If you look, you'll find it, and it's worth it. The albacore tataki is crazy good, and so is the special rainbow roll that's stuffed with lobster salad and avocado. I also mack on bluefin nigiri the owners got fresh that morning from Giovanni's Fish Market in Morro Bay. Amazing! As we're leaving, we meet Herman, a terrier mix who we're assured by its owner is the Mayor of Traffic Way. He's the first of many dogs on our adventure.

click to enlarge DIVINE WINE Grape Encounter Emporium owner Dave Wilson treats us to an amazing zinfandel by St. Hilair and regales us with tales. - PHOTOS BY GLEN AND ANNA STARKEY
  • Photos By Glen And Anna Starkey
  • DIVINE WINE Grape Encounter Emporium owner Dave Wilson treats us to an amazing zinfandel by St. Hilair and regales us with tales.

Next we head to Grape Encounters Emporium, an intimate wine shop run by Dave Wilson, who knows a thing or to about wine. He's the host of the weekly syndicated radio show Grape Encounters, which boast 2.5 million listeners. Dave isn't pretentious and caters to regular people who just happen to like wine. He opens a bottle of St. Hilair zinfandel circa 2016.

"I think I'm holding in my hands one of the best zins you can get," Dave says. "Zin can be funny because you don't want it to get too old."

Dave thinks anticipation is important, apparently, because we're sitting there dying to try it and he keeps waxing poetic. Luckily, he has a dog named Henri, a Maltese Poodle, who Dave says is the acting President of Atascadero. I'm hanging with a ritzy crowd. We finally get our glasses of wine, and Dave is correct. Best zin I've ever had.

click to enlarge SUPERIOR SPIRITS Master mixologist Eric Olsen of Central Coast Distillery whips up some amazing cocktails—including this ice cream masterpiece—using his small batch Forager spirits. - PHOTOS BY GLEN AND ANNA STARKEY
  • Photos By Glen And Anna Starkey
  • SUPERIOR SPIRITS Master mixologist Eric Olsen of Central Coast Distillery whips up some amazing cocktails—including this ice cream masterpiece—using his small batch Forager spirits.

Wine is fine, but I'm ready to try the hard stuff, so we make our way to Central Coast Distillery, home of Forager spirits—handcrafted in small batches by proprietors Anna and Eric Olson. This little hole-in-the-wall distillery is an absolute gem, and Eric sets us up with a flight tasting of his five signature liquors—vodka distilled from raw honey, a super tasty gin, bourbon-barreled rum, bourbon whiskey, and a Reposado-style Mezcal made from Paso Robles-grown agave roasted over an almond wood fire.

Each spirit is so delicious, nuanced, and complex, I could happily sip them neat, but Eric's a wizard who also creates us a few craft cocktails to show us how well his spirits mix. Gin, lemonade, rosemary, and a lemon slice? Yes, please! A dark rum strawberry mojito? Hell yes! An old fashioned with a cinnamon stick and fresh local fig? You're killing me, Eric, and I like it! He even makes us an ice cream cocktail. We can't stay here forever, though, so after confirming that Eric and Anna are dog people who have a half pit bull half Great Dane named El Chapo, we depart with a promise to return.

click to enlarge THE PLACE TO BE The Raconteur Room is a hub for music, beer/wine, and dog lovers. We saw The Turkey Buzzards play. - PHOTOS BY GLEN AND ANNA STARKEY
  • Photos By Glen And Anna Starkey
  • THE PLACE TO BE The Raconteur Room is a hub for music, beer/wine, and dog lovers. We saw The Turkey Buzzards play.

On to the Raconteur Room, owned by Tyler and Shannon Clark. It's a super hip beer and wine bar that tonight is hosting Morro Bay duo The Turkey Buzzards, a gritty Americana act.

This place is hopping on a Thursday night, and I wish we had something like it in SLO Town. In addition to seeing local musician celebrities such as Azere Wilson and Bobby Vasnaver, there are a bunch of dogs, which always make me happy. I meet Willie, a McNab, and another curly-haired dog named Daisy, and Anna and I leave happy and return to the Carlton and its gorgeous courtyard for a night cap.

If you thought that was the end of it, we're just getting started. We sleep in much later than usual and decide to take a walk because Colony Market & Deli, which everyone raves about, doesn't open until 10 a.m. We walk down El Camino Real, past a huge new mixed-use development and on to the historic City Hall and Sunken Gardens. I'm telling you, A-Town is blossoming.

click to enlarge BAKE, BABY, BAKE Colony Market & Deli manager Mark Elterman shows off their new wood-fired pizza oven, which will soon be churning out Neapolitan-style pies. - PHOTOS BY GLEN AND ANNA STARKEY
  • Photos By Glen And Anna Starkey
  • BAKE, BABY, BAKE Colony Market & Deli manager Mark Elterman shows off their new wood-fired pizza oven, which will soon be churning out Neapolitan-style pies.

Colony Market is at the site of an old auto garage, and its massive roll-up doors give it an open and airy feel. My wife orders a Frozé champagne float and I have a Cali Squeeze while we wait for breakfast burritos, which I got "Ancient Owl style," with duck fat fries and avocado instead of the standard potatoes. On what planet is this only nine bucks?

Owned by Shane and Joanna Wemple, who are vacationing in Mexico, the deli boasts super fresh, top quality ingredients and weirdly low prices. A Monte Cristo for less than 11 bucks? Crazy! And things are about to get even hotter at Colony Market—like 900 degrees hotter.

"We just built this wood-fired pizza oven," manager Mark Elterman explains. "We'll be curing it over the next couple weeks and get signed off by the fire department. Then we'll be making Neapolitan style pizzas, but like everything, Shane will put his own spin on it."

click to enlarge ALL THE BEERS Ancient Owl Beer Garden has a monster selection of beers on tap and an inviting venue that hosts live music on the weekends. - PHOTOS BY GLEN AND ANNA STARKEY
  • Photos By Glen And Anna Starkey
  • ALL THE BEERS Ancient Owl Beer Garden has a monster selection of beers on tap and an inviting venue that hosts live music on the weekends.

We'll be back for that for sure. This burrito is the bomb! I pet a Golden-Doodle named Molly and we walk over to Ancient Owl, a really cool beer garden constructed from a bunch of 40-foot shipping containers. Owners Larry Duterte and Marcin Andruszkiewicz are working hard to drain a keg so they can tap a Pliny the Elder, but my wife and I refuse to help and instead order a couple of sour beers from Prairie Artisan Ales.

"Food trucks park back there on weekends," Marcin explains, gesturing to the back parking lot. "Fridays we have a DJ and Saturdays and Sundays have live music. Tuesdays are great because we have tacos from La Parrilla."

I tell him them we just had burritos from Colony.

"Did you have an Ancient Owl style?" Larry asks. "We invented that."

Hats off, gents!

I meet a border collie named Zoe, and Marcin tells me, "We get a lot of dogs here. On a Friday night, we'll have about 20. We have to lint roll our merch at the end of the night. Kids are welcome, too. We have free juice boxes and a candy jar curated by my daughter."

The tides are definitely changing in A-Town. We've barely scratched the surface of all the cool places to check out. I've already got The Poisoned Apple Cider Bar on my list. Hopefully, a dog will be there. Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

Tags:

Pin It
Favorite

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Search, Find, Enjoy

Submit an event

Trending Now

© 2021 New Times San Luis Obispo
Powered by Foundation