The historic Hotel Alta in downtown Truckee has come a long way from its original life. Renamed Redlight, the beautiful, renovated social lounge and lodge still retains the flavor of Truckee’s rich history.
“When I saw the front of building and that it was for sale, I knew what it was supposed to be. It had always been used for lodging. The style leaned toward a hostel atmosphere with shared bathrooms. It had private rooms,” says owner Zachery Cowan. He adds that the building, built in the late 19th Century, burned down and was rebuilt in 1928.
Cowen, an avid mountain biker and river guide, spent 10 years in South America guiding trips. When he returned to Truckee, he purchased the property. It took years of planning, permits and sweat to renovate the building. Cowen had no construction experience when he started the project. He consulted with his friend, Buck Beddie, a local contractor who offered him support.
“The bar area is bordello-themed with a speakeasy vibe in
red velvet wallpaper with a silver tin ceiling and a beautiful
vintage-style wood bar. The elements of antiquity merge with
pop art, tiffany-style lamps and hats — lots and lots of hats.”
The more Cowen got into the project, the more he took on. It became a passion. Much of the artistry was drawn from Cowen’s childhood home in Marin, where his parents own a rambling 1914 home with a jumble of doors, five stories of sloping floors and is imbued in historic architecture.
Co-owner Abby Polus operates the front of the house. “The building has been a boardinghouse, saloon, speakeasy and brothel,” she says.
As they began renovations, the antiquity of the building unfolded. They peeled off the crown molding in the front room and remnants of red velvet wallpaper were revealed. The owners decided to focus and play on the speakeasy/brothel theme. Cowen reused original windows, painstakingly steaming them to fit them back into the building and make them operable. He found old doors and reused them. They scoured antique stores for lamps, knobs and other fixtures that spoke to the era of the building.
The dining room boasts a floor with old newspapers and magazines in a modern artistic twist so that stories of the past create a fabulous design. The front entrance hosts skeleton keys embedded in the floor. A number of the bathrooms are also era driven with old school, white and black, geometric tiles. The art on the walls is diverse with modern, retro and historical paintings and photographs.
There are a number of social areas for people to gather and meet. The bar area is bordello-themed with a speakeasy vibe in red velvet wallpaper with a silver tin ceiling and a beautiful vintage-style wood bar. The elements of antiquity merge with pop art, tiffany-style lamps and hats — lots and lots of hats. The details are well thought out with class and taste.
“It’s not just a place to put your head down. I liked the idea of the hostel experience. There’s a social aspect that you can’t necessarily get at a large hotel,” says Cowen.
The establishment offers shared hostel-style dormitory bunks, private rooms with private and shared bathrooms and a studio suite with a kitchenette. There are communal amenities, including a communal kitchen and dining area, an upstairs library and niches to gather in and converse with locals and people passing through town.
Redlight caters to adventure travelers, hikers and skiers, people on their way to somewhere else and folks exploring the beauty of Tahoe. Each guest can experience a new and innovative place to take a rest.
“It’s a place where people can sit down at the bar, talk and share their stories. They talk about where they are going and what adventures they are taking,” says Polus.
Polus and Cowan agree that what sets their establishment apart is the creating of community, a place where strangers and locals can share a meal and a story.
Redlight tested a soft opening in August to a number of hikers, people returning from Burning Man and guests that found the establishment on a hostel Web site. It recently hosted a party for the Truckee Historical Society.
The bar is open to the public Thursdays through Saturdays from 6 to 11 p.m. and serves beer and wine and light snacks. Billy McCullough, former owner of Dragonfly, helped the owners design the menu. They plan to offer an occasional waffle breakfast for folks who show up on the weekend.
“If you are looking for where the party is in town, the Redlight will never let you down,” says Polus.
Put on a vintage hat, dress up and take a journey back in time, revisiting Truckee’s lavish history.
For more information, call (530) 536-0005 or visit redlighttruckee.com.