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Culinary Riches

History served with a slice of pie at Guerneville Bank Club

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MORE THAN A PRETTY PLACE The remodeled 1921 Guernveville bank is home to three different businesses. - EDYTA SZYSZLO
  • Edyta Szyszlo
  • MORE THAN A PRETTY PLACE The remodeled 1921 Guernveville bank is home to three different businesses.

A small town's revival isn't complete without gourmet pastries and artisanal ice cream. Or, on second thought, without a place to shop for a trendy magazines and cool stationery.

With the arrival of the latest addition to Guerneville's already booming food scene, it's now safe to say that the river town has reached critical mass with the Guerneville Bank Club. Gathering three vendors under one roof—the restored roof of a historical building at that—the Bank Club is a place where cute and delicious flourish alongside local history and quirkiness.

The grand opening two weeks ago was in many ways a sugar-fueled catharsis. For more than a year, restoring the abandoned 1921 bank building on Main Street has been documented by owner Bob Pullum on Tumblr (russianriverbankbuilding.tumblr.com.) Pullum, a former San Francisco–based art director and now a Guerneville resident, purchased the building last April, and immediately took to Tumblr to state his credentials and reassure anyone who was worried about the fate of the structure.

Pullum is a board member of the Russian River Historical Society as well as Docomomo, an international organization devoted to documentation and conservation of American architecture built between 1910 and 1974. He worked closely with the Historical Society while he refurbished the building, gushing over the sign lettering one day and admiring the freshly installed hand-carved totem pole by local artist Bran Williams the next. Months before it opened, it was the talk of the town. This was no "corporate villain in a small town" story.

In February, the project's multi-business model was revealed. The Bank Club is the home of an art gallery, a pie shop and an ice cream parlor, a designer goods store, a photo booth and a history exhibit. The look? Tasteful retro. And there are plenty of treats for everyone, as well as a big slice of history.

"This building could have been a disaster. Someone could have bought it and put a real estate office there," says Pullum. "It was important for me to preserve the building's legacy, and make it a treat for locals as well as a destination for people from Santa Rosa to San Francisco."

The push-and-pull of San Francisco, whose residents frequent Guerneville during warm summer days, is a big part of the project's foundation, appeal and inpiration. When he realized "it would be selfish to keep the building for just one business," Pullum pulled in local superstar Christa Luedke (Boon Eat and Drink, El Barrio) and gathered, with her guidance, a number of vendors from the area and San Francisco, "mixing city representation with local talent."

A small space is dedicated to an exhibit by the Russian River Historical Society and is meant to educate people about the history of Guerneville, from logging town to resort town. The art gallery is curated by Betty Nguyen, who worked with many San Francisco art spaces; Pullum's plan is "to bring in nationally known artists to Guerneville, exposing them to the beauty of the area." Chile Pie Baking Company is a project of Green Chile Kitchen based in San Francisco. The owner, Trevor Logan, is moving to Guerneville full-time.

The ice cream, Nimble & Finn's, on the other hand, is made by two sisters from Cazadero. The corner store, Commerce Fine Goods, is helmed by a multifaceted young couple, fresh transplants from the city as well. Edyta Szyszlo is a photographer, and Jared Grellner is an architect and jack-of-all-creative-trades. The two display jewelry, clothes, souvenirs and accessories that hit all the right trend notes—tie-dye, wood, rustic charm, plus the inevitable Kinfolk and Cereal magazines. They also run the photo booth, which allows visitors to take pictures in a tiny "vault" and view them online later.

Ice cream flavors ranged from tangy rhubarb swirl and Madagascar vanilla or balsamic strawberry and rose petal. There was also a fragrant lavender-honey frozen yogurt (from $3 for a kid scoop to $6 for a double scoop). The Stout and Chunky flavor is a hit, featuring a surprising, malty kick.

Pies ($5.50 a slice) present a tough choice: a pie shake ($10) or the house specialty, green chile apple pie with red chile honey drizzle ($9)? The latter is rich and crumbly, topped with caramelized walnuts over layers of green apple slices and a hint of spice. For the classic-pie admirer, there's a luscious and pleasingly bittersweet take on chocolate and caramel. There are also whole pies to go, such as key lime, apricot or pecan ($30, changing daily), and various coffee drinks, challenging Guerneville's already satisfying caffeine offerings.

"We wanted to have a range, something that could appeal to lots of different people and still have an aesthetic about it," says Pullum. "Since Guerneville is seasonal and gets cold during winter, it made sense to have pies with the ice cream."

Guerneville Bank Club, 16290 Main St., Guerneville. 707.666.9411.

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