The Best of Ashland: Part 2

February 2020

Well, not much has happened in the last month other than the polar ice caps melting, Pres. Trump’s trial going to the Senate, Australia on fire, and the hemp industry not being the goldmine a lot of people thought it was. There is some good news, though: Mount Ashland got a record snowfall last week, Alex Trebek is hanging in there on Jeopardy, and China agreed to buy more of our junk as long as we bought more of their junk.

Anyway, Part II of our annual “Best of Ashland” features Restaurants and Entertainment. Being the only readers’ survey in the valley to make a valiant attempt to weed out ballot-stuffing, we feel these results can semi-adequately reflect the sentiments of the community. But seriously, when the participants are separated by just a few votes, it seems kind of silly for us to proclaim that “A” is the best of Ashland, when the same argument could easily be made for B, C or D. For that reason, you’ll see multiple ties in this survey. We realize it puts a damper on everyone’s self-promotion of this survey, but it’s really the only fair way to do it. And to everyone who got mysteriously left out, we apologize in advance.

And so, drum roll, please, for Part II of the 2020 “Best of Ashland.” Enjoy!

RESTAURANTS

BEST NEW RESTAURANT

It was a slow year for new restaurants in Ashland, as our readers were only able to name five of them. Topping the list was Mezcal Restaurant and Bar, upstairs on the Plaza at 23 N. Main. The menu items at Mezcal focus on the Oaxaca, Jalisco, Michoacán and Puebla regions of Mexico.

Others mentioned a lot were:

  • Sushi Heaven at 393 E. Main, downtown
  • Bloomsbury Coffee House (290 E. Main, upstairs), which has new owners and a new menu
  • Mary’s BBQ on the Knoll, featuring Mary’s famous BBQ and located in the clubhouse at Oak Knoll Golf Course
  • Griffin Creek Coffee and Manna from Heaven Bakery, located at 14 Calle Guanajuato

BEST BREAKFAST

The Chinese delegation is here, and they dropped a couple of hints in the limo from the airport that they would be more inclined to drop their tariffs restrictions on goods produced in Ashland if they could just find a great place to have breakfast. Apparently, airport food has put them in a bad mood, and our readers know exactly where to send them, with the top nod going to Morning Glory Café (1149 Siskiyou), followed closely by Brothers at 95 N. Main and The Breadboard, located at 774 N. Main.

Also high on the list were:

  • The Wild Goose
  • Brickroom
  • Ruby’s
  • Oak Tree
  • Northwest Raw
  • Greenleaf

BEST LUNCH 

This is without a doubt the most popular category listed in the Best of Ashland, as 35 different restaurants were mentioned. Don’t you people have anything better to do at lunch than visit your friends at local restaurants? Just kidding. Sometimes I get tired of left-overs or my less-than-stellar grilled cheese sandwiches, and I get out my Rolodex and try to find a friend who is so bored that he’ll actually want to have lunch with me. Where to take that afore-mentioned friend?

According to our readers, Pangea (272 E. Main) and Ruby’s (163 N. Pioneer) took down top honors this year, although the top five were extremely close. They included:

  • Larks
  • Sammich
  • Breadboard

Others high in the standings were:

  • Sauce
  • Morning Glory
  • Brothers
  • Louie’s
  • Greenleaf
  • Black Sheep
  • Taj
  • Standing Stone
  • Northwest Raw

BEST OMELETTES

So when Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel back in 1508, Pope Julius II was cracking the whip 24/7. He wanted that puppy done, and when Michelangelo kept taking time off to eat, the pope had a hot plate installed on the scaffolding so that the artist could cook up some omelettes without having to leave the job site. And they were literally works of art!

Where would the world’s greatest artist go if he wanted some outstanding omelettes here in the Rogue Valley? Most of our readers chose the creations at Brothers and Morning Glory Café, followed by:

  • Breadboard
  • Oak Tree
  • Wild Goose
  • Brickroom
  • Greenleaf

BEST BLOODY MARYS

I was in Reno at a sushi restaurant about ten years ago with some college buddies, and I accidentally ingested a scoop of wasabi, thinking it was guacamole. I haven’t lived that down since (and knowing my buddies, I probably never will), but that night it destroyed my appetite. About three hours later I was at the blackjack table starting to feel hungry, so I ordered the next best thing to food: a Super Deluxe Bloody Mary, complete with all the necessary food groups: celery, olives, bacon, asparagus, shrimp and vodka. And voila, I was cured.

If I had a longing for the perfect Bloody Mary in Ashland, our readers would direct me to The Brickroom, located upstairs on the Plaza at 35 N. Main.

They were followed closely by:

  • Smithfields
  • Oak Tree
  • Wild Goose
  • Red Zone
  • Omar’s
  • Ruby’s

BEST SANDWICH/SOUP SPECIALS FOR LUNCH

You got to love restaurants that offer huge, 37-page menus with every conceivable dish on the face of the earth, from Mongolian yak stews to southern France-inspired bouillabaisse. Sometimes, though, you just want something simple—a half-sandwich paired up with a delicious soup. Where to go when you want to simplify life? This category was a tie between Pangea (272 E. Main) and Sammich at 424 Bridge Street.

The Top Six were pretty close, and they included:

  • Larks
  • Greenleaf
  • Wild Goose
  • Oak Tree
  • Brothers
  • Breadboard

 FAVORITE DINNERHOUSE

It took a little bit of work (and the seven Bloody Marys at lunch might have helped), but the Chinese trade delegation is finally starting to agree that signed photos by Mayor John Stromberg in a bathing suit underneath the “Threshold” sculpture would be exempt from all tariffs. All you need to do now is treat them to dinner and get the papers signed. Where would be the best place to take them and get the deal consummated (assuming that the mayor doesn’t show up in a bathing suit)? This category ended up in a statistical dead heat between Larks (located at the corner of E. Main and 1st Street in the Ashland Springs Hotel) and Peerless at 265 4th Street.

But seriously, the top ten in this category were all very close, which is a testament to how many great restaurants we have in Ashland. They were:

  • Beasy’s on the Creek
  • Alchemy
  • Smithfield’s
  • Amuse
  • Hearsay
  • Cucina Biazzi
  • Omar’s
  • Loft

 Also receiving their share of votes were:

  • Brickroom
  • Martino’s
  • Kobe
  • Black Sheep
  • Harvey’s
  • Ostras

BEST CLAM CHOWDER

When geologists of the 19th century examined cliffs in Wales, they were mystified to find clam-like fossils stuck in the rocks. There is now solid evidence to prove that those bivalve organisms ruled the earth 555 million years ago. Little did they know that they would someday be the chief ingredient in one of mankind’s favorite soups, the clam chowder.

Our readers were able to name twelve restaurants that offered up some excellent clam chowder. The number one choice this year was a tie between Omar’s (1380 Siskiyou) and Standing Stone at 101 Oak Street, followed by:

  • Beasy’s on the Creek
  • Wild Goose
  • Larks

BEST CAESAR SALAD

We haven’t come here to praise Caesar; we just want to eat the salad that he invented in Tijuana, Mexico, back during the Prohibition. It’s a combination of romaine lettuce and croutons dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, garlic, Dijon mustard, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper … a true multicultural creation.

Where to go when you want such an exotic salad? This ended in a 2-way tie between Martino’s/Macaroni’s, located at 58 E. Main and Pie + Vine at 358 E. Main.

The list also included:

  • Standing Stone
  • Caldera
  • Larks
  • Beasy’s on the Creek
  • NW Pizza & Pasta
  • Greenleaf

BEST STEAK ENTREES ON THE MENU

Back in the good old days of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers (think 15,000 years ago), the hunters could bring in enough calories for the group with one huge mastodon to equal almost a year of gathering roots and berries. So our love affair with steaks goes back a long way, and it will be a tough tradition to break.

Once again, our friendly folks at Omar’s, serving Ashland since 1946 at 1380 Siskiyou, took down top honors in this category.

It was close, though, as both Beasy’s on the Creek (51 Water Street) and Smithfields at 36 S. 2nd brought in a lot of votes, followed by:

  • Hearsay
  • Brickroom
  • Alchemy
  • Larks
  • Amuse
  • Peerless

BEST SEAFOOD ENTREES ON THE MENU

It seems like everyone has their favorite seafood joint wherever they live. When I grew up in Evansville, Indiana, on the banks of the Ohio River, a lot of people raved about an out-of-town restaurant with the appealing name of Dogtown Tavern that served some of the best catfish this side of the Alleghenies.

This side of the Cascades, our readers most often mentioned the entrees at both Kobe, a sushi-style restaurant located at 96 N. Main, and Beasy’s on the Creek (51 Water Street).

They were followed closely in the balloting by:

  • Omar’s
  • Umami
  • Larks
  • Peerless
  • Sushi Heaven
  • Black Sheep
  • Sakana
  • Little Tokyo

BEST PASTA ENTREES ON THE MENU

It’s a good thing we had an extremely liberal immigration policy back at the turn of the century (between 1880 and 1924 more than four million Italians immigrated here), otherwise we’d have no pizza, spaghetti, lasagna, ravioli, fettuccine alfredo, eggplant parmesan, strombolis or tortellonis. Variety is definitely the spice of life, which is why I say, “If they have a family recipe in their possession, let ‘em in!” Eating hamburgers and home fries every day would be extremely boring, although they did come from Germany and France.

And when it comes to pasta dishes, our readers most often mentioned Pie + Vine, located at 358 E. Main. They were followed closely in the balloting by:

  • Martino’s/Macaroni’s
  • Cucina Biazzi
  • NW Pizza & Pasta
  • Greenleaf
  • Larks

FAVORITE MEXICAN RESTAURANT

If you’ve ever been to a Mexican restaurant, you probably know that the owners (and their employees) are some of the hardest working people in America. They are exactly the kind of people we want to immigrate here, which is why I’m having a hard time understanding what the big deal is over immigration. Or maybe it’s just a political thing which, of course, is incapable of being understood.

Anyway, I hope I don’t get in trouble for bringing politics into this readers’ survey. Our readers definitely love their Mexican restaurants, and I hate to do this but there were four restaurants that collected a huge number of votes this year, and I just don’t feel like proclaiming one of them as the best. So in alphabetical order, the winners were:

  • Agave (5 Granite Street)
  • El Paraiso, located at 545 Clover Lane
  • La Casa del Pueblo at 1209 Siskiyou
  • Taqueria Picaro (76 N. Pioneer).

Others receiving a lot of votes were:

  • El Tapatio
  • Mezcal
  • Señor Sam’s
  • La Tapatia in Phoenix
  • Big Al’s

BEST MARGARITAS

One of the classic margarita creation myths is that a guy named Danny Herrera came up with the concoction at his restaurant between Tijuana and Rosarita in 1938 to acquiesce to the wishes of Marjorie King, a former Ziegfeld dancer, who was allergic to many spirits and spices, but not to tequila, orange liqueur, or lime juice. “Well,” Danny said to himself, “let’s just put those things in a blender and see what happens!” Next thing you know, Jimmy Buffet is opening Margaritavilles all over the country.

Where to go for the perfect margarita? According to our readers, this came down as a tie between downtown restaurants Taqueria Picaro and Agave.

Others high on the list were:

  • El Paraiso
  • La Casa
  • El Tapatio
  • Brickroom
  • Mezcal
  • Creekside

FAVORITE ASIAN RESTAURANT 

While everyone frets about the trade war with China and whether or not all that money he or she put into kumquat futures is going to go south, our local Asian restaurants continue to entertain us with great food and friendly service. All of them got at least some mention in this survey, with the top spot being a tie between Thai Pepper, Billy Harto’s restaurant at 84 N. Main, and Sesame Asian Kitchen, located at 21 Winburn Way.

The list of favorites also included:

  • Kobe
  • Umami
  • Sakana
  • Masala Bistro & Bar
  • Bonsai Teriyaki
  • Taj Indian Cuisine
  • House of Thai Cuisine
  • Little Tokyo
  • Sushi Heaven
  • Yuan Yuan

FAVORITE ITALIAN RESTAURANT 

I suppose this category is similar to “Restaurant with Best Pasta Entrees,” and I apologize for the redundancy. The votes were close among the top three in this category, but Beasy McMillan’s Cucina Biazzi landed at the top, followed by:

  • Pie + Vine
  • Martino’s/Macaroni’s

Also receiving votes were:

  • Martolli’s
  • NW Pizza & Pasta
  • Great American Pizza
  • Creekside Pizza

FAVORITE PIZZA PLACE

I have some fond memories of hanging out in pizza restaurants after softball games. Of course, there was a 50-50 chance that I helped win the game with a well-placed single to right in the late innings OR lost the game because I dropped a lazy fly ball in the outfield. Either way, the pizza and/or beer always helped, plus the entire atmosphere of happy people, a lot of whom were there with their families.

This was another hard-fought battle which ended in a tie between Great American Pizza (1448 Ashland Street), and Martolli’s Hand Tossed Pizza, with two locations at 38 E. Main and at 1469 Siskiyou Boulevard.

Others in the mix were:

  • Creekside Pizza
  • Northwest Pizza & Pasta
  • Standing Stone

BEST PLACE TO BUY ICE CREAM

I don’t know how the Cavemen ever survived without a refrigeration unit to keep the ice cream cold. I suppose the Ice Age helped, but then you had to worry about keeping the cows warm and away from saber-toothed tigers. What a life … and they didn’t even have cable or WiFi! How did they ever survive?

Where would Cavemen go today to dip into some outstanding ice cream? Many of our readers chose Zoey’s Café & Natural Ice Cream, located downtown at 199 E. Main Street.

It was, however, very close as Mix (57 N. Main) also received a ton of votes, followed by:

  • Yogurt Hut
  • Rocky Mountain Chocolate

RESTAURANT WITH BEST DESSERTS

Desserts should be considered on an award basis. For example, if you spent two days at a family reunion with the in-laws, that deserves a strawberry short cake. Read the entire 448-page unredacted Mueller Report? Get out that crème brulee. Sat in front of the TV and binge watched all eight seasons of Game of Thrones in four days? Well, that calls for a big ol’ pineapple upside down cake.

So if you spent four days with the in-laws watching Game of Thrones and reading the Mueller Report at the same thing, you definitely deserve to visit a local restaurant and order everything on the menu. And in that regard, our readers most often mentioned the creations at Larks, located downtown in the Ashland Springs Hotel.

The list also included:

  • Luna Café in the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites
  • Mix
  • Amuse
  • Martino’s/Macaroni’s
  • Sauce
  • Zoey’s

BEST RESTAURANT TO PROPOSE MARRIAGE

Sure, you can arrange for a big surprise proposal during the seventh inning stretch of the Giants-Dodgers game at AT&T Park in San Francisco, alerting television crews to hone in on aisle 74 in the nosebleed section, but something a little more romantic would also work. Like, say, a restaurant with great ambience and an attentive staff. You don’t need to hire an Italian violinist or anything; just make sure the piped in music steers clear of Captain & Tennile, and you’ll do fine.

According to our readers, the most romantic restaurant would be a tie between Amuse, located at 15 N. 1st Street, and Alchemy Restaurant in the Winchester Inn at 35 S. 2nd.

Also receiving lots of proposals were:

  • Peerless
  • Martino’s/Macaroni’s
  • Cucina Biazzi
  • Brickroom
  • Hearsay
  • And to the person who wrote in “Taco Bell,” good luck with that one.

RESTAURANT WITH FRIENDLIEST WAITSTAFF

They don’t have to go around shaking hands, kissing babies, and acting as if they’re running for the U.S. Senate with a perpetual smile on their faces; just some good old all-American friendliness would do the trick. And in that regard, our readers most often named the friendly waitstaff at Wild Goose, located at 2365 Ashland Street, as their favorite.

The list also included:

  • Breadboard
  • La Casa del Pueblo
  • El Paraiso
  • Brickroom
  • Omar’s
  • Agave
  • Peerless

FAVORITE “QUICK SERVICE” RESTAURANT

You learn that the Chinese delegation is meeting with Japan for a quick round of golf, and you rush to the course to join the foursome. The last thing you need is for Japan to get hooked on cheap Chinese-made goods that are overflowing the shelves at Wal-Mart. Those are our cheap Chinese goods, and everyone else needs to just back off.

Anyway, where to go when you’re in a hurry and need a quick bite to eat before defusing an international crisis? This year the award went to Señor Sam’s, a walk-through restaurant in the Ashland Shopping Center where you get to choose your entrees and all the extras, and watch it cooked before your very eyes.

Others receiving their share of votes were:

  • Flip
  • Taco Bell
  • Wendy’s
  • Big Al’s
  • Simple Café
  • Happy Bowl
  • Taqueria Picaro

BEST SELECTION OF BURGERS  

I was in high school when the first McDonald’s opened in Evansville, Indiana. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven by buying a 16-cent hamburger (when you’re only given $3 a week by your mom for food, you gotta stretch out every dime). Since then, burgers have become more refined, with all kinds of extras and all the fixings. The U.S. now boasts some of the best hamburgers in the world, and here in the Rogue Valley, our readers singled out quite a few good ones, including this year’s winner, which ended up being a tie between Flip at 95 N. Main and Louie’s, located on the Plaza, followed by:

  • Big Al’s
  • Caldera
  • Standing Stone
  • Sammich
  • Wendy’s

BEST MILKSHAKES

As a certified member of Milkshakes Anonymous, I know how it feels to walk by an establishment serving mouth-watering milkshakes. Sure, sugar might not be good for you, and yeah, ice cream might contain a little fat, but what are you going to do, live an extra 14 minutes by not enjoying milkshakes? Forget that!

Where to go for that perfect milkshake? The winner this year was Big Al’s, located at 474 N. Main and owned and operated by Arturo and his wife. The original owner was Al Carver, who sadly died last year and is missed by everyone.

Coming in a close second was Zoey’s, at the corner of East Main and First, followed by:

  • Flip
  • Mix
  • RV Roasting Co.

BEST SELECTION OF SANDWICHES 

Putting a sandwich together is a very basic chore, but doing it right requires a master’s degree from a culinary institute. Me? I toast two gluten-free pieces of bread, throw three slices of turkey in between and add some mayonnaise. I’d be kicked out of culinary school in the first week. Gordon Ramsey would let me on his show only to let everyone know what an idiot looks like.

So if you want to see our local Gordon Ramseys putting together award-winning sandwiches, our readers first direct them to Sammich, Melissa McMillan’s restaurant located at 424 Bridge Street.

Others mentioned a lot were:

  • Pangea
  • Ashland Food Co-op
  • Brothers
  • Ruby’s
  • Subway

FAVORITE COFFEEHOUSE 

Now that Mitch McConnell is blocking everything that comes out of the House of Representatives, individual senators are desperately trying to come up with bipartisan legislation to show their constituents that they’re actually doing something. One of those was a proposal by a senator from South Dakota to have a coffee cup added to Abraham Lincoln’s hand on Mount Rushmore. It passed unanimously but is now being held up in the House.

Back to reality, this was a hard-fought category, but in the end it ended up as a tie between Noble Coffee Roasting at 281 Fourth Street and Rogue Valley Roasting Company at 917 E. Main.

The list also included:

  • Mix
  • Bloomsbury Coffee House
  • Case Coffee
  • Starbucks
  • Boulevard Coffee
  • Pony Espresso
  • Café 116
  • Human Bean
  • Griffin Creek

ENTERTAINMENT 

FAVORITE CONCERT IN ASHLAND LAST YEAR

It only seems like there aren’t many places to hear live music in Ashland. There’s actually quite a bit, from Brickroom and Wild Goose to the SOU Music Recital Hall and Live at the Armory. Our readers were able to name 24 different concerts or musical events in this survey. Garnering the most votes was the show, Solid Gold Duo, at Oregon Cabaret Theatre last February. It featured Jared Freiburg and Christopher Wren reprising their roles as Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins in OCT’s hit musical revue Million Dollar Quartet in 2018. The show also featured Jared Brown on drums and Darby Uspensky on bass.

The list also continued:

  • The “First Light Concert” by Southern Oregon Repertory Singers
  • Stephen Marley at Live at the Armory
  • Slow Corpse concerts
  • Rogue Valley Symphony’s concerts, especially September’s soloist Sujari Britt
  • Concerts by the City Band in the Bandshell
  • East Main Band at Camelot Theatre’s “Spotlight on Creedence Clearwater Revival”
  • Siskiyou Singers’ concert “From the Americas to the Baltics”
  • Brava Opera’s concert “Hansel & Gretel”

FAVORITE SHOW AT THE BRITT FESTIVAL LAST YEAR 

Whether you’re with friends or family (and a bottle of wine) sitting on blankets spread across the lawn or sitting in reserved seats near the front, the experience at the Britt Festival in Jacksonville is like no other. And I’m proud to say that I was one of its original supporters, as I saw Dave Brubeck in concert in August 1979 during one of the first Britt Jazz Festivals.

Our readers are also enthusiastic supporters and they named quite a few acts, including their number one choice, the Lost 80s Live concert, which featured a number of acts from the 1980s.

Others mentioned a lot were:

  • Kris Kristofferson
  • Michael Franti & Spearhead
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela
  • Jackson Browne
  • The Beach Boys

BEST PRODUCTION AT THE CRATERIAN THEATER LAST YEAR

It’s now officially the Craterian Theater at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts, named after James Collier, a very generous benefactor of the arts in the Rogue Valley. The theater was designed by Frank Chamberlain Clark, and in 1925 a contest was held to name the building, with a prize of $25 going to the winner. Mrs. W.P. Brooks of Medford won with his submission of The Craterian Theater.

With 732 seats, the Craterian brings in some big-name performers, in addition to a lot of local acts. Taking down the number one spot in the hearts of our readers this year was the concert by Roseanne Cash, followed by:

  • Next Stage Repertory Theatre’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
  • Rogue Valley’s Chorale’s Christmas concert, “Home for the Holidays”
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • “A Celtic Christmas”
  • New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ The Mikado
  • Eugene Ballet’s performance of Romeo and Juliet

MOST FUN PLACE FOR FIRST FRIDAY ART WALK

It has become the social event of the month, and hundreds (should I get all Carl Sagan on you and say thousands?) of people descend on downtown, the Railroad District, and the SOU campus to enjoy art, entertainment, refreshments and camaraderie every First Friday of the month. And if you don’t know anything about art, many of the artists themselves are there to guide you through the process.

Once again the Ashland Art Center landed atop this category. Located at 357 E. Main in the old Provost Building, it features thousands of square feet hosting many local artists who not only sell their art but also set up shop in the building, making it a warm and cozy atmosphere on First Friday. And if you get thirsty, Platt Anderson Cellars is also there.

Other fun places included:

  • Gallerie Karon
  • Art & Soul Gallery
  • Hanson Howard Gallery
  • American Trails
  • Outback in the Temple of Venus
  • Paddington Station
  • Gil’s/Ruby’s

FAVORITE LOCAL ARTIST

Some of them live hand-to-mouth their entire lives, then a hundred years later their paintings sell for $200 million. Go figure! In fact, I have a friend who is desperately trying to sell her house in order to fund another house she bought in Mexico. It was looking bad until she discovered a painting hanging in her barn that had been bought for $18 about 30 years ago. It looked halfway decent, so she took it to an art dealer who told her it was an original someone-or-another and was worth some money. They’re going to put it up for auction at Sotheby’s in L.A. next month starting at $250,000.

Which of our local artists will someday be raking in the money? Our readers were able to name 25 different favorites, starting with Toni DeMello, whose art can be seen hanging at the Wild Goose, where she works as a waitperson for her day job.

Others receiving lots of votes were:

  • Denise Kester
  • Gabriel Mark Lipper
  • Julia Janeway
  • Sarah Burns
  • Photographer Sean Bagshaw
  • Dana Feagin
  • Katrina Meister 

BEST FILM AT THE FILM FESTIVAL LAST YEAR

The 18th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival was held the first week of April in 2019, and they set attendance records as AIFF has become one of the most popular gatherings on the West Coast for movie fanatics. Over 150 films were screened to audiences of over 17,000. Our readers had their own particular favorites, with The Weight of Water topping the list. It is the “story of a blind man balancing fear in the chaos of kayaking whitewater rapids … not to mention drowning and the powerful desire to be free from a prison of darkness.”

The list of favorites also included:

  • Pahokee
  • The Woman Who Loves Giraffes
  • Miller and Son
  • From Baghdad to the Bay
  • Here and Now

BEST EXHIBIT AT SCIENCEWORKS LAST YEAR

If you’ve ever been to ScienceWorks, you know that you could spend the entire day visiting all of the different exhibits at that award-winning Hands-on Museum. They also bring in major exhibits, the dinosaur one from two years ago being one of the most popular (in fact, it’s still receiving votes from our readers).

Topping the list last year was the Apollo 50 Exhibit which ran last summer, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing in July 1969. The exhibition filled the entire DaVinci’s Garage and allowed people young and old to experience NASA’s Apollo program by placing them in the seat of Mission Control, exploring the Moon’s surface, and piloting a lunar lander.

Others mentioned a lot were:

  • Sportsology
  • The Wild Music Exhibit last winter, which explored the science of sound
  • Take Flight
  • Discovery Island

BEST PLACE TO GET A WORKOUT

I’ve been sitting at this computer so long that I decided to take a break and do four sets of 40 squats with 12-pound weights. Not sure if it accomplished anything, but it made me feel better about myself, which is the entire purpose of getting a good workout. Trying to get organized on your own can sometimes be difficult, especially if you don’t have the right equipment, and that’s where fitness clubs come in handy.

Once again winning this category for 2020 was the Ashland Family YMCA, located on the south end of town, followed by:

  • Snap Fitness
  • Ashland Tennis & Fitness Club
  • Anytime Fitness
  • CrossFit Ashland
  • CrossFit Inconceivable
  • Baxter Fitness Solutions
  • Lithia Park and/or hiking trails
  • Local yoga studios

BEST PLAY LAST YEAR (OFF-BARDWAY)

Southern Oregon is apparently a mecca for local theater, because I counted nine different theater “companies” (not including the Shakespeare Festival) between here and Medford. There’s definitely a lot to choose from, and our readers named quite a few favorites last year. Topping the list was Mama Mia!, Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s summer hit set on a small island in Greece with an all-star cast singing along to the music of ABBA.

Other favorites included:

  • Peter Pan at Camelot Theatre
  • Sweeney Todd at Oregon Cabaret Theatre
  • The Glass Menagerie at Collaborative Theatre Project in Medford
  • The Gin Game at Camelot Theatre
  • Sherlock Homes at Oregon Cabaret Theatre
  • Third at Ashland Contemporary Theatre
  • Man of La Mancha at Randall Theatre in Medford
  • Elektra by the SOU Theatre Arts Department 

BEST THEATER PERFORMANCE OFF-BARDWAY (MALE)

The guys turned in some strong performances last year, including this year’s winner Galloway Stevens, who played the leading role in Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s fall production of Sweeney Todd, followed by:

  • Paul Cosca in Camelot Theatre’s A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder
  • Jack Worthing in Collaborative Theatre Project’s The Importance of Being Earnest
  • Matt Koening for his role as Sherlock in OCT’s Sherlock Holmes
  • Erny Rosales as Quasimodo in Camelot’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Michael Hume as Kris Kringel in OCT’s Miracle on 34th Street
  • Adam Kilgore in Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s Third
  • Don Matthews in Randall Theatre’s Man of La Mancha

BEST THEATER PERFORMANCE OFF-BARDWAY (FEMALE)

On the female side of the ledger, Shirley Patton won for her role as Fonsia Dorsey in Camelot Theatre’s The Gin Game, a story of two elderly residents at a nursing home who strike up an acquaintance over games of gin rummy.

Others high on the list included:

  • Amy Bodnar for her role as Donna in Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s Mama Mia!
  • Wesley Carpenter as Sophie in OCT’s Mama Mia!
  • Lauren Blair in Collaborative Theatre’s The Bridges of Madison County and also in OCT’S Beehive
  • Livia Genise in Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s Third
  • Valerie Rachelle in OCT’s Sweeney Todd
  • Hazel Werfel in Collaborative’s The Glass Menagerie

BEST PLAY LAST YEAR (OSF)

There were some major changes at the Festival last year as long-time Artistic Director Bill Rauch departed for New York and handed over the reins to Nataki Garrett. Nataki definitely made her presence felt as the play she directed, How to Catch Creation, was the favorite among our readers last year.

The top three were actually pretty close, and they included:

  • Camodian Rock Band
  • Hairpray

Rounding out the top six were:

  • Between Two Knees
  • Mother Road
  • Macbeth

BEST THEATER PERFORMANCE OFF-BARDWAY (MALE) 

The Festival’s production of Cambodian Rock Band featured a group of rock ‘n’ rollers in war-torn Cambodia during the days of Pol Pot, and the Playbill featured six pages of lyrics from the songs that were performed. The play was a combination drama/rock concert, and it was a big hit with the audience. Our readers singled out Joe Ngo, for his role as Chum, the driving force behind the play and also their favorite in this category.

The list also included:

  • Danforth Comins as Macbeth
  • Chris Butler in Macbeth and How to Catch Creation
  • Mark Murphey in Mother Road
  • James Ryen in Cambodian Rock Band
  • Tony Sancho in Mother Road

BEST THEATER PERFORMANCE OFF-BARDWAY (FEMALE)

It’s interesting that in the Playbill for How to Catch Creation, it’s noted that “there is no protagonist.” That didn’t stop our readers from singling out Christiana Clark for her role as Tami in this play.

Others mentioned a lot were:

  • Greta Oglesby as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray
  • Katie Geraghty in Hairspray
  • Robin Goodrin Nordli in Macbeth
  • Amy Kim Waschke as Lady Macbeth

BEST DIRECTOR (LOCAL THEATER)

For the director of any production, every night is like giving birth to a child. A lot of work has gone into getting everything right, but in the back of your mind you know that something could go wrong at any second. They deserve our gratitude for a job well done.

And leading the way in that category was Nataki Garrett for her work with the Festival’s How to Catch Creation, followed by:

  • Valerie Rachelle for OCT’s Sweeney Todd and Mama Mia!
  • Christopher Liam Moore for OSF’s Hairpray
  • Gwen Overland for Camelot’s The Gin Game
  • Galloway Stevens for OCT’s Miracle on 34th Street

FAVORITE LOCAL MUSICIAN/SINGER

Woodstock took place a little over 50 years ago, and I’ve been playing my Woodstock albums recently. I missed that event, as I was still working in Yellowstone in 1969 for my last summer there. On the way back to Indiana, I stopped in Boulder, Colorado, and went to see Country Joe & the Fish at the football stadium. He got 30,000 people to sing along to the “F cheer,” which they’d performed at Woodstock. So is that close enough to claim to have been at Woodstock?

Here in Ashland, we have our local favorites and winning this category for 2020 was Alice DiMicele, a “singer/songwriter and acoustic guitar player who seamlessly works jazz/blues phrasing and R&B/rock ‘n’ roll rhythms into a broadened form she calls Organic Acoustic Groove.”  She’s been entertaining Rogue Valley audiences for the last 30 years.

The list also included:

  • Robbie DaCosta
  • Jeff Kloetzel
  • Jeff Pevar
  • Ed Dunsavage
  • Danielle Kelly
  • Craig Wright
  • Kristen Calvin

FAVORITE LOCAL ROCK/BLUES BAND 

For most musicians and bands, every gig is their own personal Woodstock, minus three or four hundred thousand people. Here in Ashland we love our rock ‘n’ roll bands, especially this year’s favorite, The Rogue Suspects, who appear regularly in concerts throughout Southern Oregon.

Other favorites included:

  • Slow Corpse
  • Danielle Kelly Soul Project
  • Brothers Reed
  • Blue Lightning
  • Bathtub Gin Serenaders
  • Matt Hill Band
  • Eight Dollar Mountain

BEST VENUE TO HEAR LIVE MUSIC

Rumors of the death of live music in Ashland have been greatly exaggerated, as there are still quite a few venues around town in which to enjoy some great music. Topping the list in that category was The Brickroom, were Eli and his staff continue to bring in top-name bands in a fun, lively atmosphere.

They were followed by:

  • The Wild Goose
  • Live at the Armory
  • The Black Sheep
  • SOU Music Recital Hall
  • Oberon’s
  • The Unitarian Church
  • The Havurah
  • Local wineries
  • The Green Show 

BEST BAR TO MEET FRIENDS AFTER WORK 

Whether you’re working construction or pushing paper around an office desk, there’s nothing like visiting your favorite gathering hole and discussing the day’s events. It’s almost like standing around the water cooler at work, except a pitcher of beer sounds like a lot more fun.

To everyone who pointed out that we mistakenly entered this category twice on the ballot, we thank you for politely noting what idiots we are. The proofreader has been put on bread and bourbon for a week. Anyway, winning this category for 2020 was Growler Guys, a gathering place with indoor and outdoor seating at 345 Lithia Way.

Also mentioned a lot were:

  • Omar’s
  • Gil’s
  • Brickroom
  • Oak Tree
  • Taqueria Picaro
  • Black Sheep
  • Oberon’s
  • Caldera
  • Wild Goose
  • Louie’s 

BEST BAR TO MEET FRIENDS LATE AT NIGHT

Bars don’t just cater to lonely single people; they’re a great place to meet friends, listen to music, and of course, get a ride home with a designated driver or taxi. This category ended up as a tie between Brickroom, located upstairs on the Plaza, and The Black Sheep, also located upstairs on the Plaza.

The list included:

  • Hearsay
  • Alchemy
  • Martino’s
  • Creekside
  • Omar’s
  • Oak Tree
  • Oberon’s
  • Wild Goose
  • Beau Club
  • Growler Guys
  • Gil’s

BAR WITH BEST POOL TABLES

Countryside Village RetirementMy favorite bar story took place in the Florida Keys back in my young and dumb stage (as opposed to old and stupid). We’d put our quarter on the table, and when our turn came, there was a huge argument over who was next. I negotiated the whole thing, proudly announcing that we would wait until the next game. When that happened, some burly biker dude got up and grabbed the quarter to put in the table. I protested and searched the other people for support, but they were too scared, so I picked the top ball off the rack and told my compatriots to explain to Mr. Biker Dude what we had already negotiated. Then I looked down on the table and noticed that the biker’s buddy, some idiot with tattoos up and down his arms, had placed a small knife on the table. The biker then said, “Put the ball down or get cut.” I replied, “All right,” then grabbed my quarter and got the hell out of there. What do you think? Should I have decked him?

Luckily, things are a little more subdued here in mellow Ashland, and all of the available pool tables got mentioned by our readers. Taking down the number one spot was Oak Tree Northwest Bar, followed by:

  • Wild Goose
  • I-Pub
  • Creekside
  • Beau Club
  • Northwest Pizza & Pasta
  • Elk’s Club

FAVORITE MARIJUANA DISPENSARY

Purists would tell me that the category should be called “Favorite Cannabis Dispensary,” but I didn’t want to confuse people. And in case anyone didn’t see the memo, marijuana is now legal in the state of Oregon, so try not to freak out about it.

Winning this category for 2020 was Breeze Botanicals, located at 1526 Siskiyou Boulevard.

The list also featured:

  • Kaleafa, 1253 Siskiyou
  • Madrone Cannabis Club (481 Applegate Way)
  • Rogue Valley Cannabis at 505 Siskiyou
  • House of Leaves, located at 488 N. Main
  • Talent Health Club in Talent
  • Green Valley Wellness in Talent

FAVORITE VINEYARD

If cannabis isn’t totally your thing (see above), you can always visit one of the Rogue Valley’s many wineries and vineyards, where a whole different experience awaits you. Quite a few wineries were named by our readers, with the number one pick being a tie between Weisinger Family Winery (3150 Siskiyou Blvd.) and Irvine & Roberts Vineyards at 1614 Emigrant Creek Road.

The top ten featured:

  • Dana Campbell Vineyards (1320 N. Mountain)
  • Grizzly Peak Winery (1600 E. Nevada)
  • Belle Fiore Winery (100 Belle Fiore Lane)
  • Platt Anderson Cellars, with a storefront at the Ashland Art Center (357 E. Main)
  • 2Hawk Vineyard & Winery at 2335 N. Phoenix Road
  • Ledger David Cellar, with a tasting room in Phoenix
  • Paschal Winery (1122 Suncrest Road outside Talent)
  • South Stage Cellars in Jacksonville

* * * * *

Houston, we have touchdown. Now that this is over, I may visit some of those cannabis dispensaries and wineries to celebrate. If you have any suggestions for new entries next year, write to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. —C.H.