In downtown Walla Walla, I smile at a man with his dog until I realize the dog is actually a bronze statue playfully sitting on the street corner. I discover more whimsical statues as I walk down Main Street, an insouciant tower of chickens and eggs, a large urn beautifully lit by jagged, illuminated pieces of glass. One side of Main Street is lined with tasting rooms, testament to the growing importance of the wine industry here, though wheat is actually still a much larger crop in the region than grapes. There’s a vinegar/olive oil tasting room (if that isn’t a sign of growing chic, I don’t know what is), several boutiques, and a slew of historic buildings. I estimate the town from its appearance to be late 19th century, and sure enough, a plaque on the Reynolds-Day building confirms it as 1874.
I pause in front of the Oddfellows Temple, where the side wall is covered with photographic evidence of the town’s long history in a permanent exhibit called “Windows on the Past.” The first thing I notice is a 1906 photo of the Bergevin family (what did I tell you about small-world coincidences here?), and I’m soon scanning the wall for photos from Italian asparagus harvesters in 1950 to a dignified portrait of Isadore White Bull of the Cayuse tribe. I see images of people and artifacts from China, Japan, Russia, Mexico, and other places, evidence of the diversity that has long been present in the area. On 1st Avenue, I find Coffee Perk (4 S. 1st Ave. Tel: 509-526-0636. www.facebook.com/Coffee-Perk-102840866435689), where the caffeinated drinks are supplemented with a series of “Wellness Lattes” from Ruby Ginger to Maca Cocoa Jade.
Back on Main, I admire the almost-edible looking displays in Midnight Oil Soap and Apothecary (54 ½ Main St. Tel: 509-540-4167. www.midnightoilsoap.com). In Tra Vigne (115 E. Main St. Tel: 509-520-2181. www.travigneww.com), an antiques and collectibles palace, I drool (well, not literally) over old box cameras, a Victorian lamp held up by a muscular bronze soldier, a wide variety of jewelry, paintings, ridged Jeanette glasses, and much more in this store that seems to go on forever.
Dinner is at Hattaway’s on Alder (125 W. Alder St. Tel: 509-525-4433. www.hattawaysonalder.com), a wonderful Southern-tinged restaurant opened last summer by a husband/wife team of Savannah transplants. The place is gracious and welcoming, typical of the Southern hospitality the Hattaways wanted to bring to the region. The food an appealing mix of fresh ingredients and traditions from their home territory. Boiled peanuts are spicy and perfect. Celery/parmesan salad is alive with flavor. Halibut cheeks, one of their most popular items, rest jauntily on a bed of grits. It’s a welcome addition to a dining scene already miles better than most towns this size. How, I wonder, have these Georgia natives adjusted to life here? Smiles Lindsey Hattaway, “I love the area, and the people, and…I just keeping saying ‘and’!” That pretty much sums it up.
“Walla Walla is still raw, dynamic, figuring itself out,” says Caleb Agee of Visit Walla Walla (Tel: 509-525-8799. www.visitwallawalla.com), an d it’s the perfect description of this town that’s poised on the verge of something, if not quite there yet. “What makes Walla Walla so special,” he continues, “is how young it is. You can feel the bottled energy. It’s almost like it’s vibrating.” Most importantly, perhaps, he adds: “We still don’t know where it’s going to end up.”
The next day, after a great breakfast (marionberry crisp, fresh orange juice, chimichurri eggs benedict) at Abeja, I
do a tasting of their nice wines: a lush, smooth Merlot, a rich and full 18 month-aged Cabernet Sauvignon, the vibrant, eye-opening Beekeeper’s Blend. More wine tastings (since that’s the favored activity in Walla Walla) at DAMA Wines (123 E. Main St. Tel: 509-525-2299. www.damawines.com), a woman-owned winery. I sit among the nice art in a sleek and comfortable tasting room right at the heart of downtown (they’ve just been here since last March) and savor wines from a merlot/cabernet sauvignon/cabernet franc blend to a lovely, smooth Grenache that’s one of my favorite wines in the area. I
admire the labels, all created by artists, some of whom have art hanging in the tasting room.
I head towards the airport, where in its valuable “Incubator Project,” the Port of Walla Walla has fashioned old military barracks into production facilities for young winemakers, giving them a 6-year lease to get them started in business. My favorite is Eternal Wines (60s Piper Ave. Tel: 509-240-6258. www.eternalwine.com), which produces three labels: Eternal, Drink Washington State, and De La Luz. I love the Eternal line, all single estate wines (about 70% from the Walla Walla area).