A la mode in Guerneville

When we first started spending a lot of time in the lower Russian River area a few years ago, we always wondered about the boarded-up but fancy-looking building on a corner right in the middle of downtown Guerneville.

In the summer of 2015, we had to wonder no more. The building was renovated and reopened to the public as the Guerneville Bank Club.

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We immediately loved this airy, welcoming space, with its tall ceilings and big windows that let the sunlight stream in and offered views of Guerneville’s downtown and the forest beyond. The building’s beautiful vintage architecture has been lovingly preserved, right down to the vaults of what was, as the name suggests, a former bank.

The unique spot houses shops and eateries: the Jam Jar boutique, the Bank Club Wine Collective and the Chile Pies Baking Co. and Nimble & Finn’s ice cream. You can even catch up on local history with a small exhibit of photos from the Russian River Historical Society.  It’s a special space indeed that has wine, pie and ice cream, plus shopping and history all under one roof.

If you visit, don’t forget to drop by the vault. Banks usually aren’t too keen on people photographing their vaults, but now the main vault of this former financial institution is the spot to take selfies—camera provided. Just pop into the vault, hit a button and say cheese. Then go find your shot online. It’s fun seeing photos of other visitors while we’re looking for ours. Everyone seems to be having a lot of fun.

We haven’t had a chance yet to check out some of the Bank Club’s latest additions, like the Wine Collective—we definitely will be there on our next visit! But two tenants with which we are very familiar are Chile Pies Baking Co. and Nimble & Finn’s. The purveyors of gorgeous, rustic pies and the purveyors of wonderfully creamy, creative ice cream flavors share space at one magical counter at the Bank Club.

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This is where the magic happens: You can order pie and ice cream at the big counter in the middle of the Bank Club.

The signature dessert that gives the pie company its distinctive name is an apple pie that does indeed have chile in it, but the pie isn’t spicy. Mild green chile adds some complexity to the apple and complements a not-too-sweet walnut streusel topping. The specialty of the house is a slice of green chile apple pie á la mode with a red chile honey drizzle—so good!

A slice and a scoop

Dessert served á la mode can seem like gilding the lily. Ice cream is great and cake or pie or tart is great, too, but served with a scoop, could seem like almost too much of a great thing.

That said, even though of course, you can order pie or ice cream separately—and the portions of each are generous—we rarely stick to just one treat when we visit the Bank Club.

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Pictured above is a slice of creamy, rich lemon-blueberry buttermilk pie, paired with one of our Nimble & Finn’s favorites, lavender honeycomb ice cream. The lavender ice cream, just slightly floral, cut the sweetness of crunchy honeycomb candy—and paired with the tangy pie, it was bliss.

As for other offerings we like, well … that would be pretty much everything we’ve tried. And these clever bakers and ice cream makers keep coming up with new ways to tempt us. The pie and ice cream menus vary by season, so there’s always something new to try.

But there is one item on the menu that we just can’t bring ourselves to try: the pie shake. It blends up pie and ice cream into what we’re sure is a wonderful milkshake. All we that really have it against it is that we would just be too sad to grind up that beautiful pie and perfect ice cream.

Dessert … for lunch?

Sometimes we’ve indulged and gotten our own slice of pie and scoop of ice cream because one of us just had to try this berry nectarine pie or the other had to have that chocolate stout ice cream, and since those might not really go together…

And yes, once, we even had Chile Pie Co. and Nimble & Finn’s for lunch.

But we do restrain ourselves—a little. Especially if we drop by the Bank Club after dinner, we usually split a slice of pie and a scoop of ice cream for dessert. Besides, splitting a serving means we just have to come back more often to make sure we don’t miss out.

But if it’s lunchtime and we’re hungry … well, all bets just might be off.

 

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Can’t take a selfie in this one, but the Bank Club also preserved the night-drop vault by the front door.

The Guerneville Bank Club celebrated its second anniversary in May 2017.

If you go:

The Guerneville Bank Club is located at the corner of River Road (Guerneville’s main street) and Church Street in downtown Guerneville. Parking can be a bit of a challenge during the summer months, so you may have to park a few blocks away.

 

Going Old-School in Duncans Mills

 

One of the things that makes exploring the North Bay and Sonoma so much fun is how many unique small towns we’ve discovered just in driving around. Each town has something that makes it special—beyond location, that is, which is always pretty scenic.
On one of our first visits to the area, driving to Goat Rock Beach, we happened upon the town of Duncans Mills, and now we stop there often on trips to the coast—it’s pretty close to home and a fun place to stop (just through the woods and over the river we go).

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Crossing the Russian River and heading into Duncans Mills from Monte Rio.

Even though Duncans Mills is small—the population is 175—there’s still enough to do there that we haven’t seen it all yet. Next on our list to check out: the Depot Museum, which hearkens back to the hamlet’s origins as a lumber town.

The museum features a restored depot and train cars, including a passenger car and caboose. Across the street from the museum are rodeo grounds. Duncans Mills also hosts the Russian River Rodeo each summer—the 50th anniversary rodeo will be held June 25-26, 2016.

It’s not just the rail museum and the rodeo—the town has an Old West vibe through and through, thanks to a shopping district that combines historic buildings and newer structures built in an old style. Adding an extra vintage touch are wooden boardwalks in place of sidewalks.

And it only makes sense that many of the shops sell antiques. One of our favorites specializes in a combination of American midcentury housewares, as well as much older furnishings from Europe and Asia, but the store also sells handmade soaps. Other merchants in Duncans Mills include restaurants, jewelry and clothing shops, stores that offer multicultural goods, a tea shop, a kitchen store and a wine tasting shop.