WINESLACKER..the lazy drinker's guide. Another 'slacker yammering on about drinking.

February 2, 2011

Quaffing Peaceful Forgetfulness…Nepenthe

Filed under: California,pinot noir,Restaurants,Uncategorized — Dex Wineslacker @ 12:08 am

The story goes that Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles found the cabin in 1943, during a drive through Big Sur on the recently completed two lane road, Highway 1. So charmed were they by the cabin, the views and the wild romantic coastline that they bought it on the spot, basically with the cash they had in their pockets, a little over 165 dollars, as a down payment. Apparently, they never spent an entire night in the cabin. Considering the rest of their lives, they could have used a little more time at the cabin and less time in Hollyweird.

View From Nepenthe

In 1947, what had been a love nest for Rita and Orson and originally a stop over for the Trail Club of Jolon, became the home of Lolly and Bill Fassett and their five children. The Fassetts had the idea to use the land and it’s unique, spectacular views for a restaurant, bar and rest stop for the tourists drawn to Big Sur for its beauty and drama. Access to the previously remote Big Sur was facilitated by the new Highway 1, the first road built all the way through the rough, cliff strewn, mountainous coastal area. The Fassetts say it took over two years to get the deed signed over by Welles and Hayworth, because both of their signatures were needed and by 1947 they were separated and far from each other.

The designer of the restaurant, working with Lolly and Bill Fassett, was Rowan Maiden, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Maiden, son of a wealthy real estate businessman, trained at Taliesin, the home and architecture school of Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1939. While at Taliesen, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, Maiden met Germaine Schneider, who was the daughter of Wrights’ gardener and the companion of Wright’s daughter, Lovanna. Apparently, it was a past-time of Wright’s wife at the time (and last wife, Olgavanna) to play at cupid, making matches among Wrights’ students at Taliesin. In the nineteen forties, Maiden and Germaine, by then married, were living in Monterey, California. Maiden, who was killed in an accident in 1957, never became as famous as his creation at Big Sur, however he did go on to design many beautiful single family houses, particularly in the Bay area, often featured in magazines and highly prized by their owners.

DSC00568

One can see, by the enduring quality, simple and yet effective design of Nepenthe, Maiden’s great talent. The materials were culled from the local area, including redwood beams, glass,  and adobe bricks, hand made by Lolly Fassett, and probably her young children. The body of the restaurant is effectively hidden, while the views of the magnificent hillsides and drops to the wild ocean below, the stands of fir and coastal redwood, the emerald pastures and constantly soaring raptors and occasional Condor, are laid before the diners in the interior and casual visitors to the decks. There’s a large patio at the entrance of the restaurant, the center piece of which is a large, welcoming fire pit.  One can see a reproduced Nepenthe interior, filmed on a sound stage  in the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton vehicle, The Sandpiper, from 1965. The film also features real-life scenes of the area.

Nepenthe takes pride and full advantage of their place in the side pocket of one of the World’s great wine growing and vinting areas. The restaurant has an amazing number and selection of fine local wines by the glass, 1/2 bottles, standard 750 ml bottles and larger bottles, and the great, curved redwood bar. The Elegant Companion and her ‘slacker ordered up a 1/2 bottle of Navarro’s lovely cool climate Pinot, Methode Anciene, and relaxed into the best seats at the ocean side counter. They ate and drank and pointed out birds, watched for whale spouts and quietly remembered nights, friends and lovers, misty mornings and  music, in that may we say, magical, quiet and fragrant place.

The place was completed in 1948, the year the ‘slacker was born, and he has been there many times, beginning when he was just a child and continuing, although not often enough, into late middle age. Nepenthe, still open and welcoming to the famous, the creative, the curious, the casual visitor; the sojourner, the pilgrim, the hungry and thirsty, is still owned and operated by the Fassett family. Still quietly serving Ambrosia Burgers with a side of Nepenthe.

Originally published by the Wineslacker, in similar form, on Open Salon.

1 Comment »

  1. Eric

    Great article; brought back fond memories from my passing thru there in the summer of 1963 after visiting Alaska via the dirt and gravel Alcan Highway from Chicago then on to TJ and back home.

    Keep up the good work and get out sailing more often.

    Tony

    Comment by Tony Librant — May 6, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

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