After a mere moment of hesitation, Sarah Fox, general manager of the Ryde Hotel, agreed to lead an impromptu excursion.
She would take a visitor up three flight of stairs to the officially off-limits roof of the Ryde Hotel, where the views of the surrounding Delta were said to be striking. Her daughter, Madison, who had stopped by the hotel after school let out, wanted to come along.
Fox started at the Ryde Hotel as a dishwasher. She worked her way up to manager within two years. She came to the Delta with Madison from Washington, looking for a fresh start in the Delta.
She found it at the Ryde, an art deco hotel built in 1927. Framed by palm trees, the Ryde is set at the edge of the Sacramento River, about 25 miles west of Lodi on Highway 150. With its neon signage and period decor, the hotel is both a vestige of the past and an active site for events, including weddings and brunches.
“Many of the people who come here are interested in the history,” Fox said, busily setting out wine glasses for an upcoming wedding.
That history is both grand and diverse. During Prohibition, the hotel operated as a speakeasy (and perhaps a bordello). In case of a raid, a tunnel led directly from the lower reaches of the hotel to the river, allowing a quick and stealthy escape.
The hotel features a hallway with framed photos of Hollywood celebs who supposedly stayed there, including Robert Mitchum and Liz Taylor. The hotel brochures mention that the family of Lon Chaney Jr. once owned the hotel.
The structure has had several incarnations through the years. It once served as a boarding house for those who labored in the Delta, and also had a reputation in the 1980s as a rock ‘n’ roll mecca. Paranormal investigators have looked for spirits here, and supposedly found them.
Weddings are popular at the Ryde, with many held on an expansive lawn behind the hotel. Celebrants typically proceed to the lounge and dining area on the lower level, which has a huge bar and a dance floor. On a recent weekend, weddings were booked Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, said Timothy Gorski, event coordinator.
“Brides and grooms like it because it is close enough to Sacramento to be convenient, yet far enough away to feel like a different world,” he said. “It’s also a convenient in-between point for guests coming from the Bay Area and Sacramento.”
Upstairs on the main floor is the primary dining area, where an expansive Sunday brunch is served.
Guests can still rent rooms at the hotel. Most rooms are clean but basic. A few are in the European style, sharing bathrooms or showers. A premium corner suite features fine views of the river and a Jacuzzi tub. In keeping with the Ryde’s theme of being in another place, another time, there are no TVs, and the rooms are cooled by the Delta breezes — there is no air conditioning.
Fox, the manager, works many hours to keep the hotel going, helping with the events, cleaning, set-up and scheduling.
She led the way to the roof, followed by her spirited daughter and a visitor. What looked like a closet door led to a stairway, dark and a little creaky, and at the top, the Ryde’s roof, flat and sprawling and splashed in sunshine.
The view from the roof was indeed sublime. To the east, Mount Diablo loomed above a checkerboard of orchards, vineyards and fields. To the west, the huge green Sacramento River flowed ceaselessly through the Delta toward the San Francisco Bay.
From a hotel set in a different era, it was a timeless panorama.
The skinny: Room rates vary from $85 per night for a room with a shared bath to $180 weekends for the Riverview master with a Jacuzzi tub. The hotel has an expansive boat dock nearby, so boaters can tie up and enjoy brunch or a leisurely visit on the front patio. The Sunday champagne brunch is popular, priced at $27.50 and including eggs Benedict, prime rib, seafood, lasagna, and made-to-order omelets,
For more information: 916-776-1318; www.rydehotel.com.