Mark Twain once said, “The coldest winter I spent was a summer in San Francisco.” I’m fairly certain there was a second half to that quote that went something like, “and the day I officially froze my butt off was the 4th of July.”
(This may not be an exact quote, but I’m sure the sentiment is sound).
After enduring two years of chilly 4ths, I decided to flee the city this holiday weekend for nice and warm Napa. But since wine isn’t really my thing, I didn’t want to plan a Napa 4th of July Weekend based on vineyards alone: cocktails would have to be a major feature of the experience (if you thought I was going to say something about activities outside of drinking, this must be your first time to my blog). Here’s an itinerary for a summer weekend in Napa perfect for people who want to experience Napa with a twist (or an olive, I won’t judge).
Where We Stayed: the Archer Hotel
Every other trip I’ve taken to the Napa valley has been among vineyards in the countryside. This time, we decided to stay in downtown Napa instead at the Archer for rooftop views of the fireworks and inventive cocktails.
The rooms were spacious, modern, and comfortable, but the truly standout feature of the Archer is its rooftop. With perfect weather, shady cabanas overlooking the surrounding mountains, a sunny lounge pool for hotel guests only, and an excellent menu at Sky and Vine, we had everything we needed to enjoy the 4th.
Where We Watched the Fireworks: Sky and Vine
It’s easy to assume that cocktails will be lackluster in Napa because of the region’s emphasis on wine. But perhaps surprisingly, Napa is one of my favorite cocktail destinations anywhere. Rather than attract exclusively wine snobs uninterested in spirits, the region is full of curious and well-rounded drinkers who refuse to settle for less than excellence in any category. And the creative cocktails at Sky and Vine were no exception.
The quality of the cocktails made even more sense when I spotted Joel Pfeifle behind the bar. I met him two years ago at Harvest Table, and have remembered his El Presidente with greek yogurt ever since. Some of the standouts at Sky and Vine were the Conejo Tonto (Sombra mezcal, reposado tequila, carrot, Benedictine, ginger, cardamom bitters, and fire water tincture), Mario’s Girl (Ketel peach, Rumhaven coconut, Lo-fi gentian amaro, charred pineapple, lime, coconut-peach foam, and lime), and from the new menu, Be Berry Gin-tle (gin, Italicus, .75 oz berry, sage, and tarragon shrub, .5 oz lemon, and basil oil).
And enjoying these cocktails with a perfect view of the fireworks, excellent service (Kirby, you made our night), addictive lobster corn dogs, and a cozy fire pit? Pretty good birthday party, America.
Where We Drank Whiskey: Bounty Hunter
To further celebrate our American spirit this Napa 4th of July Weekend, we visited whiskey and barbecue spot Bounty Hunter. Our favorite flight was the Bounty Single Barrel Bourbon Collection, featuring exclusive single barrels selected by team Bounty Hunter. And we paired this with potato salad and southern-style pimento cheese dip. It’s what our Founding Fathers would’ve wanted.
Where We Lunched With Farm-to-Table Cocktails in St. Helena: Goose and Gander
After we checked out of the Archer, we headed to St. Helena for lunch at Goose and Gander. I haven’t been able to help myself from stopping by Goose and Gander on any trip to Napa Valley: their dedication to using fresh ingredients and elevated cocktail techniques to make their local flavors shine is irresistible.
I started with this Arugula Daiquiri (Diplomatico Planas Rum, Turbinado, lime, and arugula) which was a vegetal and slightly spicy take on the classic drink.
But the very refreshing Broken Record (Loch and Union gin, Cappelletti, orange-tarragon oleo, lemon, and absinthe), was my favorite. I made tarragon syrup a month ago and I never figured out what to use it in. So I was psyched to taste this perfect combination of orange-tarragon and absinthe. Thanks to this inspiring cocktail, perhaps a tarragon sazerac riff will be coming out of my kitchen very soon.
Where We (Finally) Drank Wine: Ashes and Diamonds
I like to think of my body as a temple. A temple that accepts nothing but cocktails as offerings to its extremely non-wellness focused gods. However, after seeing Alex Harner‘s beautiful photos of Ashes and Diamonds I couldn’t resist committing the heresy of finally visiting a winery on a trip to Napa Valley.
Ashes and Diamonds’ stunning design was inspired by 1960s Napa in its burgeoning wine era, and it was named after a film based on Jerzy Andrzejewski’s Polish socialist realist novel. As a sucker for 1960s California Slim Aarons and anything Cold War, I was in my own very specific heaven.
Napa wineries often pair an Old World design aesthetic with New World wines. Ashes and Diamonds turns this on its head, with an Old World approach to wine and a refreshingly modern appearance.
Our group’s unanimous favorite was their Blanc (a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc). Savory and salty on the nose but full of refreshing citrus and rosemary on the palate.
So if you’re desperate to escape from the frigid hell zone of San Francisco next year, plan a Napa 4th of July Weekend for ideal weather, an exciting cocktail scene, farm-to-table food, and yes, I suppose even a little wine.