May, 2017 Edition

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A Hidden Gem

Carlton Hotel at center of burgeoning Atascadero scene

The City of Atascadero, located between San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles on Highway 101, is a sleepy little burg. In the past, some might have said that it's a little too sleepy, but recently the downtown area is experiencing a renaissance of sorts — abandoned buildings have been replaced by hotels, art galleries, coffee shops and even a few wine bars.
The downtown area's first wine bar — the Grape Encounters Emporium — opened in 2014 and a new tasting room — Ruby Cellars — opened just this year. The area is obviously still a work in progress with limited options when it comes to nightlife, food and wine, but that is quickly changing and the city has a lot to offer those looking to experience the surrounding wine regions.
At the center of the downtown revival is the Carlton Hotel. The hotel first opened its doors in late 1929 with the first floor serving as a retail space — home to Sprouse-Ritz, JC Penny, Safeway, a restaurant and a coffee shop — along with 26 hotel rooms on the second floor. The hotel was a beacon for movie stars and other dignitaries staying in the area and also served as a hub of the downtown community. Eventually the hotel was transformed into a senior care facility in the 1970s and then fell into disrepair and was abandoned for most of the 80s and 90s.
David and Mary Weyrich, Paso Robles residents at the time, bought the building in 1999 and set about returning the hotel to its former glory. Nearly the entire building was torn down other than two exterior walls and rebuilt from the ground up. In addition to the hotel lobby, the first floor was reconfigured to include a gorgeous restaurant space and a bakery.
"My dad has an affinity for historic buildings and really nice architecture," said David Weyrich's daughter Annie, who serves as the hotel's assistant manager. Annie said that her father spent many years in the billboard industry, traveling most of the time and staying in hotels all over California.
"(When he bought the hotel) He'd been looking to make something that's beautiful here on the Central Coast for people when they're traveling, when they're going up and down the 101. So he really wanted to have nice bathrooms and very comfortable beds — those were the two most important features to him. He loves the Four Seasons, so he took the look of the restrooms in the Four Seasons and that's what we kind of modeled our restrooms on, so big, jetted tubs, marble and travertine… but beyond the comfort of the beds and the restrooms, he wanted it to have this feel — that historic feel — so we worked with local craftsmen on all the wood work, all the metal work. It was just great talent that we have in this area that came together to do everything."
The new Carton Hotel reopened in 2004 and has since attracted a a bevy of regular customers interested in exploring Paso wine country. Hotel manager Deana Alexander said that as much as 75 percent of the hotel's guests come for the wine and, despite the sleepiness of Atascadero, they generally find the Carlton to be the perfect launching point for their adventures.
"It's a great stop for wine tourists," she said. "We're only five miles from the beginning of the Templeton Highway 46 wineries, actually a little closer than Paso."
Weyrich pointed out that the hotel is nearly an equal distance from not only the Paso Robles AVA and the Edna Valley AVA, but also the Creston Wine Trail to the east and the coastal wineries to the west.
"To be able to get a feel for the entire county and the wines that are present here, this is the place to come to," she said. "We don't have the hustle and bustle that Paso does — it's just a perfect spot."
Accommodations and amenities at the Carlton are plush. There is no room smaller than 375 square-feet, all but two of the rooms have over-sized, jetted tubs in marble and travertine bathrooms, the hotel is furnished with Thomasville furnishings, Egyptian cotton towels and bedding and handmade Italian linens… and the list goes on. The hotel's 24 rooms are arranged around an open, second-floor courtyard with patio tables and umbrellas.
"Part of the amenity is just the ambiance of the hotel," Weyrich said. "It's just the feel, the woodwork that's hand-made, the metalwork that's hand-made, the kind of glow you get in the lobby area. So an amenity of the property isn't just coffee in your room and things, but it having that real, authentic feel. It's not particle board manufactured, it's hand-made and people can tell the difference."
The authenticity of the hotel that guests so admire is also what they like about Atascadero in general, Weyrich said.
"Our guests choose our hotel because it's something that's unique and feels real and they like Atascadero for those same reasons," she said. "They come and walk around downtown and just because it's not picture perfect… they like that. They like the authenticity and the shops and the people inside the shops. So many people say it so appropriately — it is a hidden gem. We're not a big tourist destination and that's ok."