By Sonja Stark
Downhill skiing keeps adrenaline junkies active in the winter but what about the summer in Salt Lake City? I discovered equal amount of thrills and chills on Main Street as I did in the mountains. This historical city is a winning combination of ambitious new services, cultural interests and community planning.
Nation’s Best in Transportation
First and foremost, SLC has bragging rights to the nation’s best and newest mass transportation. When you arrive it’s the first tip-off to the champion nature of this thriving high desert metropolis.
A July 2012 study by the Brookings Institution showed a 10% jump in transit rides this year from last with 65% of those commuting to work in less than 90 minutes. That ranks the metro area as the third best in the country for quick, easy and reliable rail and bus service. It’s a proud achievable for the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) who offer several methods of bus and lightweight rail alternatives like the popular TRAX rail lines.
Students attending the University of Utah or the medical complex take extra advantage of the affordable mass transit.
There are three easy-to-use color-coded TRAX options that cover a 16-mile corridor throughout the city. One ride is only $2.35 but for a couple dollars more invest in an unlimited day pass with discounts for seniors and students.
The shuttle service accommodates bicycles and includes free storage lockers and bike racks. Two additional TRAX routes are expected to open before 2015 – one that will carry commuters west to the SLC International Airport shaving off several minutes in traffic.
Dave Anderson, employee for The Grand America Hotel rides the new line everyday and declares: “It’s fast, it’s nice, it’s quiet, it has low emissions, it’s great all around!”
Eds, Meds and Beds
Institutions of higher learning and the life sciences industry have a huge impact on the housing and the employment industry. The education and health care factor known shorthand as “Eds and Meds” is booming in Salt Lake City.
Six of the 29 hospitals in SLC are top-ranked and the flagship University of Utah has more than 90 major fields of study at the graduate level.
That’s where The Grand America Hotel, the only AAA Five-Diamond hotel in Utah, helps cater to visitors needing an extra touch of comfort and luxury.
Every spacious suite has a step-out balcony overlooking stunning views of the mountains, upscale marble bathrooms, hand crafted Richelieu furniture, plush down bedding, a soaking tub and glass-enclosed shower and English wool carpets. Elegant French doors separate the bedroom from the living area for additional privacy.
Director of Hotel Operations, Anthony Bartholomew says: “We’ve been compared to a Ritz-Carlton on steroids.”
But don’t let the coveted title and amenities scare you. Unlike the extravagance of other high-profile hotels the highest price you’ll pay for an executive King Suite is $309 and that’s during peak season.
Bartholomew explains the reason for that: “Because we are not governed by a brand or board of directors, we are governed by one family who was brought up in the hospitality industry, it gives us a degree of flexibility that I have never had within my professional background.”
Inspired by Old World European standards of the past, summer events include Afternoon Tea in the lobby lounge, Live Jazz on Friday and Saturdays, a self-guided Grand Art Tour past Murano and Milan chandeliers and children’s book readings at JouJou – a curious boutique for toys and treats.
I lingered alongside the Mediterranean-inspired indoor and outdoor pools just long enough to imagine each were my own private beach.
Manmade and Natural Wonders
If you can tear yourself away from The Grand America the first place you’ll want to visit is the new $103 million Natural History Museum of Utah at the Rio Tinto Center.Take the TRAM or BUS to this architectural wonder that follows the contours of Rocky Mountains so well that, from a distance, you’ll think it was a natural layer of copper blending with the nearby trailhead. In reality, it’s the roof of the museum on a site that overlooks the Salt Lake Valley and is part of the University of Utah’s Research Park.
Even though this attraction is ‘technically’ a few miles from downtown SLC, the Bonneville Shoreline trail serves as the museum’s ‘main street’ to the foothills. Designed by Todd Schliemann of Ennead Architects the building is centered around a sixty-foot-high central public space called “The Canyon.”
All six wings overlook this space helping you locate the exit after an exploration through 150 million years and past more than 1.2 million specimens and objects. The vast collection includes rocks, insects, minerals, vertebrates and botany. Leave yourself plenty of time to marvel at the dinosaur fossils like the duck-billed Gryposaurus. 80% of it is original bone!
Shopping in Salt Lake
The days of shopping in cavernous monoliths of banality with too few windows and even less community appeal are over. Abandoned or dying malls called ‘grayfields’ now pose a serious urban blight to a city.
Before that could happen to two ailing malls in downtown the powers that be spearheaded a demolition and reconstruction project.
They hired a firm called Taubman Centers Inc. and successfully rebuilt a world-class open-air emporium of surreal proportions.
Completed in a little less than six years, I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for City Creek Center this spring with a preview tour by Mr. Robert Taubman himself:
“This is an extraordinary place! It’s an unique environment where we have been able to blend the history of this city, the urbanity of this project with all of Salt Lake City’s incredible surroundings.”
Of the 90 tenants several retailers some are so unique it’s rare to find them outside NYC or Los Angeles: Salomon Sports, Tiffany & Co, Swarovski and Allen Edmonds. Local shops include Utah Woolen Mills Clothiers, Deseret Books (faith-based bookstore), Hagermann’s Bakehouse and, just in time for summer – Farr’s Fresh Ice Cream franchise.
The renaissance of the area brought Utah’s great outdoors indoors. There’s a retractable dome roof, a meandering stream, two cascading waterfalls and a pedestrian walkway over Main Street that connects luxury apartments above the stores to the streets below.
Reluctant husbands will enjoy waiting for their wives from outdoor fireplace lounges and kids can play in dancing fountains.
“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure” so goes the saying so if you can’t find that vintage typewriter at high-end heaven, visit the Urban Flea Market held the second Sunday of every month, June through October.
The location doubles as a parking lot with a mix of interesting customers, dealers and vendors. A scavenger hunt of battered antiques, military objects and dilapidated wares can be a playground for all. There’s an element of frivolity and nostalgia at flea markets and even if you don’t find what you’re looking for it’s always fun to reminisce. My urban obsession, err…collection, includes dozens of rusting film cameras.
A Hopping Success
Underground no more, in 2009 Utah voted to relax the liquor laws resulting in a huge economic leap into the future with 118 bars strong today. Stiff drinks and double shots are still banned but why bother with hard liquor when Utah makes so many wonderful full-bodied microbrews.
Following your museum visit and shopping trip cool off at a bar that, quite literally, has a ring of ice built into it to keep glasses cold. Beerhive Pub boasts 24 taps and 150 bottles, a staggering amount even for the biggest beer aficionado.
Utah has the authority to ban happy hour discounts but that hasn’t stopped the Beerhive from serving up frothy mugs of Desert Edge’s Latter-day Stout for only $4.
Thanks to it being served ‘on nitro’ the rich creamy head looks like an Irish Guinness and though the ABV law limit caps beer at 4%, Latter-day does not taste watered down. The ‘freshness factor’ is the result of the Desert Edge Brewery location – it’s only a couple trolley stops away.
Another favorite watering hole is Squatters Pub at 147 West Broadway. Wash down a Pub Pretzel with mustard and cheese sauce with their food-friendly 6-brew sampler. Six 4-oz glasses slide onto the table adorned on the tip of an authentic downhill ski.
The flavors go from light to dark: Hefeweisen American Wheat Ale, Chasing Tail Golden Ale, Provo Girl Pilsner, Organic Amber Ale, Full Suspension Pale Ale and finally, saving the best for last, Captain Bastard’s Oatmeal Stout. With a name like Captain Bastard don’t expect a big kick in the face but rather a nice slap on the cheek with light oatmeal and roasted coffee flavors.
If you’re a beer purist avoid the Belgian sour ale with an almost champagne-like consistency called Squatters Fifth Element. My friend wasn’t fond of it but the lemony tart finish worked magic with my fried pickles!
After a day of “world class” transportation, hotel accommodations and cultural attractions, the culinary world in Salt Lake is just as renowned for the smaller kitchens, farm-to-table ingredients and professional service.
From Chef Ryan Lowder and his wife Colleen of the acclaimed Copper Onion to the Grand America’s own amazing Garden Café with Executive Chef Phillip Yates, Executive Pastry Chef Jeffrey de Leon and Cheese Artisan Fernando Chavez to Fresco Italian Cafe with Chef Mikel Trapp, picking an eatery is as challenging as navigating a black diamond.
Then there’s Bambara Bar and Lounge; consistently mentioned and awarded accolades in national and local dining magazines including twice recognized by Zagat as one of America’s top restaurants.
Bicycling means business to Executive Chef Nathan Powers who rides his vintage Italian Colnago to the American bistro every morning to prep for a steady stream of food-centric customers. There’s no fooling Bambara’s clientele so Powers goes the extra mile to include a wide variety of seafood and hearty game on the menu.
He doesn’t appear old enough but Powers honed his craft at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park in the early 1990s. He made the Midwest leap in 2008 to Park City commuting the scenic 30-mile trek to Salt Lake through the majestic Wasatch canyons.
Conveniently, Bambara is housed in the historic Continental Bank lobby adjacent to the Hotel Monaco and TRAX line. Find yourself a romantic table near the grand arched windows only a waft away from the delicious aromas of the open-air kitchen. The ambiance makes use of the banking theme with a penny-clad host stand and a wall of oversized round coin portraits taken from worldwide currencies.
Nothing is too rich for Bambara and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with Powers’ Lunch Special. The menu varies daily from Manilla Clam Fettucine Primavera and Curried Carrot-Ginger soup to Pan-Seared Chicken Breast with Tangerine Brown Butter and Asparagus Puree. I enjoyed the Seared Scallops with Tomato Risotto and Grilled Asparagus.
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain likes to haunt Bambara when he’s in town.
Contrary to the name, the Utah Jazz is a basketball team not a soulful swing band. The winning Northwest franchise play at the nearby Energy Solutions Arena with the season wrapping in May however you can still visit the arena for musical guests and Cirque du Soleil shows.
Other music venues include The Depot (400 W. South Temple), The State Room (638 South State Street) and In the Venue (219 South 600 West). To hear free Latin, fusion and even hip-hop jazz check out Monk’s House of Jazz (19 E 200 S) or if folk harmonies, country twang and Motown are more your speed attend the annual Twilight Concert Series at Pioneer Park.
This year’s line-up includes Beach House, My Morning Jacket, Passion Pit, Iron and Wine, Matt Ward, and more. Over 40 local artists and food vendors participate in the evening fanfare. If you can wait until Labor Day, the Jazz Festival takes over the Gallivan Center at 239 South Main St.
Grand America Hotel Video by Pilotgirl Productions
MUSIC AND CULTURE
Natural History Museum at Rio Tinto Center: http://nhmu.utah.edu
Twilight Concert Series: www.twilightconcertseries.com
Union Pacific Station Depot Venue: www.depotslc.com
The State Room: www.thestateroom.com
In the Venue Concerts: www.inthevenueslc.com
The Complex (4 venues in 1): www.thecomplexslc.com
Jazz Festival at Gallivan Center: www.slcclassic.com/publicservices/gallivan
Grand America Garden Café: www.grandamerica.com/dining/garden-cafe
Toaster’s Deli: www.toastersdeli.com
Bambara Restaurant: www.bambara-slc.com
Squatters Pub: www.squatters.com
Desert Edge Brewery: www.desertedgebrewery.com
Fresco Italian Café: www.frescoitaliancafe.com
Lone Star Taqueria: www.lonestartaqueria.com
The Grand America Hotel: www.grandamerica.com
Sonja Stark is an award-winning, freelance videographer and the founder of PilotGirl Productions. She shoots professional 4K video for top-rated television productions, shows and documentaries. She is GoNOMAD’s most regular blogger, click to read her latest post about travel and life in video.