West Sacramento community celebrates The Barn with ribbon cutting event and first live band
By Monica Stark
The Barn, a one-of-a-kind culinary and music venue in the Bridge District opened last Friday with a ribbon cutting ceremony and big announcements: That San Leandro-based Drake’s Brewing Company will operate the restaurant and bar come next spring and that in the meantime, starting Aug. 5 through October, Off the Grid will offer weekly Friday evening food truck events, which will include vendors and performers. Located at the southern end of the nearly mile-long River Walk promenade, the Barn has been designed to blend a food service operation with seasonal events and its completion is closer to reality.
As mayor Christopher Cabaldon said in his opening remarks at the ribbon cutting event, that moment “makes real the vision that not just those that live in our community but everyone in the Sacramento region believed for so long, anticipating, making the riverfront come alive.”
Designed by “!melk” the Barn is an iconic structure that is essentially a bridge on land, anchored by restaurant and kitchen/dining space on each end. It was built by West Sacramento-based Brown Construction from barn-like materials that curve and connect two interior service areas with an 80-foot canopy that soars 20 feet overhead, providing shade and a sense of place for seating and events. The Barn site will host a variety of events such as music festivals, markets, bike/foot races, movie nights, civic and charitable functions. Completion of the Barn also marks the expansion of West Sacramento’s urban farm network. Two farmers will soon grow fresh fruits and vegetables on land adjacent to the Barn with a farm stand on site managed by the Center for Land-Based Learning.
In the fall, a new sculpture by world-renowned Federico Diaz will be installed between the Tower Bridge and the Barn on the River Walk. Additionally, the city of West Sacramento announced plans to rehabilitate and re-open the historic Mill Street Pier just south of the Barn atop the banks of the Sacramento River. This public lookout will be another amenity for visitors to the Bridge District.
Reminding the audience of the past and further putting into context the magnitude of the project, Cabaldon said, “It wasn’t that long ago this space was an old industrial facility where we had silos on the riverfront that serviced the agricultural industry for the region, one of the richest agricultural regions in the world … (The Barn will) accelerate the development of all the residential and commercial entertainment and amenities that are right here in the Bridge District.”
Activating the River Walk, which is one of the longest and most significant stretches of improved public space along the Sacramento River in the entire state, stretching from the I Street Bridge to the Barn, Cabaldon added that the goal continues south along Highway 5 to Southport. “But this is a major step forward in bringing an urban waterfront to life in our community and for our region and making the River Walk a center of the region’s attraction and a great gathering place for people here in our own community.”
If you think the goal of the project is just to create a stunning piece of architecture – the dream, developer Mark Friedman said, was also to create a series of varied events that would attract different people to this site at different times of the day and different times of the year.
“One day the Barn might host a farmers’ market or another it might host an inspirational talk. It might be the perfect place for a bike race or a place to end a long walk along the water’s edge. And everyday, in our ideal dream scenario, there will be an opportunity to experience farm-to-fork cuisine and hand-crafted beers in a graceful outdoor setting.”
“I am proud to announce that that dream has now become a reality.”
The excitement at the ribbon cutting spread from people closely involved with the project to passersby on bike. Adding to the festive atmosphere of the morning’s event was music by local duo, Banjo Fiddle with Mark Peet on banjo and Julie Peet on fiddle.
While the project has been in the works since May, 2014, when the West Sacramento City Council approved spending about $2.6 million in funds for the Barn project with Launch as the first festival to debut that October, unforeseen delays have made the project take longer than anyone expected.
Addressing the delays, Cabaldon said at last week’s council meeting that the private-sector developer hasn’t been paid by the city because of the delays, “which is neither their fault, nor ours.”
“It’s such an amazing world class art project that’s never been built and that has just become more complicated in a lot of ways than what we originally anticipated because no one has ever built this before anywhere in the inhabited universe.”
Confirming for “the legal record,” Cabaldon said at the ribbon cutting he had absolutely “nothing to do with” the Barn. “Zero.”
“I live right on the other side of this block and so I was not involved in the creation of this amazing amenity in any way, other than help create the neighborhood together,” he said. On the other hand, he acknowledged the work by council members Chris Ledesma, Babs Sandeen, Bill Kristoff and Mark Johannessen in making this “unique private/public partnership happen.”
Speaking with the News-Ledger after the ceremony, Cabaldon discussed what it’s been like living across from the development. “It’s been great,” he said. “You get a bird’s eye view of one of the most exciting projects in the whole city and really the whole region. It’s not like it’s been loud. There’s been no construction impacts. The energy of the people who drive by – both The Barn and the new neighborhoods – from all over the place, like it’s Disneyland Autopia. There’s a constant stream of cars taking pictures. We’ve never had that in West Sacramento before with people just coming to see what exciting thing is happening.”
Also speaking with the News-Ledger after the ceremony, John Martin, CEO of Drake’s, explained in detail what visitors can expect next spring, as well his brewing background and how he got involved with The Barn. In operation since around 1989, Martin bought the San Leandro brewery in 2008, growing beer production from 800 barrels a year to about 40,000 barrels a year now. Of that growth, he said, Sacramento has been a great market. “You can find it around town in bars and restaurants. We sell a lot through Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Safeway. Our distributor is right here in West Sacramento, DBI.”
All those connections, however, aren’t what got Martin in the Barn door.
“(Center for Land-Based Learning Executive Director) Mary Kimball is a neighbor of mine. We have little cabins next to each other near Tahoe, little tiny places. So, I’ve known her for 20 years and she connected me with Mark Friedman. I had been thinking about a beer garden in Sacramento forever, thinking how great that would be by the river and suddenly to have this whole thing present itself. We go, wow, we were just thinking some tables and chairs under some trees, but this incredible structure is really amazing,” he said.
With The Barn, Martin and Kimball will be neighbors also in West Sacramento. “We’ll be working close with the farm. The majority of produce will come off the farms here or the other Land-Based Learning operations. We’re really excited about that,” he said.
Explaining further about the operations of Drake’s involvement at The Barn, he said the initial plan is to have a beer bar and also coffee and pastries on one end of the structure, and a restaurant on the other, which is where all the cooking, and likely food-fired pizza will be. “We want to do some grilling on the outside as well. We really want to build a picnic atmosphere like Operas in the Park, Concerts in the Park. We’ll have racks of those folding beach chairs that you can pull out and it around and listen to bands and music. We hope to expand more, put in games and people can play like corn hole and giant Jenga and Connect 4.”
Besides Drake’s in San Leandro, where the ambiance is more tasting room and warehouse, his business owns a place in uptown Oakland called Drake’s Dealership, an old auto dealership. Some of the feeling there — fire pits, Adirondacks, full service – will be felt at The Barn. But, at The Barn, music will be a bigger production than what the Dealership can offer because of neighbors, he said.
A Berkeley resident, Martin doesn’t mind the drive to West Sacramento. “It’s nice; it’s about an hour and 10-minute drive. We were looking at an operation in Los Gatos. It was only about a 30-, 40-minute drive, except for traffic, then it was almost two hours.”
Martin said Drake’s at The Barn will eventually look for a general manager, noting they already have an executive chef out of Oakland. “We will also need chefs, sou chefs, cooks, servers. It will be a full-service operation with table service in about half the venue and the other half will be walk-up service.”
Martin is looking to hire toward end of the year. “Still have to go through design work, submit to the city, get contracts, permits, all that sort of thing. It takes longer than we like. We wish we could be open instantly.”