Gloucester Journal: Historic seaport always had atmosphere, scenery and unlimited ocean fishing, now looking for economic boost to combat fishing restrictions.

Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, MA (photo Arlene Taliadoros, Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce)

By Ron Bernthal

Gloucester, Massachusetts was settled in 1623, making it one of the first English settlements in what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and today the town proudly proclaims itself as “America’s First Seaport.”

Although this early group of settlers abandoned Gloucester three years later due to the harsh conditions, English fisherman and farmers eventually tamed the land, harvested an unlimited supply of ocean catch, and incorporated the seaside town in 1642.  It has been a fishing port ever since, although its harbor is seeing fewer and fewer fishing trawlers.  Although fish packing houses still line Rogers Street as it meanders along the waterfront, and summer tourists still crowd local restaurants for fresh seafood, unemployment in the fishing industry has grown as government catch restrictions limit, or sometimes prohibit, the amount of fish that can be legally caught and sold.

Since the early 1800’s Gloucester’s harbor and the quaint towns and beautiful seascapes throughout the Cape Ann peninsula have also attracted painters, photographers, sculptors and writers who established private summer homes in the inland forests or on the bluffs overlooking the sea.  Art galleries and studios line village main streets, and it is a common sight in good weather to see painters standing in front of their easels with Gloucester Harbor or a deserted ocean beach as a backdrop.

The ethereal light along the coast in the Cape Ann region is often compared to the light in Arles, a city in the south of France where van Gogh produced 300 paintings during his time there in the late 1800’s.  Today, if one looks at the 19th- century paintings of Fitz Henry Lane, who lived in Gloucester, the Cape Ann scenes he depicts are very reminiscent of southern France.

Gloucester Harbor at Sunrise (painting by Fitz Henry Lane, 1851, courtesy Cape Ann Museum)

“The early artists concentrated on all the beautiful natural landscapes we have here, including the shoreline, the harbor and the center of the Cape Ann peninsula, which is still relatively uninhabited,” said Martha Oaks, curator of the Gloucester’s Cape Ann Museum. “Some of them did wonderful portraits of local fishermen, and captured the large schooners that used to sail in and out of the harbor.”

Gloucester itself, with only 30,000 residents, has so many arts and cultural venues that in 2013 it became the first community in Massachusetts to be granted two cultural district designations.  A good introduction to Gloucester’s historic seaport is to take the Harbor Walk, a short self-guided tour that meanders along the historic harbor area and in the narrow streets above the port, which are lined with numerous small, family-run businesses, including taverns, pizza shops, restaurants, barber shops and clothing stores.  On a hill in the center of town stands Gloucester City Hall, a lovely 1881 building with a clock tower that looks out past the harbor to the glittering bay beyond. The larger restaurants, those most frequented by summer motor-coach tours, as well as local families celebrating anniversaries and birthdays, are located along the waterfront and offer fresh fish and lobster with views of the harbor.

Fishing boats in Gloucester Harbor (photo Arlene Talidoros, Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce)

In the last few decades the city has experienced its share of tough times.  A rash of teenage pregnancies, drug abuse among its youth, and growing unemployment that is more than the national average, not unlike many other small New England coastal towns.

One of six restored murals by Charles Allan Winter displayed at Gloucester City Hall (photo Ron Bernthal)

But perhaps the cruelest indignity has been the decline of Gloucester’s fishing industry.   Although depleted stocks have taken its toll all along the East Coast, fishing has been Gloucester’s life blood for 400 years, and the decline has been especially difficult for the residents here, financially and psychologically.  Massachusetts ranks second behind California in the number of jobs supported by the fishing industry, but with coastal cod fishing in New England highly restricted, and severe limits on other species also affected, each year there are far fewer local boats leaving Gloucester harbor before dawn for a day’s catch.

Annisquam Lighthouse on Cape Ann (photo Arlene Taliadoros, Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce)

Many of the former fish processing sheds along the waterfront have either closed, or now process product that arrives by truck from larger seaports along the coast, and for many young men in town, following your father onto a Gloucester-based fishing boat is no longer a guaranteed career.

The town still supports a fishing fleet,  Gloucester fishing boat captains are the stars of the TV show Wicked Tuna, and the popular film, The Perfect Storm, is a true story based on a Gloucester fishing boat, and was about filmed here. But local officials and the business community have to make-up for the revenue and jobs lost in the fishing industry, and they are doing so by inviting high-tech firms to relocate out of the pricy Boston market nearby, and recently approved a modern hotel development project on beach property near the harbor.

Although the traditional fishing community has not objected to the inland high-tech development that is taking place on the Cape Ann peninsula, the hotel project had divided Gloucester during the years when it was being debated in town meetings, until construction was finally approved to move forward by the Gloucester town board.

Rendering of new Beauport Gloucester Hotel, opening 2016 (rendering courtesy Olson Lewis + Architects

In the end, the fishing community in Gloucester, traditionalists who opposed the hotel being built on a town beach, the site of a former Bird’s Eye processing plant, lost out to residents who see the future of the city’s economic revitalization no longer can count on fishing, but with luring modern businesses, design-driven hotels, and more affluent business and leisure travelers.

Painted door on fisherman’s house near Gloucester Harbor (photo Ron Bernthal)

The 96-room Beauport Hotel is expected to give Gloucester’s economy a much needed boost. “That project is a case of land going unused.  Do you just let it sit there, let the former buildings crumble and waste away?  It is prime waterfront property, and can bring it megabucks to the community,” said Erik Ronnbert, adjunct curator for maritime history at the Cape Ann Museum. “The new hotel, and perhaps others like it, will be a benefit for the city, but I understand why some residents of Gloucester were against it. The hotel is symbolic of the changes in lifestyle for generations of families that were once part of the city’s fishing heritage, and they’re seeing their culture and heritage disappear.  The kind of employment being offered to many of these proud fisherman, they see it as a step down in the town’s social hierarchy, so of course they aren’t happy about the changes are coming.”

Other residents welcome the changes.  “Interestingly, there were big resort hotels here 100 years ago, the city has always been a popular destination for visitors,” said  Scott Memhard , president of Cape Pond Ice, a company which has supplied Gloucester’s fishing fleet since 1848, and was featured in the film the Perfect Storm.  Mr. Memhard’s business has seen sharp declines in the number of fishing boats they serve, but welcomes the new hotel and the possible increase in leisure boating that may result.  “Gloucester is not really reinventing itself, there actually was once a fancy hotel on Pavilion Beach, just down the way from the Beauport Hotel, and these properties were always an important part of the economy here.”

Scott Memhard, president, Cape Pond Ice. (photo Ron Bernthal)

The Beauport Hotel is expected to open in 2016 with visitors coming to see the area’s museums and art galleries, but also to walk along the city’s working harbor, stroll the nearby beaches and enjoy the beautiful and fragile sunlight that artists have been trying to capture since Gloucester was founded 400 years ago.

Hotel Review: Former 19th Century Office Building in Boston’s Financial District offers 21st Century Comfort as Design-Driven Deluxe Hotel.

The deluxe Ames Boston Hotel (center right with historic facade) was the former Ames Office Building, the tallest building in Boston when constructed in 1883. (photo courtesy Ames Boston Hotel)

Review by Ron Bernthal

From the Orange Line’s State Street subway station I walked across the street to the Ames Boston Hotel, a 13-story, luxury boutique property that had once been Boston’s tallest skyscraper when it opened as an office building in 1893. Originally the home of the Ames Company, a manufacturer of America’s first shovels and other agricultural tools, the firm was founded in the 1770’s and is the oldest existing company in the United States, now headquartered in Pennsylvania.

The building became one of the tallest masonry load bearing-wall structures in the world, meaning the 13 story building was built without steel, with a three story granite base and sandstone and brick façade. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The conversion of the building to the Ames Boston Hotel was completed in 2009.

The lobby is intimate and stylish, with an eclectic chandelier, designed by Rolf Knudsen and made of thousands of reflective mylar discs, suspended on wires over the interior entry way. Above the chandelier is a stunning, domed mosaic ceiling, preserved from the original 19-century architecture. An interesting juxtaposition. The front desk clerk was friendly and efficient, and off to one side of the lobby is the hotel’s King Street Tavern, a pleasant, casual dining venue with long, communal wood tables as well as smaller individual tables situated next to large windows overlooking Court Street. This convenient on-site restaurant serves breakfast and dinner.

The original domed, mosaic tile ceiling from the 1893 Ames Office Building has been preserved in the Ames Boston Hotel lobby. (photo Ron Bernthal)

My third floor accommodations was a wonderfully designed, minimalist “loft” style King bed guest room (there are only four loft-style rooms out of 114 guest rooms and suites), with a huge, eye-brow style window overlooking the street and the Old State House (1713). This particular room has high ceilings, bare oak floors, and an open-configuration with a sitting area and a large comfortable couch separated from the bedroom by a half-wall that held two back-to-back 42” HDTV’s, allowing TV viewing from each area. The room had two great-looking amenities, a Vers model radio/alarm/iPod docking station, and a brushed silver aluminum Pablo Pardo-designed tube LED desk light that sat on a white work desk.

View from loft-style guest room at State and Court Streets, and Boston’s 1713 Old State House (photo Ron Bernthal)

The extra-large bathrooms are one of the hotel’s most popular features. My bathroom was separated from the bedroom by a huge glass window, through which the commode, shower and sink was all quite visible. The property promotes their “infamous sexy showers” on marketing materials, and they are quite nice, with deep-seated marble bathtubs in some of the rooms, and streamlined stainless-steel fixtures. Modest couples, however, should note that the optional sheer curtains that can be drawn over the bathroom window will not conceal much.
The hotel offers free Wi-Fi and, despite its casual “boutique” ambience, provides all the standard property amenities found in larger deluxe hotels, including a 24-hour fitness center, 24-hour business center, concierge services, valet parking, and meeting and event space.

King bed guest room, view from glass-wall shower. (photo Ames Boston Hotel)

Boston has been a leader among U.S. cities where 19th century structures have been successfully converted into downtown luxury hotels. These include a former bank, a jail, a customs house and police headquarters. Several of the city’s current historic hotels were originally built as hotel properties and have been beautifully restored, including the Omni Parker House, which opened in 1855 and is the longest continuously operating hotel in the country.

The Ames Boston Hotel is located on Court Street, in the heart of the city’s financial district and is a short walk to the Government Center, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Beacon Hill, Boston Commons, several subway lines and Amtrak’s South Street Station.


Ames Hotel Boston
1 Court Street
Boston, MA 02198
Ph: 617-979-8100

Restaurant Review: Westward, Seattle

Communal tables, fresh fish and swaying bright lights feel more like small Greek island than high-tech Seattle (photo Sarah Flotard)

By Ron Bernthal

In 2014 Bon Appétit magazine named Westward one of the best new restaurants in the U.S., but even before I had anything to eat I had reason to love it. Located on the north shore of Seattle’s Lake Union, this rustic, wood building is hidden from the street by foliage, and was difficult to find on a dark, rainy night. Shipbuilding and repair yards border the property at each end, a testament to this area’s still vibrant fishing industry, and the view from the restaurant’s outdoor patio (and most seats indoors) is of the glittering Seattle skyline on the other side of the lake.

Colorful umbrellas on the patio of Westward (photo Sarah Flotard)

The serene waterfront setting, with a dock and umbrella-covered tables that are much coveted by diners in warmer weather, is just one part of Westward’s unpretentious charm. Inside the low-ceiling dining room with a nautical theme are about a dozen tables, a chef’s counter facing the kitchen and, in a separate area of the room, the Little Gull, a 22-seat oyster bar where guests can order freshly harvested Washington State oysters and ice-cold beer. Outside, by the dock, are more tables, many of them communal, and the strings of little bright lights swaying above the crowd makes Westward seem more like a small Greek island taverna than a city restaurant in high-tech Seattle.

Fresh, locally harvested Washington State oysters at Little Gull oyster bar (photo Ron Bernthal)

Chef Zoi Antonitsas serves a Mediterranean-influenced menu, using Northwest fish, like Idaho river trout and sockeye salmon, locally farmed vegetables, beef and lamb, and home-made desserts. They also prepare great small plates, depending on what’s in season. I had an excellent octopus appetizer as well as small plate of squid with sesame seed pistou.

Afternoon lunch or cocktails on the patio at Westward, with views of Lake Union and Seattle skyline (photo Sarah Flotard)

Lunch, dinner and brunch menus change frequently, what chef Antonitsas purchases in the morning is served that day, and her Greek roots are unmistakably noticed in the marinated olives, grilled halloumi cheese, mussels served in a broth of harissa and ouzo, potatoes cooked in the Applewood-burning oven, seasoned with Greek oregano and lemon, and the wonderful loukoumades with lemon curd and poppy seeds for dessert. There is a nice selection of Greek wines, Washington State craft beer and hard cider, cocktails, excellent coffee and about ten various aperitifs from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, all reasonably priced, and all a perfect ending to dinner or lunch.

2501 N Northlake Way
Seattle, WA 98103
Ph: 206-552-8215

The Sinatra Table at Scottsdale’s FnB

Pavle Milic, co-owner of FnB restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona (photos Ron Bernthal)

By Ron Bernthal

When Emily Milic, co-owner of the newly relocated FnB restaurant in Scottsdale’s Old Town, asked me to remove my coat before going to my table for dinner, “because it was a tight squeeze,” I wasn’t sure what she meant. FnB is an intimate and friendly place with only about 12 tables, but there seemed to be plenty of room for people, and heavy coats, on this cold, winter Arizona night.

Then Emily led me past the cozy front bar and into the restaurant’s tiny open kitchen, which faced a full dining room, as all the diners stared at the single gentleman who was given a seat in the kitchen. It so happened that a local friend who made the reservation had requested this special table for me (no extra charge). I sat at a small, white tablecloth-covered café table raised up on a little platform, sharing the space with noted Southwest chef and co-owner Charleen Badman and her assistant, along with a food cooler, a four-burner stove-top, a hot mesquite charcoal and wood-burning oven, and dozens of plastic bins and farm cartons filled with root vegetables, fruit, brown eggs, and assorted spices. Every few minutes a rack of lamb riblets went into the oven, a tray of fish was taken out of the cooler, strawberries were expertly sliced, and friendly banter and jokes flew around the small kitchen as if it was a private comedy club. It was the best seat in the house.

Pavle Milic, Emily’s husband, calls it the Sinatra Table. “Everyone in the dining room now thinks you own the restaurant, or you’re a VIP,” he said, joking, after I maneuvered myself into the small space between the sink and the prep table. Pavle said he could even squeeze another three people around the table, although I wasn’t sure if he was still joking.

White tablecloth chef”s table at FnB can sit one or two and is located in the tiny kitchen, where dinner guests get close-up views of meal prep’s, their own and all the other customer meals as well.

With Pavle handling the front of the house and sommelier duties, and making quick visits to the kitchen to see if I was enjoying the ambiance (I was, tremendously), I watched chef Charleen Badman prepare farm-to-table appetizers like beet falafel and marinated greens, hand-pulled mozzarella with leeks gribiche, or roasted carrots and parsnips with dates, honey and rosemary. My main dish, corvina with pomegranate, persimmon freekah (a healthy Middle Eastern cereal), and chermoula (a North African spice), was truly amazing. Desert was chocolate soufflé with a scoop of ginger ice cream on the side. Food & Wine magazine named Ms. Badman’s braised leeks with mozzarella and fried egg one of the ten best restaurant dishes in the country. Although it wasn’t on the menu during my visit, everything else I ate could have won the same award.

FnB chef and co-owner Charleen Badman in the tiny kitchen where she produces locally sourced, fresh and organic cuisine

Pavle Milic, who was born in Colombia and raised in New York City, and chef Badman, have been running FnB for five years, and the new location, on a quiet Old Town plaza near Scottsdale’s art gallery district, offers an ever-changing menu sourced from local farmers and ranchers, with a great selection of high-altitude Arizona wines. The dinner menu includes a mouth-watering array of small plates and just four entrees, all tasty, aromatic, most organic, and rarely the same two nights in a row. Ask for the Sinatra table when making reservations; it’s a VIP experience without costing extra to reserve.

Frank Sinatra always got the best table in the house.

FnB Restaurant
7125 E 5th Avenue, #31
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Tel: 480-284-4777

Swiss Mountain Chalet in Suburban Seattle – Willows Lodge


After a drive of a just 30 minutes from downtown Seattle I am in the foothills of the Cascades, in the pleasant suburb of Woodinville. With office parks, affluent private homes, two-story residential complexes, a few large vegetable farms saved from developers, drive-thru espresso bars, craft beer breweries and a slew of restaurants and wine tasting shops, it is a pretty, but hardly unique, West Coast suburb.

However, this Seattle bedroom community it is also the home of Willows Lodge, rated by Travel & Leisure magazine in the January, 2012, issue as the best hotel in the state of Washington, and one of the best hotel properties in the world. Situated on 5.5 acres along the Sammamish River, the 84-room “lodge” is an unassuming, two-story boutique hotel that truly has all the high-tech amenities, charming coziness and design-sense of a deluxe Swiss mountain chalet, minus the towering Alps outside the bedroom window.

Walkway through hedges in Willows Lodge parking area (photo Ron Bernthal)

During check-in at the front desk I am surrounded by beautiful Northwest coast native paintings and sculpture. I am also aware of thick Douglas fir timbers crisscrossing the ceiling above me, an architectural theme used throughout the property – in guestrooms, the spa, the Fireside lobby bar, and in the Barking Frog fine dining restaurant in a separate building about 50 feet away. These huge trees were cut 100 years ago and used to build the port of Portland, Oregon. Rather than see the wood thrown away when the port was renovated, the Willows’ owners transported them to Seattle and used them during construction to give their property a very Northwestern-style ambience. Look closely and you will see the old notches and bolt holes in the beams, but they have been smoothed and waxed by local craftsmen, who also created two sofa tables in the lobby from the same wood.

Regular king bed guest room at Willows Lodge (photo Willows Lodge)

One of the nice touches at Willows Lodge, and there are many, are the recycled materials used inside and outside the property. The stones that form the massive fireplace in the lobby, and the smaller gas fireplaces in all the guestrooms, were found in nearby forests. Guestroom work desks are recycled slate pool tables from old bars in British Columbia. Bathroom floors are worn slate, the lobby floor is stained concrete and of course there is reclaimed wood everywhere.

But don’t think Willows Lodge is all rough and tumble. The gas fireplace turned on with a flick of the switch, and my bedroom was so warm and comfortable on a cold, winter Sunday afternoon that I had to force myself to go outside for a bike ride. The bed was covered with an Australian lamb’s-wool mattress pad, 300-thread Egyptian cotton sheets, and a European duvet. A 40” Sony HD/TV, a French press coffee system and well-stocked mini-bar, including many bottles of Washington State wine, were also quite tempting. The Wi-Fi is free throughout the property, and I am still trying to find out who designed the exquisite hanging light above the desk, which made laptop work so pleasant.

In all the bathrooms are Dornbracht fixtures; a designer sink made from Mexican marble; a deep soaking tub big enough for two; a large walk-in shower with a digital water temperature control device; and bathrobes and slippers, used for walking to the full service spa (the bamboo massage, the lavender-infused essential oil treatment, and salt scrubs are popular), the fitness room, or to the outdoor relaxation pool. Needless to say, with a good supply of Molton Brown coco and sandalwood body lotion and ultra-pure milk soap bars, along with 5,000 square-feet of meeting space, Willows Lodge is both a romantic weekend retreat for Seattleites and an upscale conference center for the many high-tech companies located in the well-groomed nearby.

Fireside restaurant and bar offers large fireplace during cool weather and outdoor patio dining in warmer weather, complimenting the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. (photo Willows Lodge)

During my visit I saw many business and leisure guests enjoying the Barking Frog, the hotel’s main restaurant that exudes the same warmth and Northwestern architecture of the main hotel building. The restaurant, which has a wonderful communal table, specializes in the seasonal and organic produce found in the Puget Sound area, while the main building’s Fireside bar and café offers a casual dining venue off the lobby, with an outdoor patio overlooking the peaceful landscape near the river. Both restaurants serve wine from top Washington wineries, most of whom are represented in the nearby tasting shops.

The hotel’s fine dining Barking Frog restaurant offers Northwest architecture and ambiance, similar to the main lodge building just across the lane. (photo Willows Lodge)

Although I was not able to visit the Herbfarm, a privately-owned, nine-course wine pairing dinner restaurant located on the Willows property, its stone and wood rural English village-style building is very distinct. If you’re lucky enough to visit, ask to meet the restaurant’s pets, the pot-bellied pigs Borage and Basil.

Willows Lodge herb garden is located next to the Spa and is a beautiful and peaceful spot in any season. (photo Ron Bernthal)

In addition to exploring the local Woodinville area, the Willows offers complimentary bicycles to use on nearby bike trails (the 29-mile Sammamish River Trail starts right next to the property, along the river), and Redhook Brewery, a well-known craft beer producer, is a two-minute walk from the hotel, offering daily tours and tastings as well as the on-site Forecasters Public House.

The Willows Lodge looks and feels much newer than it is, an undiscovered gem that seems to have been flying under the radar, at least for travelers from the East Coast, since its opening 15 years ago. I guess Microsoft, Expedia, Nintendo and hundreds of other Seattle area high-tech firms are used to keeping some things secret.

The Willows Lodge is just across the road from a large vegetable farm, and adjacent to a biking trail along the Sammamish River. Turn left for nearby wine tasting shops and Woodenville restaurants. Turn right for the towering Cascade Mountains just 20 minutes away. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Willows Lodge
14580 NE 145th Street
Woodinville, WA 98072
Tel: 425-424-3900



Why make so much of fragmentary blue
In here and there a bird, or butterfly,
Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,
When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue?

Since earth is earth, perhaps, not heaven (as yet)–
Though some savants make earth include the sky;
And blue so far above us comes so high,
It only gives our wish for blue a whet.

Fragmentary Blue
Robert Frost

Driving the last few miles to Streamsong is an ethereal experience. I am in central Florida, less than two hours from the tourism clutter of Orlando, an hour from Tampa’s busy commercial scene, but after passing through the busy suburbs outside Disneyworld, past vegetable and citrus farms, the terrain changes again, with one-block towns reminiscent of 1950’s Florida, a gas station, post office, a few shops selling dry goods and small engines, the small black dots on Florida’s state map that few tourists ever pass through. This is Florida’s mining country, an area encompassing three rural counties – Polk, Hardee and Desoto – where phosphate mining has been the dominant industry since the late 1800’s, and where rail tracks and cracked cement back roads crisscross the region, still carrying freight trains and trucks laden with sand and dry, pebbly phosphate.

Historic train station in Bowling Green, Florida, located a few miles from Streamsong Resort.

Approaching Streamsong I am enveloped by the landscape, a huge sky with beautiful billowing clouds, a treeless horizon that stretches forever, my car following a two-lane shimmering heat haze that seems to lead nowhere. But the road swings sharply left, and beyond the wavering tall grass a building suddenly appears, a large, odd-shaped, six story weatherized steel structure with a wall of windows overlooking a lake and 16,000 acres of a reclaimed phosphate mine. It is a startling sight.

Evening view, Streamsong (photo courtesy Streamsong Resort)

During the drive to the resort I kept my car windows open to feel the sauna-like heat but I was happy to walk into the ice-cold air-conditioning of Streamsong’s Leaf Lounge, a bright and modern lobby area located in a huge open corridor that connects the main hotel building to the conference center wing. A 20-foot floor-to-ceiling window overlooks a large lake, where bass thrive within its waters and alligators lay quietly just beneath the surface, only their eyes appearing above the placid green water. During the annual bird migrations in spring and fall the lake and surrounding grassland is a resting stop for thousands of multi-colored warblers, waterthrush, and sparrows.

Streamsong, a resort, golf and spa complex opened in January, 2014, but it was not constructed by Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt or any other hotel firm. It was constructed by The Mosaic Company, the world’s largest supplier of phosphate and potash, and one of the largest land owners in Florida. The main hotel building, called the Lodge, was originally supposed to be a small, rustic Florida-style fishing lodge, a place where Mosaic’s best corporate customers could come to fish for bass on a natural, private lake. But with deep pockets and an almost unlimited amount of their own land (they own 300,000 acres in central Florida), Mosaic decided to do something different with this particular phosphate mine reclamation project by taking the vision of creating a small, sustainable hospitality site a few big steps further by building a world class golf course, hotel, spa, conference center, dining venues, tennis courts and an infinity pool on top of the former 16,000 acre phosphate mine.

The Leaf Lounge is part of the hotel’s lobby, with stylish furniture and large windows overlooking the lake and wildlife area. (photo Ron Bernthal)

If you think the idea was crazy — that avid golfers, mostly men and women business executives, would go out of their way to travel to a unknown, desolate region of Florida and golf, sleep and eat over a former phosphate mine — then you need to visit Streamsong to see how the project worked out.

The Lodge (216 guest rooms) and Clubhouse (12 guest rooms at the golf course location a mile down the road) was designed by architect Alberto Alfonso using weatherizing steel, glass and locally sourced wood products. Guestrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, unique walnut louvers to control window light, and lovely brown carpeting with muted stripes of color. I enjoyed the dual, 32” HD-TV screens, one side facing the living room, the other side facing the guest room bed. A large marble-top work desk with several audio, video, and electric inputs, and a modern couch and black leather and wood desk chair made the room very comfortable. There is free, high speed WiFi throughout the property.

There are two sinks in the bathroom, an in-room fridge, and a custom-made, hand-crafted bookshelf with ten hardcover titles. One of the books (placed in every room) is A Land Remembered, by Patrick D. Smith, a story about how Florida was settled. Each room contains museum-quality works of art, perhaps a charcoal drawing, a sculptured bowl, a painting or framed photograph. No two art pieces in the hotel, whether in guest rooms or public areas, are alike. In my room a beautiful Alvar Aalto-designed glass vase stands discreetly on a small shelf.

AcquaPietra is the resort’s 7,000 square-foot, grotto-style spa with seven intertwining therapeutic pools, nine treatment rooms, and a fully-equipped fitness center. The four dining venues at Streamsong include Fragmentary Blue, the Lodge’s rooftop lounge which offers small plates dining and beverage service, with indoor and outdoor seating; Restaurant Fifty-Nine, a steak and seafood-themed restaurant at the Clubhouse; SottoTerra, a fine dining restaurant serving an Italian-themed dinner menu; and P₂O₅ is a casual restaurant opening for breakfast, and continuing with traditional Floridian comfort foods like Apalachicola oysters, conch chowder and buttermilk fried chicken for lunch and dinner. P₂O₅ is named after the empirical formula for phosphorus pentoxide, but don’t worry, you’ll get used to the mining connections, and of course there are no health risks visiting the hotel or any of the outdoor facilities.

The 18,000 square-feet of flexible, indoor conference space, and another 40,000 square-feet of outdoor event space, seems perfect for a corporate meeting, conference or wedding. There is a separate entrance to the Conference Center for local attendees, while Lodge guests can access the meeting facilities directly from inside the building. The architecture of the entire complex is in the Frank Lloyd Wright-style, in the way the exterior design meshes with the landscape using earth tones, and lots of wood and stone. Both the exterior and interior of the building is understated and functional, with Mr. Alfonso using clean, simple lines and the best, natural materials to create a beautiful structure with Caribbean-influenced artwork and colors.

However, the attraction for guests is purposely not the building, but the terrain outside, as seen through the extra-large windows placed in guest rooms and public areas, which allow guests to focus on, and become part of, the sun-baked Floridian scene outside — the tall grasses, the ospreys and egrets, dragon flies and butterflies, and the birds that are a constant source of wonder — without actually having to go outside.

Guests who want to exercise can find several recreational facilities a short walk away, including the infinity outdoor pool, placed between the Lodge and the lake. Surrounded by lounge chairs and a group of sheltered cabanas, along with Hemy’s, a pool-side snack bar, the pool is a good place to relax after a golf match, or a day of meetings. There are also two outdoor tennis courts, and bass fishing and a sporting clay course are available for a supplementary fee.

Infinity pool at Streamsong overlooks the lake (photo Streamsong)

Although I am far from being a dedicated golfer, playing just once or twice a year, I enjoyed being on and around the two golf courses at Streamsong, located a two-minute drive down the resort’s private road. The Clubhouse is a beautifully designed building with 12 guest rooms, a small meeting room, a Pro Shop and the dining venue Fifty-Nine, a bar and restaurant serving three meals daily with its own chef and kitchen.

The Streamsong golf course is a traditional links course (actually two, co-mingled courses) laid out on the undulating terrain and sand hills of the reclaimed phosphate mine. Now covered with wild grasses — wiregrass, purple lovegrass, patches of Elliot’s lovegrass — with small streams meandering through and around the sand berms and soft, flat greens, the course has become a magnet for golfers who thought they could play this type of terrain only by flying to Ireland or Scotland.

The two, 18-hole, links golf courses were designed by professional course designers Bill Coore, Tom Doak and Ben Crenshaw (also a former professional golfer). Streamsong Red (par- 72, 7,148 yards) and Streamsong Blue (par-72, 7,164 yards) received accolades from Golf Week, Golf Digest and numerous other sports media almost as soon as they opened in 2013, a year before the Lodge opened its doors. Much of Streamsong’s initial marketing efforts were directed to avid golfers who loved their first experience on the course and returned a year later with golf buddies and corporate clients when accommodations were available, often booking executive meetings at the resort’s Conference Center at the same time.

In January, 2015, the property announced plans to build a third course, which will open in fall 2017. The third course, to be called Streamsong Black, is being designed by Gil Hanse, architect of The Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, and co-designer of Castle Stuart Golf Links in Scotland, among others. Streamsong Black will be built directly southeast of the two existing courses, Streamsong Red and Streamsong Blue, and with the addition of Streamsong Black the resort will become the only location in the world where guests can enjoy three distinct courses designed by these four legendary architects. The resort plans to add a second practice facility, clubhouse and restaurant to serve guests playing Streamsong Black when it opens in 2017.

Streamsong Blue is built over a reclaimed phosphate mine, with the sand hills, clay soil and wild grasses helping to form a perfect links course. View is of Blue #7 hole. (photo courtesy Streamsong Resort)

The unique aspects of Streamsong are not only the stunning, esoteric architecture of the Lodge and the traditional links golf course, but that a large mining company, Mosaic, found a way to reuse the former phosphate mine for an upscale resort that is providing employment opportunities for a local population even as the once-stable mining jobs in the region are decreasing. During my visit I spoke with many resort employees, including pastry chefs, wait staff, front desk clerks, conference managers and spa attendants, men and women of various ages, often former phosphate mine workers, who were happy to be trained in hospitality work and who now enjoy using their new skills in a resort environment. The property has developed many sustainable policies, and as Streamsong becomes more well-known among business and leisure travelers, the additional visitors purchasing goods and services in this low-income, rural area of Florida will surely increase revenue for the merchants in nearby communities.

Streamsong Red, #17 (photo Streamsong)

After a late dinner on my last night at Streamsong I visited Fragmentary Blue, the rooftop lounge with a 365-degree view of the surrounding landscape. The bartenders were cleaning up, getting ready to close, but I was able to order a cold beer and sit outside on the terrace. The night was balmy and clear with a million stars overhead, the sounds of frogs and crickets emanating from the darkness six stories below reminded me of the Caribbean, and the soft reggae music the staff was playing on the PA system inside the bar added to the “island” ambiance. At that moment, if someone had said that we were sitting on top of a former phosphate mine in central Florida, I wouldn’t have believed them.

Fragmentary Blue is the resort’s rooftop lounge, and the perfect place to enjoy the sunset with tapas and drinks . (photo Streamsong)

1000 Streamsong Drive
Bowling Green, FL 33834
(863) 428-1000

Baden-Württemberg Journal: Design Driven Architecture in Old World Germany

Stuttgart’s Kunstmuseum is a glass cube art museum on a historic, downtown square. (photo courtesy Kunstmuseum)

Baden-Württemberg Journal: Design Driven Architecture in Old World Germany


The area of southwest Germany, bordering France and Switzerland, is one of the oldest regions of the country, dating to the 12th century. Known today as the state of Baden-Würtemmberg, it has dozens of castles, medieval towns and tiny, black forest villages that haven’t changed much in hundreds of years. But the region is also known for its modern architecture and high tech companies, especially in the area of solar energy.

Entrance to Museum Ritter, Waldenbuch, a contemporary art museum next to Ritter Sport chocolate factory. The square-shaped museum building and the original Ritter chocolate bar have something in common. (photo Ron Bernthal

In the medieval town of Waldenbuch, a suburb of Stuttgart with 8,000 residents located just 15 miles south of the city, a new museum opened in 2005 dedicated to the collection of Marli Hoppe-Ritter, a descendent of the Ritter family that began a small chocolate company in the 1920’s, now known as Ritter Sport, one of Germany’s largest confectionary companies.

The chocolate factory is located next to Museum Ritter, a stunning stone and glass cube structure designed by Swiss architect Max Dudler, houses Mrs. Ritter’s art collection. The unique, cubed design of the museum, which houses Mrs. Ritter’s art collection, mimics the iconic squared chocolate bar that Clara Ritter invented in 1932, which the company became famous for. Even today it is the only square-shaped chocolate produced in Germany, and the architecturally savvy museum next door, with its collection of colorful, geometric paintings, and stunning views of the countryside, has become one of southwest Germany’s most visited attraction.

Geometric artwork by Gloeckner at Museum Ritter (photo courtesy Museum Ritter)

Kunstmuseum Stuttgart (photo Ron Bernthal)

Ballingen is another small, historic town near Stuttgart that was first mentioned in the 9th century, but their town hall, known as the Stadthalle, was given a modern face lift a few years ago by 4a, a creative German architectural firm that designed a new addition to the Balingen Stadthalle. In Germany a Stadthalle is not used for municipal offices, like in the U.S., but as a town civic center where concerts and other events are held. The new glass and wood addition, along with the permanent displays of artwork, including original Picasso and Miro works and other paintings, as well as modern lawn sculpture, has become one of the town’s most popular venues.

Design for Stadthalle Balingen, a new extension of the former Town Hall in historic town in Baden-Baden Wurttemberg. (photo courtesy 4a Architects)

In the far southwest corner of Baden-Würtemmberg is a town called Weil am Rhein, which borders the River Rhine and the Swiss city of Basel. It is here that the Vitra Design Museum and campus is located. Vitra is a Swiss furniture manufacturer, with headquarters near Basel, and is best known for producing the Herman Miller designed Aeron office chair as well as the Charles and Ray Eames-designed furniture.

Vitra campus, Weil am Rhein, sculpture “Balancing Tools” by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen (photo Ron Bernthal)

Vitra opened an ordinary-looking  manufacturing plant in Weil am Rhein in the early 1950’s, but after a fire destroyed the building in 1981 Vitra hired architect Nicholas Grimshaw to design a modern new factory, which led the company to start a stunning collection of other contemporary buildings by famous architects, including Frank Gehry, who designed the Vitra Design Museum, his first building in Europe. During the past 20 years, and continuing today, Zaha Hadid, Tado Ando, Renzo Piano, Herzog and de Meuron and many other well known designers contributed model structures to the site.

Jasper Morisson’s beautiful bus stop shelter is located on the main road in front of the Vitra campus, a public bus stop for transport to Weil am Rhein. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Today, the Vitra campus is a mecca for design and architectural enthusiasts, and tourists from around the world. Even the bus stop shelter on the road in front of the campus was beautifully designed by British industrial designer Jasper Morisson.

Vitra Design Museum was Frank Gehry’s first European building, and is one of several architectural gems on Vitra factory campus in Weil am Rhein. (photo courtesy Vitra)

Freiburg is known as Germany’s southernmost major city, and the country’s sunniest as well. Although some winter days can be dreary and cold, Freiburg gets more than 1,800 hours of sunshine per year, and the number of solar installations and solar research and manufacturing companies in the city has given Freiburg the nickname, Solar City. Even the city’s Badenova Stadium and City Hall, as well as many schools, churches and private houses are using solar installations.

In addition to the sun, energy is also produced in Freiburg by hydroelectric systems on the River Dreisam; wind turbines on the heights of the Black Forest; and other technologies like biomass plants. This ecologically minded city has been recognized as one of the greenest cities in the world, with a walking and bicycle friendly street pattern and an incredibly efficient public transit system. All this within a medieval university city with a town hall dating to 1303 and a cathedral built in 1513.

Photo shows the Solar Settlement in Vauban district, Freiburg, Germany, which generates 420,000 kWh of solar energy from a total photovoltaic output of about 445 kW peak per year. (Photo/permiegardener via Flickr)

Although regulations prevent high-rise buildings in the old part of Freiburg, modern structures flourish in several new urban neighborhoods where blue glass photovoltaic panels cover every rooftop. In 1994, in the Vauban district, a German architect named Rolf Disch built his private solar residence on a revolving pedestal that follows the sun’s rays across the sky. Known as the Heliotrope, it was the first building in the world to capture more energy than it uses.

The historic Heliotrope in Freiburg stands above the other solar installations in the district of Vauban (photo Ron Bernthal)

In addition to the Vauban district, a newer and larger sustainable neighborhood was constructed in Freiburg called Rieselfeld, where 12,000 residents live in a community which enacted Germany’s first mandatory, strict energy saving measures in every residence, especially using solar design. Cars have not been banned from the district but underground parking keeps them out of sight, and extremely low speed limits keeps vehicles moving no faster than a pedestrian. Bike lanes and a central light rail line make it easy for residents to get around with minimal fossil fuel and noise air pollution. This district was completed in 2010.

Freiburg, with its high-tech sustainable buildings and renewal energy psyche, is Germany’s “Green City,” but a historic Freiburg tradition, established in the 13th century, provides visitors with as much excitement as the more modern inventions. Throughout the Old City district small water-filled runnels, narrow, open stone trenches, run parallel to sidewalks and streets. The Bächle once served as the city’s water supply, fed by the nearby river Dreisam, but with modern water treatment plants and underground pipes the crystal clear Bachle are maintained these days because they are part of the soul of the city, and, according to many residents, the cool Black Forrest water running along the streets seem to make this clean and green city even cleaner.

The streets of Freiburg’s historic core still have the historic bache (water streams) which keeps the air clean and cool during hot summer days. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2014, the modern Museum Frieder Burda occupies a pristine spot in the centrally-located Lichtentaler Park in the historic city of Baden-Baden, famous for its elegant bathing spas, summer music festivals, and traditional Christmas market. The naturally lit building, designed by the New York architect, Richard Meier, is snow white concrete and glass, and offers a beguiling juxtaposition with its adjoining neighbor, the 100 year-old Staatliche Kunsthalle, with the two buildings connected by a glass-enclosed, second-floor pedestrian bridge.

During the last half of its anniversary year The Museum Frieder Burda is holding a special show of the best parts of Frieder Burda’s private art collection, focusing on German Expressionism, as well as paintings from Pablo Picaso’s late period and the works of American Abstract Expression including work by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.

Museum Freider Burda, designed by noted architect Richard Meier, is located with a part in the center of Baden-Baden. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Perhaps the two most popular modern structures in Baden-Würtemmberg are two post-modern museums in Stuttgart whose collections are quite different than the city’s art museums, but equally as impressive architectually. The Mercedes Benz Museum opened in 2006, not far from the auto company’s large manufacturing plant. Rising 150 feet into the sky, the Dutch firm responsible for the building’s exterior used aluminum and glass to create a unique structure based on a double helix, with no closed rooms or straight walls, and with 1,800 triangular window panes.

Mercedes Benz Museum, Stuttgart. (photo courtesy Daimler AG)

The other fabulous looking museum building was designed by an Austrian architect to house the collection of Porsche automobiles, which are also manufactured in Stuttgart. The Porsche Museum, opened in Stuttgart in 2009, and displays the company’s earliest models, from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, developed by the company’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche, as well as all the sleek, newer models built since. The building, designed by Delugan Meissl, is supported on just three V-shaped columns, and this post-modern, eye-catching, white glazed concrete façade seems to float above the ground like a monolith.

Porsche Museum, Stuttgart (photo courtesy Porsche AG)


Why Go? To visit a stunning glass-cube-designed museum in the middle of Stuttgart with five floors of contemporary art, and a rooftop restaurant that offers excellent casual dining by day, and gourmet dining at night, with nice views of the city at any time.

Where to Stay? The five-star Althoff Hotel am Schlossgarten has a beautiful, modern exterior, and exquisitely designed interior, in a park-like setting in the middle of Stuttgart.

Why Go? To see both the post-modern, silvery aluminum and glass double-helix-shaped museum building as well as Mercedes models from 1886, the birth of the legendary combination of Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz, to present day designs.

Where to Stay? The V8 Hotel, an automobile-themed property that is appears tacky at first, but truly does offer pop car culture with interesting design flourishes. About 12 miles SW of Stuttgart, near village of Böblingen and Motor World attraction.

Why Go? Of course, to see the “gem in the park,” as architect Richard Meier describes his perfect-looking, light-filled, iconic ode to Modernism. And don’t leave Baden-Baden without experiencing one of its many historic bath houses.

Where to Stay? The deluxe Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa has been welcoming guests since 1872 and exudes an old-world charm that still symbolizes much of Baden-Baden. The five-star property offers 100 rooms and suites, spa treatments, and a Michelin-star restaurant. It is also just a five-minute walk to the Museum Freider Burda.

Why Go? To see the collection of geometric-shaped paintings and other art work displayed in the unique, cubed-shaped glass and stone building next to the Ritter Sport chocolate factory, a firm made famous by its square chocolate bars. The museum café has outdoor sitting, and stock up on chocolate from the factory store next to the museum. It all comes together in the beautiful countryside south of Stuttgart.

Where to Stay? The modern Ibis Stuttgart Airport Messe is conveniently located near Stuttgart Airport, a little south of the city, which makes this an affordable, convenient lodging option just six miles (15 minutes) from Museum Ritter. The property also makes sense for early morning departures or late arrivals.

Why Go? All the Porsche models since the late 1800’s and early 1900’s developed by the company’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche, are displayed in a building that is as beautiful, dramatic and well-designed as the sleek, shiny vehicles inside.

Where to Stay? The V8 Hotel, an automobile-themed property that is appears tacky at first, but truly does offer pop car culture with interesting design flourishes. About 12 miles SW of Stuttgart, near village of Böblingen and Motor World attraction.

Why Go? To see the permanent and temporary exhibitions at the Frank Gehry-designed museum, and the other design-driven structures, including those by Zaha Hadid, Tado Ando, Renzo Piano, Alvaro Siza, Jasper Morisson, and Herzog and de Meuron, all constructed on the Vitra furniture factory campus.

Where to Stay? Radisson Blu is a stylish, well-designed, modern property in downtown Basel, Switzerland, about 15 minutes’ drive from the Vitra complex.

Why Go? To see the solar power and sustainably-designed homes, offices and retail shops, as well as the unique Heliotrope house, in this unique neighborhood a few minutes outside center city Freiburg.

Where to Stay? Designhotel am Stadtgarten is beautifully designed hotel with walking distance to the historic Münsterplatz and University of Freiburg. Vis-à-vis café-bar-lounge offers lovely outdoor patio for drinking and dining for lunch and dinner in season, and complimentary buffet breakfast.

Baden-Württemberg Visitor Information

Stuttgart Visitor Information

Baden-Baden Visitor Information

Designhotel am Stadtgarden – Freiburg, Germany


Hotel Review -  Designhotel am Stadtgarten, Freiburg, Germany


I was visiting Freiburg for one night and needed an affordable and clean hotel property within walking distance, or a short tram ride, from the historic Münsterplatz (Cathedral Square) and the University of Freiburg. There are lots of nice hotels throughout the city, but I was happy to find the Designhotel Am Stadtgarten, a four-star property in a quiet residential neighborhood within walking distance to my city destinations.

The hotel was redesigned, renovated, and reopened under new ownership in 2007 and its colorful design features, friendly staff and lovely outdoor café suited me perfectly. My single-bed, attic-style room on the top floor of the three-story building was clean and spare, with a slanted wall and window overlooking the street. Guest room features included summer season light-weight bed comforters, new carpeting, flat-screen TV, and a good flexible reading light attached to one side of the head-board. Bathroom amenities included a glass shower stall, and a heated towel rack.

Third floor guest room at Hotel am Stadtgarden (hotel photo Ron Bernthal)

There are 35 guest rooms and those on the lower floors are larger, many with two-beds and more expansive bathrooms. Although the evening was warm, and my room did not have air-conditioning, it did not seem hot in the room.  Air-conditioning is available, however, in many, but not all, of the larger rooms.

The Vis-a-Vis cafe bar lounge offers complimentary buffet breakfast to hotel guests. (photo Ron Bernthal)

One of the great benefits of the property is the Vis-à-Vis café-bar-lounge on the ground floor. This comfortable space off the lobby offers a beautifully designed bar, a complimentary breakfast buffet with a good selection of hot and cold items, and, in good weather, a lovely outdoor patio is outfitted with tables and large umbrellas where young and friendly staff serve beer, wine and soft drinks and small plates of antipasti, various salads, soups and fresh baguettes. The menu also offer six types of grilled panini, and several nights a week during the summer a barbecue grill is set up on the patio with grilled chicken and steaks.

Nicely designed front desk and lobby bar (photo courtesy Designhotel am Stadtgarten)

The hotel is only ten minutes’ walking distance from Münsterplatz, where the Freiburg Cathedral, opened in 1513, still holds services, and the nearby daily farmer’s market is a popular attraction for both visitors and locals. The University of Freiburg, established in 1457, is just eight minutes’ walk from the Cathedral. The Designhotel am Stadtgarten is named after the Stadtgarten, a five acre city park located a block from the hotel, with large trees, fountains, a rose garden, sculptures, a pond, and a small bandstand for summer concerts.

Freiburg’s “M’ünsterplatz” is the site of its 16th-century cathedral and daily farmer’s market. It is located just ten minutes’ walk from the hotel. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Reviewer:   Ron Bernthal

Designhotel am Stadtgarten

Karlstrasse 12, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany




Hotel am Stadtgarden, Freiburg, Germany

Review: Ron Bernthal


Business/First seating on UA153 Stuttgart-Newark 757-200.

Flight Review:   United Airlines Stuttgart (STR) – Newark  (EWR), Business/First


United Airlines operates the only daily, non-stop flight from the New York City area to Stuttgart, in southwest Germany, and for travelers heading to this region it is the most convenient and fastest way to travel there from the East Coast.

With a BusinessFirst boarding pass in hand I took the five-minute shuttle ride from my airport hotel to Stuttgart Airport (STR), arriving at the premier access security lane at 8:30 am for UA153’s 11:10 departure.  Within a few minutes I was making my way to the Lufthansa Senator lounge, where a nice breakfast buffet was set-up.  Lufthansa is United’s Star Alliance partner, and code shares the flight.

Stuttgart Airport, Terminal 3 (photo courtesy Stuttgart-Airport)

Although the lounge offered no magazines, there was a full supply of American and British newspapers, free WiFi and no shortage of food and beverages. At 10:45 I went to the gate and boarded quickly using the premium line. On this version of the B757-200 the 16-seat, lie-flat, BusinessFirst seat configuration was four rows, 2×2, with all seats having on-demand entertainment screens, AC power outlets, padded headphones, an amenity kit, blanket and pillow. Champagne and orange juice was offered to front cabin passengers prior to take-off.

United Airlines 757-200 seat configuration.

After a short taxiway, and with no air traffic, we were off the ground at 11:17, flying into a hazy, summer morning over the green hills and forests west of Stuttgart.

Shortly after levelling off a chilled appetizer of gravlax and loin cut salmon with wasabi mayonnaise and salad was served, followed by a lunch of beef tenderloin, spaetzle, carrots and zucchini. For dessert I passed on the cheese selection for a dish of ice cream.  During mid-flight a basket of warm, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies was left in the galley for premium cabin passengers, and a chicken tortilla wrap accompanied with fresh fruit and carrot salad was served prior to landing.  A good selection of white and red wines from Europe, South Africa, Australia and California was available throughout the flight.

The only drawback to this 757’s BusinessFirst seat (or “pod as they are often called) was the narrowness of the feet area when the seat is in the lie-flat position. Although the length of the “bed” is a nice 76”, the bottom is poorly angled so there is little room for passengers’ feet when in the sleep position, not a big deal on UA153’s daytime STR/EWR flight, but for taller passengers it may be a bit uncomfortable during the eastbound overnight segment.

UA153 touched down at Newark Liberty International at 1:50 pm local time, 25 minutes early, with a flight time of 8 ½ hours. In summary, ground service at check-in and lounge access at Stuttgart Airport was fast and efficient, cabin crew service during the flight was excellent in all respects, aircraft lavatory was kept clean throughout the flight, and seat positions and entertainment system operated well. .


Review: Ron Bernthal


Blackbird Kitchen, Bozeman, Montana – Restaurant Review

Visitors, local business folks, ranchers and kids mingle casually for dinner at Blackbird Kitchen on Main Street, Bozeman. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Blackbird Kitchen, Bozeman, Montana

by Ron Bernthal

During the past decade Bozeman, Montana, has been quietly revitalizing its 19th-century downtown buildings and along with its stunning location in the Gallatin River Valley, surrounded by six mountain ranges, has been attracting thousands of new residents to its historic residential districts near Montana State University, and to the picturesque foothills outside of town.

Former Bozeman National Bank building (c 1891) is one of several restored ,19th-century Main Street buildings in Bozeman, Montana. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Opened in 2009 Blackbird Kitchen occupies the restored, former Bozeman National Bank building (c.1891) on Main Street. It is easy to walk past the restaurant’s unassuming stone front with the arch-style window without realizing that the contemporary interior, with its white brick walls, hanging artwork, large, wood-fired oven and open kitchen is more Tribeca-style than American West, but the friendliness of the staff and affordable prices are unmistakably Montana.

Owners Josh Gibson and wife Shannon Douglass use local farms and ranches to supply their organic produce, including seasonal vegetables and most of the beef, pork and lamb listed on the menu. Fresh trout comes from a Montana company that raises GMO-free trout in nearby low density fisheries. In addition to the dinner items I tried, including the Willow Spring Ranch lamb bratwurst, C-5 Organics tenderloin, and some tasty pasta dishes, I could have created a meal just from the appetizer menu; the roasted beet salad, crispy polenta with wood fired beech mushrooms, oven roasted asparagus, and kale Caesar salad my table ordered were all excellent.

Bow Tie Pasta is prepared fresh just before dinner at Blackbird Kitchen. Menu items are supplied by local farms and ranches whenever possible. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Mr. Gibson is extremely proud of the venue’s massive firebrick, hi-temp refractory concrete and steel bread oven, which he built himself during the restaurant’s initial construction, using plans by the late Alan Scott, a prominent Australian designer of brick ovens. The wood-fired oven is the restaurant’s centerpiece, and many of the menu items, including the warm country bread served with olive oil and balsamic, are baked in the hand-crafted, brick oven. Gibson also bakes ten varieties of delicious thin-crust pizza in the oven, using fresh toppings like Sicilian Castelvetrano olives, fennel sausage, sweet onions, and the imported Italian cheeses Grana Padano and mozzarella.

Owner Josh Gibson made the brick baking oven himself during the restaurant’s construction. (photo Blackbird Kitchen)

Opening a restaurant with an organic, Italian-style menu and a sophisticated interior design may have felt like a risky business venture in 2009-era Bozeman, right after the national recession, but not anymore. Median house and condo values in the area have skyrocketed since then, along with a surging Gallatin County economy and population, the fastest growing county in the state with a 40% population increase since the 2000 census to almost 100,000 residents.

Yellowstone National Park (two hours) and Big Sky Ski Resort (55 minutes) are easily accessible, and within 20 minutes of downtown are numerous mountain hiking and biking trails, fishing streams, and the family-friendly (and local favorite) Bridger Bowl Ski Area. With several new boutique hotels opening soon downtown, and numerous start-up firms occupying office space throughout the city, it is no wonder that Delta Airlines has finally started non-stop summer service between Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport and New York City’s LaGuardia, with residents and local attractions pushing the carrier to extend the service year-round.

Job growth and incomes in Bozeman have risen sharply, especially in the high-tech and light manufacturing sectors, and Oracle’s $1.8 billion purchase of hometown software company RightNow Technologies is helping to keep Bozeman’s economy growing at about 5 percent each year, the fastest of any city in the state. For Gibson and Douglass, co-owners of Blackbird Kitchen, they may soon find that their cozy ten table restaurant is a bit too small for what is coming down the pipe.

Main Street, Bozeman, is revitalizing its historic downtown, with new shops, boutique hotels, restaurants and art galleries attracting year-round visitors. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Open daily, dinner only; wine and beer available; reservations required.

Blackbird Kitchen
140 East Main Street
Bozeman, MT