My wife and I have a fondness for the second and third tier cities of America. Many so-called cultured, sophisticated Americans will gladly spend days in rapture traipsing around in like cities in Western European countries (like Bruges, for example.) but disdain the American equivalents. I would argues that a city whose past glory lies in the 1950s is JUST AS INTERESTING as a city whose past glory lies in the 15th century. Unfortunately I live in the far south-western corner of the United States, so such cities are few and far between .
This weekend, I did happen to make it as far north as Bakersfield, CA. My wife and I repeatedly marveled on the four hour (five hour with traffic) drive from San Diego that Bakersfield is actually equidistant between San Diego and San Francisco/Sacramento, making it a natural way station for a grueling one day drive. We chose to stay at the Shertaon Four Points for reasons that my wife would be better equipped to explain (Here's a hint though.) Arrival was about 3 PM, so we headed "downtown" to hit a thrift/vintage store my wife was particuarly excited about. Across the street was the hotel pictured above, "The Padre Hotel." According to newspaper stories, the Padre was re-vamped in 2010 by a San Diego based partnership including Graham Downes and Bret Miller.
The vintage store that got my wife so excited was In Your Wildest Dreams, a three level, 21 thousand square foot consignment shop containing everything from clothes, to furniture, to records. In Your Wildest Dreams was not particularly cheap, but it was not what thrifters call "picked over" in the sense that SD/LA/SF area thrifters understand the term. There was PUH-lenty to buy. From my perspective, the books were poor, but the records, which looked to be the collection of a single guy, were well selected, with some nice represses that I would be stoked to see at a "new" record store. In Your Wildest Dreams isn't the only thrift/vintage/consignment store in Bakersfield, but you don't have to go to another one unless you are looking for stuff to resell on Ebay.
After "thrifting" we walked across the street and had a drink at the Brimstone Bar inside the lobby of the Padre Hotel. My wife and I were both impressed by the quality of the remodeling, the architect clearly had an eye for maintaining some of the better aspects of the original design while updating by removing interior walls- creating a large lobby space that was subdivided into the bar, a cafe and the check in area. Guests have the opportunity to walk up a central stair case to the rooms, giving the space a constant multi-dimensional flow of people. The Brimstone Bar was about what you would expect from a would-be boutique hotel in Bakersfield: rough around the edges but satisfactory considering the location. Were I to return, I would want to give this place a shot.
Dinner was an easy choice: Buck Owens Crystal Palace, a combination Steak house/Hard Rock style museum and music venue started by the legendary country hit-maker in 1995. Buck also owns a country radio station in town, which is located next door to the Crystal Palace. Our dinner at the Crystal Palace was what we expected: A great delight for every sense EXCEPT taste. I'm not complaining, but my advice if you go there is to have a snack at the Brimstone prior, order the smallest thing off the menu at Crystal Palace and "pre-drink": My Budweiser was something like 5.50, and while I'm happy to pay up, I wouldn't want to do extended drinking here. The Museum aspect is incredible, with an actual emphasis on his individual hits with the various costumery he used to promote each hit filling the rest of the display cases. Still, if you have one night in Bakersfield and miss this place, you a sucka. Call ahead for a reservation and get there after 7:30 PM for the band.
For a night cap/evening activity I would have preferred to check out a show at Jerry's Pizza, but that was not in the cards. Instead we went to Guthrie's Alley Cat, which has a decent online reputation, a quirky location in an actual alley and a killer old-school neon sign that still lights up. Inside it's a little too nice to be a "dive bar" in the sense that I understand the term, but it was a decent "bar" bar. The bartender was amiable as were the locals- no attitudes here.
On the ride back to the hotel we stopped at but did not eat at Dewar's Family Ice Cream and Candy Parlor a hundred year old, still FAMILY OWNED and adorable as all get-out. Inside it was a Saturday night mob-scene, but the ice cream jocks looked like stone-cold assassins of serving ice-cream. The old timey candy selection didn't get me wet, so to speak, but on the whole it's an amazing place- right across the street from Bakersfield High School. Standing in the parking lot, the sun setting out on the plains of the Central Valley, I could close my eyes and imagine that I was still in the 50s. It was a pleasant sensation.
Give Bakersfield a shot.