By Kristen Haney, Napa Sonoma Magazine
On a recent weekend, downtown Napa was a bustle of activity. Valets whisked cars away from the Archer Hotel, as the sound of laughter and clinking silverware floated down from its rooftop bar and eatery. Duos flitted in and out of shops, arms laden with purchases. Oenophiles swirled on the sunny patios of tasting rooms, sipping vintages bottled just a few miles away.
Once dismissed as a quick stopping point for visitors on their way to and from Napa Valley, downtown Napa is positioning itself as a destination in its own right, with the ambitious $200 million–plus First Street Napa development cementing it as a place to linger. The three-block, 325,000-square-foot project brought 18 new businesses to the city center in 2018, with a spate of retail, lifestyle, and service enterprises due in 2020.
The mixed-use complex not only houses stores, restaurants, and tasting rooms—many independently and locally owned—but also features work spaces, “living” walls of plants, and artwork created and curated by residents of the region. The First Street Napa Courtyard hosts frequent events, from a monthly Saturday craft fair selling wares from local artisans alongside live music, to carolers filling the square on weekends during the holiday season.
And the energy First Street Napa injected into downtown Napa is still building. At full occupancy, the complex will house close to 40 tenants across its three blocks, positioning it as a powerhouse retail, restaurant, and tasting-room corridor in the years to come. The project’s reach keeps growing, too. Zapolski Real Estate—one of the main drivers behind the First Street development—has been renovating the historic Gordon Building, maintaining its 1929-built exterior, while redesigning the 20,000-square-foot structure to make way for two stories of restaurant, retail, or office space. The renovations were slated to be completed in the fall, with the first tenants expected to move in in early 2020.
A few years ago, this same stretch would get a handful of pedestrians visiting its well-loved retailers—but little else in terms of tourist action. However, First Street Napa principal and managing member Todd Zapolski believed the area could be transformed into a destination.
“I saw a real opportunity to help bring new energy to downtown Napa,” he says. “We had the chance to create a unique gathering spot that caters to locals’ needs and also gives visitors more reasons to stay, shop, and dine right downtown.”
But the project wasn’t without its challenges. Developed in partnership between Zapolski Real Estate and Trademark Property Company and almost seven years in the making, First Street Napa had to navigate the 2014 earthquake that damaged buildings in and around the site just a year after renovations began. Then came the heavy rains and floods of early 2017, which delayed the launch of anchor tenant Archer Hotel Napa and move-in for many retailers, and the devastating wildfires that raged across the region later that year.
“We’ve had to be nimble and adapt along the way,” Zapolski says. “Some timelines were pushed, but ultimately we’ve held true to our original vision.”
Now, that vision for First Street has come to fruition, with the luxury hotel opening in late 2017 and early buy-in from Wine Country heavyweights lending credence to the idea that downtown is more than just a drive-through on the way to the vineyards.
“When I walk around First Street Napa today, I see the idea come to life,” says Zapolski. “We want everyone in the region to say, ‘You need to come experience First Street Napa.’”
Locally Sourced Sips
In the mood for wine tasting? You’re in the right place.
When it debuted in September 2017, Compline made a splash as a First Street Napa pioneer; it also helped lend some Wine Country clout to the project. Opened by former Charlie Trotter wine director Ryan Stetins and master sommelier Matt Stamp, previously of the French Laundry, the hybrid restaurant, wine bar, and retail shop manages to appeal to wine experts without scaring away newbies. Bottles, which patrons can enjoy on-site for a small corkage fee, largely retail for $10 to $40 and cover local brands as well as domestic and international options. The food menu—conceived by chef Yancy Windsperger, who logged time in esteemed kitchens such as Morimoto and The Bazaar by José Andrés—follows suit, with locally sourced ingredients elevating classic dishes such as buttermilk fried chicken, hanger steak, and cheat day–worthy duck-fat fries.
To remove the intimidation factor that sometimes surrounds vino, Stamp hosts wine-education events, often highlighting a different growing region or varietal, plus Sunday Night Blinds, when guests can blind-taste four wines for just $20, poured until the bottles are empty. And it’s not just passing wine lovers taking notice. Since opening, Compline has been named to Wine Enthusiast’s list of America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants and received the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator. complinewine.com.
Building on Compline’s buzz, other restaurants and tasting rooms with deep Napa Valley ties have followed, bringing a welcome dose of Wine Country warmth to the downtown scene. Mayacamas bridges the divide between tasting room and retail space with its First Street location, which opened in February 2019 after the winery’s original hospitality house on Mount Veeder was impacted by the tragic North Bay wildfires. The 1,300-square-foot space gives guests room to breathe while their wine does, with inviting benches outfitted with colorful throw pillows, floating fixtures and custom lighting designed by Erin Martin, and a retail area selling books, jewelry, and home wares. The tasting menu spans current releases and a rotating selection of “library vintage” chardonnay, cabernet, and merlot, with flights starting at $35 for a selection of three wines. While reservations are recommended—especially on weekends—the inviting staff can squeeze in the odd party if timing allows. mayacamas.com.
Only wine-club members are allowed to visit Brown Estate Winery’s estate in the eastern Napa Valley hills, which makes snagging a weekend tasting at the winery’s two-year-old First Street location especially enticing for nonmembers. (Reservations are required.) Located through a discreet door on Coombs Street, the uber-sleek tasting room on the second floor of the old Napa Register building features exposed brick, marble-top tables, and muted tones, creating an intimate vibe for the three different nonmember experiences.
Brown Estate is one of the best-regarded zinfandel producers in the region, so tasting options focus on that grape (though guests can let their taste buds wander). At the flight bar, a dedicated wine educator will listen to your preferences and walk you through a varietal-spanning introduction flight or help you build your own tasting. At the weekday back-bar experience (also available on weekends by reservation), visitors enjoy a formal guided tasting of four to five wines paired with small bites. And if you’re rolling with a large group, consider booking the six-plus-person center table, which includes five wines and a complimentary cheese board. brownestate.com.
When it comes to shopping, First Street Napa delivers the goods.
While a couple of big-name tenants call First Street home (we see you, Lululemon), Zapolski Real Estate made a concerted effort to encourage independent and locally owned boutiques to take a chance on the project. Artsy, well-curated shops pepper First Street’s three blocks, and it’s hard to go wrong with any of them. Makers Market celebrates West Coast–made artisanal products, such as small-batch Uzumati Ceramics stoneware, JaxKelly druzy earrings, and Filson backpacks and messenger bags. At the home and garden store Mecox, you can find everything from lounge chairs adorned in bright pink velvet to rope-wrapped chandeliers. And the upscale women’s fashion boutique Macbella is the exclusive stockist in the United States for some coveted European designers. makersmarket.us, mecox.com, macbella.com.
If you’re looking for something more rustic, the family-owned Overland Sheepskin Co.—the initial retail store to open in the First Street complex—specializes in meticulously crafted sheepskin apparel, from shoes and gloves to buttery soft sheepskin and leather coats. Tahoe-bred Kalifornia Jean Bar brings premium denim and clothing to Napa, with a focus on American-made goods from sought-after brands including Frame, Current/Elliott, Rag and Bone, and more. In terms of homegrown wares, Napastäk leads visitors on a wild epicurean journey, offering an array of locally made consumables ranging from prickly pear–flavored white balsamic vinegar to cabernet wine jelly to Tahitian lime olive oil. And for a luxe feel, swing by State and First, where the expertly curated womenswear selection leans toward lesser-known designers. This is the place to score colorful shoulder-dusting earrings, Morgan Lane striped pajamas, and easy separates from Jumper 1234. overland.com, kaliforniajeanbar.com, napastak.net, mariscollective.com/pages/state-and-first.
Sleep It Off
Spend the night—or the week—at First Street’s premier hotel.
The five-story luxury boutique hotel Archer Hotel Napa manages to seamlessly combine architectural allure, upscale amenities, and a chic dining and drinking concept into one of Napa Valley’s hippest stays. When it opened in November 2017, Archer helped to put First Street Napa on the map—and it still serves as one of the district’s main draws. The 183-room, dog-friendly lodging includes 39 suites (most with private balconies and firepits), but it’s the unexpected extras that elevate an overnight into an experience. Think bathrobes paired with cheeky slippers, gifts of handmade salted caramels upon arrival and locally curated treats at turndown, and temperature-controlled wine coolers in every room.
Luckily, you don’t have to book a stay to visit First Street Napa’s crowning jewel. The rooftop bar Sky and Vine boasts 360-degree views of the valley from its alfresco dining area, and the seasonally changing cocktail menu capitalizes on local ingredients and spirits. For an even more decadent experience, head to Charlie Palmer Steak on the hotel’s ground floor. While Palmer’s executive chef, Francisco Lopez Jr., also oversees the culinary offerings at the rooftop bar, a dinner at the star-powered Napa-inspired restaurant—known for its prime cuts of American-sourced beef—is worth the splurge. (Visit the rooftop for Sunday brunch, though; sweet-toothed patrons will delight in the indulgent doughnut wheel.) archerhotel.com.