By Dave Leder
Downtown Yakima looks nothing like it did back in 2004, the year Kana Winery opened its tasting room on the bottom floor of the Larson Building. As Kana owner Palmer Wright has discovered, starting at the ground level can have its advantages. Over the past decade, Kana and two other downtown tasting rooms — Gilbert Cellars and AntoLin Cellars — have helped create a downtown wine bar culture that has been instrumental in the downtown revival.
With three tasting rooms a few blocks apart, and restaurants like Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Second Street Grill nearby, downtown Yakima has developed a more contemporary feel. That’s something both locals and visitors can appreciate.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to be part of what’s going on down here because we have known for a long time how great downtown can become,” said Katherine Goodson, general manager at Kana’s tasting room, 10 S. Second St., for the past 13 years. “We’re surrounded by high-energy people who want to see this town move, and it’s been great to be around so many people who care.”
Yakima’s first downtown wine bar looks much different since it expanded to a neighboring space in 2014. Kana has also made some improvements to its patio.
Having Cowiche Canyon Kitchen across the street also has helped Kana stand out.
“There’s a good vibe in the area, and it’s a lot more appealing to visitors now than it was just a few years ago,” Goodson said. Regular live music performances and a dog-friendly policy also have proven popular at Kana. Plus, kids are welcome.
“We want to extend a family atmosphere to all,” she said. “Our main goal is to make people feel comfortable in downtown Yakima, whether you live here or are just visiting.”
Believing In Downtown
Being part of the new downtown has been equally invigorating for Gilbert Cellars. The small, family-owned winery opened its tasting room on the corner of Front Street and Yakima Avenue in 2008, looking to contribute to a turnaround. Now that their experiment is nearly 10 years in, the Gilbert family is ecstatic about what the future holds.
“Supporting downtown is really important to us and we always wanted to have a presence here,” General Manager Gloria Gilbert said. “We want to be ambassadors for Yakima when people come here to visit. We want people to think of us, and of Yakima wine, when they drive into town. And we’re one of the first places they see.”
Laura Schlect, marketing director and tasting room manager at Gilbert Cellars, said the original idea for the tasting room was to invite customers into their living room.
“We wanted to give people a warm place to gather and to taste our wine,” she said. “Things have changed a lot over the years, but our focus has always been on bringing life back to downtown Yakima.”
Gilbert Cellars is active during downtown events like First Friday and Downtown Summer Nights, and regularly hosts local musicians (and some from outside the area). Business meetings are common, as are groups of friends grabbing a glass of wine after work. Large groups like wedding parties may be found there on the weekends. The staff likes that the tasting room has become a gathering place for tourists and locals alike.
“We love to share our space,” Schlect said. “We have built a really good local clientele with our wine club, and they have been our bread and butter. But we’re seeing a lot of out-of-town customers returning, too. Everyone wants to be downtown these days.”
Schlect and Gilbert say they would like to see more tasting rooms and taprooms surface in the downtown area. While that would mean more competition, it would also bring more attention to downtown. Ultimately, everyone wins.
“It’s an exciting time to be downtown, and I think more people are starting to embrace it,” Gilbert said. “If another tasting room comes in downtown, we would welcome it. When one business does well, we all do well. And anytime a local business does well, that brings attention to the area.”
Embracing Front Street
The new tasting room on the block is AntoLin Cellars, located across Front Street from Gilbert Cellars. Owners Anthony and Linda Haralson had been planning to move into the 14 N. Front St. location for about four years before officially opening their doors last October. Now that they are established in their historic home — the building has been around since 1908 — life is good.
“We love being in the historical district, and moving down here was always our goal,” Linda Haralson said. “This has become the event center of Yakima, and it’s so nice to be right in the heart of it all.”
Anthony Haralson has been a commercial winemaker since 2009 and was making wine at home 10 years before that.
But something was missing. So in 2013, they took a chance on a vacant old train depot building, thinking the AntoLin label could thrive downtown. With summer in full swing, their long-held visions are now a reality.
“It’s just mesmerizing,” Linda Haralson said. “I’ve always had a romantic relationship with trains and I remember coming here as a little girl. Now I get to be here every day.”
The AntoLin Cellars tasting room has proven to be a welcome addition downtown, sitting front and center during special events and local gatherings.
Haralson said the amount of foot traffic has increased dramatically over the past few months, while special promotions inside the tasting room are also drawing attention.
One of the most popular attractions is the twice-a-week paint night, where a group of up to 40 people listens to music and drinks wine while “discovering their inner artist,” Haralson said.
Like the two longer-tenured tasting rooms downtown, the owners of AntoLin Cellars have embraced the opportunity to help downtown Yakima rebuild some of its swagger.
“More and more people are experiencing downtown again because it’s become much more desirable,” Haralson said. “It hadn’t really come back four years ago when we signed the lease, but it’s changed so much. We really wanted to be part of the comeback.”