Fodor's Expert Review Swiss Hotel
18 W. Spain St., Sonoma, California 95476, USA See on Map
Sonoma Plaza views unfold from the redwood-plank balcony of this 1909 two-story hotel, part of which dates to 1836, during California’s period of Mexican rule. Don’t expect anything fancy or modern, but the price is right, the location convenient, and the frozen-in-time bar is a fun hangout. The same Swiss-Italian family has run the five-room hotel and adjoining restaurant and bar since the 1920s; if you catch current owner Hank Marioni in a garrulous mood, he'll regale you with stories of his family’s interactions with the Sebastiani wine family and other famous locals.
YOU SHOULD KNOW All the rooms are above Swiss Hotel’s restaurant or bar, something light sleepers may find a deal-breaker.
Up a steep staircase from the the hotel’s small lobby lie five rooms with inventive configurations befitting an oft-remodeled 19th-century structure. The aesthetic in the rooms is more granny’s guestroom than chic boutique, but with the exception of a few pieces that definitely need replacing the furniture is serviceable if not inspiring. The two king rooms facing Sonoma Plaza have direct access to the wide balcony; one room in back with a pull-out sofa works well for families with small children.
Room 4, a streetside king with a sunny sitting area and balcony access, is perhaps the nicest room, but because it’s directly above the bar and can be noisy, the other streetside king, Room 5, is the better choice.
The bathrooms here are nothing special—think suburban bathroom circa 1988 (make that 1978)—but clean. Jolly floral wallpaper wins Room 4 the prize for spiffiest of the lot.
Poised between the restaurant and bar, the small old-timey lobby has dark-stained wainscoting. The walls above it hold images of historic Sonoma and four generations of the hotel’s current owners.
Diners nostalgic for the decor and menus of mid-20th-century Italian-American trattorias find the hotel’s restaurant a delight. More sophisticated dining can be found less than a minute to the west, but the Swiss’s restaurant isn’t bad for a lunchtime salad, sandwich, or pizza.
Grab one of the few streetside tables for excellent people-watching.
The Swiss’s wood-paneled watering hole seems frozen in time. A relation of Ernest Hemingway supposedly had a hand in the creation of the bar’s signature drink, Glariffee, a frosty variation on the Irish-coffee theme. Only one person knows the recipe, which she keeps locked in a safe deposit box. For more Sonoma tidbits, chat up the friendly bartending crew.
On Sonoma Plaza’s north side, the Swiss is within walking distance of tasting rooms, restaurants, shops, and Sonoma Mission. More than a dozen wineries are within a 10-minute drive. Though not convenient for visitors, public buses depart in all directions from the plaza’s south side.
Two perennial Sonoma fine-dining favorites, El Dorado Kitchen (30-second walk) for farm-to-table New American and the Girl and the Fig (20-second walk) for French-country cuisine, are steps from the Swiss. In less than a minute you can also reach the Sunflower Caffé, all cheery yellow and orange, for breakfast or lunch.
Repair to the bar at El Dorado Kitchen (30-second walk) for a Clear Conscience (vodka, cucumber, ginger, lime, orange, and ginger ale), a spicy Six Blade Knife (tequila, roasted chilies, pineapple, and king's ginger), or other clever mixologist-conceived cocktail. Head to Sigh (2-minute walk) for local and international sparkling wines in a sexy lounge setting.
WHY WE LIKE IT
Chain-property conformity gets the heave-ho at this cross between a bed-and-breakfast and a European pension. The ground floor bustles with bar and restaurant action, making the five simple rooms upstairs seem all the more like the secluded havens they are. On a day of good weather, the balcony, with its ultra-wide redwood planking and white-spindle railing, makes a pleasant perch for breakfast or cocktails.
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