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Elks Tower penthouse to open

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The Rail Bridge Cellars Penthouse Lounge at the Elks Tower will offer a wine-tasting room with a skyline view after opening in two weeks.

The owners of urban winery Rail Bridge Cellars, Michael Gelber and his wife, Katharine (Ayers) Gelber, want to breathe new life into a room that once held Top of the Town, a restaurant and bar popular in the 1950s and 1960s. They hope to officially open the spot July 11 as an off-site wine-tasting room in the heart of downtown, he said.

The opening is tied to the winery’s growth after seven new wines were recently introduced to the market. Previously, Rail Bridge had only offered two wines: a sauvignon blanc and a 2004 proprietary red blend called Lattice that had cabernet sauvignon as its primary component.

The winery bottled 1,400 cases in April. The wines include a 2006 Lattice cab blend, a 2007 Lattice Reserve cab blend, a 2007 blend of merlot and cab franc called Right Bank, a 2007 Merlot, a 2009 zinfandel, and port, said sommelier Michael Chandler, who handles brand development for the winery.

A new 2009 chardonnay is named for their daughter, Sienna, who was born in February. The Right Bank wine got its name because Sacramento sits on the right bank of the Sacramento River.

The 14th-floor, 1,000-square-foot penthouse can be rented for private events such as birthday parties and meetings. Future plans call for turning the space into a private hangout spot where members have around-the-clock access for themselves and friends.

Large, 14-foot windows on three sides offer views of the Capitol, City Hall, the railyards and the Sierra Nevada mountains.

"We call it the Penthouse Lounge – the view with the room," Michael Gelber said.

The Gelbers have decorated the space in the tower, 921 11th St., with a wine-barrel bar, couches and other seating, a long table topped by a grand chandelier, curtains, ornate rugs and other furnishings totalling $10,000 to $12,000.

The furnishings include a sink, dishwasher and flat screen that can be used for meeting presentations.

The couple is also partnering with Katharine Gelber’s father, Elks Tower owner Steve Ayers, on a first-floor renovation that will one day hold a cafe, bar and chocolatier on the first floor. Rail Bridge Wine and Spirits is expected to open next year, Gelber said.

The penthouse lounge – as well as the first-floor cafe/bar – will feature wines from Rail Bridge, which sits in North Sacramento at 400 N. 16th St.

Rail Bridge will host wine tastings at the penthouse. The winery was named for the historic I Street Bridge crossing the river. The space also can be rented for private wine tastings, parties and meetings for $750 a day, Gelber said

Gelber said they want to use the penthouse the way it was when Sacramentans dined and celebrated at Top of the Town, which was open to the public. At that time, the Elks Tower was the tallest building in Sacramento.

Reporters, legislators, lobbyists, politicians and business people all gathered there when downtown Sacramento was rocking in the 1950s and 1960s, recalled former KCRA anchor Stan Atkinson. He patronized the place with fellow journalists Stu Nahan and Fred Wade, who became chairman of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.

“It was going full-bore when I came to town in ’57,” said Atkinson, who’s been called “Mr. Sacramento” and “The Man Who Owns Sacramento.” “It was the biggest thing in town. People said, ‘I’ll see you at the Top.’ ”

Tower Records founder Russ Solomon reportedly had his bar mitzvah there, and freeform rock station KZAP broadcast from the 13th and 14th floors after going on the air in November, 1968.

"The goal for the room is really to bring it back to the old time when it used to be the Top of the Town," Gelber said.

The Gelbers are taking reservations for the space. A 50th birthday party has already been booked for a wine lover who used to swim in the building’s pool when he was a kid.

Maloof Sports and Entertainment has already used the room a couple of times to work on Kings’ promotions and ticket sales. Drexel University in Sacramento has also rented it for a retirement party for dean and Chief Executive Officer Tobey Oxholm, Gelber said.

Down the road, Gelber said they plan to create a private club system that would give members access to the penthouse 24/7. Members who pay an annual fee would have keys and sign in using a credit card and an iPad mounted in the room.

The room could still be rented for other private gatherings. The penthouse would be staffed if that was arranged previously.

Wine and possibly snacks and other beverages would be available. Using an honor system and credit cards, members would check out and pay for what was consumed before leaving.

The room’s ambiance has been left a bit rough, with the original 1926 concrete floor and unfinished walls with exposed brick around the windows. But if the space is successful, the room would be renovated and a bar would be opened there.

"There won’t be anything like it, I can guarantee you," Gelber said. 


Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @SuzanneHurt.

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