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Monday, 07 April 2014 02:33

A Visit to Carmel

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Cottage in  Carmel PicmonkeyOriginal cottages are well maintainedby Dan Clarke


Never before have I written the word charming and won't now. A visit to Roget's Thesaurus may now be necessary, however, because Carmel is special.

Situated on the Monterey Peninsula, about 120 miles south of San Francisco, Carmel is actually more than one place. Carmel-by-the-Sea, the original settlement developed by James Devendorf and Frank Powers lies just west of Highway One. Carmel Valley is accessed from just a bit south on Highway One. It, too, is beautiful, but in a different way.

Like avocados, foie gras and cigars, Carmel may be a good thing that's an acquired taste. With no flashing lights and no obvious bells and whistles, it might be too subtle for some. I liked it when visiting with my parents long ago. Maybe I was a prodigy. Years later when my Rugby teams were playing in the Monterey Invitational Tournament on the nearby Polo Fields at Pebble Beach, I'd be sure the weekend included visits to Carmel for tea and scones at the Tuck Box on Dolores, a beer or two at a pub called the Red Lion and maybe a glass of wine at La Playa or the Pine Inn. These were genteel offsets to the rigorous competition of the weekend.

More recently I've covered the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, where some of the world's most gorgeous automobiles are displayed one Sunday each August on the 18th fairway of that storied golf course. Afterward, I would swing over to Carmel for dinner where cars good enough to be entered in lesser competitions might be parked right on the streets next to my own more modest transportation.

When a recent invitation came to join a few fellow journalists in further investigation of Carmel, I didn't hesitate. There are more stories from that visit than can be told in just one article. Today begins a series of them.

fountain at The Vagabonds Inn Picmonkey Courtyard fountain at Vagabond's House

The vibe in Carmel is more old money than new. There's a lot of tweed and cashmere worn here and both locals and visitors seem relaxed and comfortable. They're friendly, too. Trudging back up Ocean Avenue from a morning walk to the beach (“six blocks down the hill, twenty blocks back,” as one of the locals explained it), I glance into the open door of the realty office of Alain Pinel as I turn at the Dolores intersection. “Nice day, isn't it?” a man at a desk says to me. Indeed it is. There's a little overcast, but we both know the sun will likely burn through in an hour or so. Having noticed the property listings in the windows of this and other real estate offices, I half-jokingly ask the fellow if the sweet spot for residences is between $2 and 2.5 million. There are some nice ones at that price, he responds, but also some closer to a million. We share five or ten minutes of cordial conversation. I learn that Jack Gelke came to the area quite a while ago when attending the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. He met his wife-to-be here and returned to stay. Jack seems a friendly and easy-going guy—the kind of realtor I'd want to do business with if only I could afford a home here.

Jim at Greens Camera in Carmel PicmonkeyJim at Green's Camera CenterOn this visit I stayed at The Vagabond's House at Dolores and Fourth, which is just a couple of blocks off Ocean Ave. A small, two-story property, it's obvious that the place was built in another era. It's also obvious that it has undergone restoration and substantial upgrading. The front office staff all seem very competent, but relaxed in a friendly sort of way. Room Twelve has a fireplace, separate tub and shower and radiantly-heated tile floor in the bathroom. The towels are longer and thicker than most. A light breakfast and pot of tea or coffee is delivered each morning.

On the second day in Carmel my new Olympus locks up and I'm reduced to taking pictures with my iPhone. Figuring the larger neighboring city of Monterey will have a camera shop that can help me, I return to Vagabond's House and ask the desk clerk if he knows such a place. He replies that I needn't drive over to Monterey, as there is a camera shop just two blocks away. At Green's Carmel Camera Center at Fifth and San Carlos I meet Jim. I discover he's originally from King City and, while new to Green's, worked with cameras for 20 years in Monterey. We shoot the breeze while he takes a look. I notice boxes of film—artifacts of another era—on shelves behind him. This is a serious camera shop; one I surmise that can serve needs of photographers more sophisticated than I. Jim fiddles with the Olympus a bit and shoots my picture. Voilà! It seems to work now. He can't exactly explain what he did, but tells me—and not in an immodest way—that people frequently hand him broken equipment that will work in his hands. He's a healer and he refuses payment for his labor. I shoot his picture before departing with my reborn camera.

Brophys Tavern logoWe visitors have been seeing the sights each day and enjoying the hospitality arranged by our hosts, but on the way home from dinner each evening I stop for a nightcap at Brophy's Tavern, which is just a block up the hill from my digs. It's a comfortable spot and, but for the five or six tv screens showing sports, seems to have a traditional pub atmosphere. Audio for all those screens is mercifully turned off, so conversation for those at the bar and at the tables is possible. My drink the first evening is a craft beer at $6 for a pint. The second night I'm in the mood for maybe one glass of good whiskey. The barman is wearing a Cali baseball cap in a style that covers the top of his ears. He doesn't look like any of the guys who poured for me in Edinburgh, but he's pleasant and seems to understand single malts. He has several options in the category, and holds up a couple of esoteric bottles he assumes I might recognize. His trump card is a Glenfiddich, a label with which I am familiar. But this is the 18-year old Glenfiddich and better, in his opinion, than a couple of the other more-exotic options.

It is splendid. I am getting down to the last couple of sips when Cali pours a substantial refresher of the 18-year old into the glass. That's happened to me with beer, but never before with a call whiskey—at least not in a house where I'm a stranger. Our group of writers has been walking the streets and lanes of Carmel all day and into the evening. I'm getting tired, but Vagabond's House is just a block away—and downhill. The tab for my drink is $19 and I add a decent tip before heading for home. All's right with the world.

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles about Carmel. The second of these is Look All Around in Carmel. Others will run later in April. If you're planning a visit to this area, check out the Monterey County listings in the Central Coast section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of Lodging and Dining options in Carmel, as well as other communities on the Monterey Peninsula. Also in the directory are links to the sites of area wineries and craft beer specialists.

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