As an inveterate traveler, always looking for my next “fix”, I have done a number of Culinary and Market Tours — and  never seen anything to compare in originality and quality to The Barlow, a “Culinary and Arts Center” in Sebastopol, California.   It offers the best of West Sonoma’s “bounty” – I would like to say under one roof, but in fact it is under eighteen separate roofs, because there are eighteen Warehouses, some original and refurbished, dating originally from the 1940’s or designed to blend in with the old.

Spend a few hours, a day or a few days sampling locally grown and prepared food, visiting an artisan brewery serving restaurant quality food, tasting local wines, eating at the best pizzeria this side of Naples with coffee made from fresh roasted coffee bean, visting a gallery or a working bronze foundry, enjoying fresh fruit juices or gluten free crepes made from scratch, doing some shopping at the handpicked boutiques … or even having your hair cut and styled — all this plus much more can be enjoyed at The Barlow.

The Barlow was the dream of Barney Aldridge, a Bay Area real estate developer who purchased 12.5 acres of land adjacent to the main business district of Sebastopol in 2006.  The word “dream” calls for an explanation, because at times it was more of a nightmare with ups and downs, disappointments, delays and obstacles along the way — and even a devastating fire in one of the warehouses that delayed the scheduled opening.   Faced with opposition from the locals, several sets of plans and modifications, applications approvals, rejections and arranging bank loans – all of this would have been enough to convince a person with less resolve to quit.

The land that Barney Aldridge bought had been the site of the original Gravenstein Apple Processing Plant, where apples from the surrounding farms were sent for processing before being shipped out to other destinations.  Developed in the 1940s, the canning factory had ceased to operate in the 1970s and the warehouses fell into disrepair.  However, it is the warehouses that set the style and make the Barlow architecturally unique and interesting.

The original plan was for the warehouses to be demolished and replaced with  three hundred new  condominiums.  The Residents of Sebastopol opposed this development and requested a market be built that would showcase the produce of the surrounding farming area.  Fortunately, it was possible to save and refurbish eleven of the existing Warehouses and seven new Warehouses were  designed and built to blend with the old.  The new Warehouses are modern industrial styled buildings, some with thirty-foot high ceilings, exposed air conditioning ducts, roll up garage doors and huge windows to take in the view of the surroundings.   Altogether there is 200,000 square feet of rentable space divided into units of 400 to 1200 square feet to allow for the requirements of different vendors.  By the time the development was completed it had cost thirty-two million dollars.

Photo Courtesy : Zac Landscape Architects. The Street Plan follows the grid system with clear signage directing the visitor to the different vendors.   Special  dedicated safe areas were created where children  can play and there are many grassed areas with benches  for relaxing.
Photo Courtesy : Zac Landscape Architects. In cold weather the  fire pits are lit and there is also an outdoor space for open air concerts,that has proved very popular.

Photo Courtesy : Zac Landscape Architects.

One of the most interesting features that follows the sustainable formula, is the landscaping designed by Sandra Reed of Zac  Landscape Architects, in Petaluma,  a Harvard Graduate in Design and Landscape Architecture.   They’ve designed unique gardens for some leading wine country wineries and their work has been sought out by civic, medical and  educational projects as well as private homeowners.

Each of their landscape designs is site specific.  In the case of the Barlow,  it is interesting to see the effect one can achieve landscaping  exclusively with edible plants. This container is planted with a lemon tree and fresh herbs.

Photo Courtesy : Zac Landscape Architects.

Flower beds and planters are filled with an assortment of herbs, lettuce, celery, green peas, beetroot, artichokes, hanging strawberries, rambling berries, edible flowers and fruit trees. Every plant is edible and every tree is fruit bearing.  Zazu Restaurant has a dedicated lot on site to grow their own vegetables – it does not get fresher than that !!

Within The Barlow, there is an event center for weddings and corporate events that can seat two hundred and fifty people with an outdoor space for cocktails or a wedding ceremony. The warehouse has a twenty-four foot ceiling, polished concrete floors, reclaimed barn wood siding with a grassed area for outdoor seating or a wedding ceremony. The character is  original –  wine country chic, blended with rustic and industrial features.

The newly completed Barlow opened in November 2013 — and all the ups and downs and the careful selection of tenants paid off.  Immediately it was greeted warmly by the press, the people of Sebastopol and the public.  Known as a  “Culinary and Arts Center”,  it has food producers, restaurants, winemakers, breweries, distillers, retailers, galleries and artists, all local with an emphasis on sustainability.   It is estimated that only twenty percent of the 220,000 square feet of space is used for retail. The rest is taken up with production and visitors are encouraged to learn about where their food is actually made, whether it’s seeing the crafting of olive oil from local olives, wine making, a tour of one of the breweries, learning about glassblowing or watching a statue being cast in bronze at the foundry.   Visitors are able to see the stages a product goes through from raw material to finished product.  If all of that is too lofty,  then skip the production and concentrate on the food, beer and wine and have fun!

Two hotels are in the planning stages.  One is to be developed by The Barlow and the second one to be operated by the owners of the successful Healdsburg Hotel, which is a validation of the development.   When the Hotels open, it will be possible to stay a few days  on the site of  The Barlow and take one’s time, trying all the restaurants, and wineries and visiting as many vendors as possible —  an artisan feeding frenzy of wine, beer, food, coffee and gallery hopping and not having to be concerned driving home or a ticking parking meter — because there are more than enough free parking spaces.

The Barlow is the first business in the United States to focus on connecting the customer, not only to the products and the people that make them, but also with the production itself.

Hours:  7.00 a.m. – 9.00 p.m (not all the vendors follow these hours)

The Barlow.
6770 McKinley Avenue,
Sebastopol, CA, 95472
Telephone: (707) 824-5600 Barlow

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the road less traveled