Winter 2023 - Phoenix/Talent, from tragedy to revival

Monday, October 20, 2014

Peerless Restaurant & Neighborhood Bar

Peerless Restaurant & Neighborhood Bar

New American Cuisine in Ashland’s Historic Railroad District

Story by Valerie Coulman 

When Crissy Barnett, owner and manager of the Peerless Hotel & Restaurant, first moved to Ashland from Hawaii in 1986, she had no intention of going into the hospitality business.

But she wasn’t having much success finding work at the time, so, recalls Barnett, “I basically created a job for myself.” That job? Restoring the Peerless Rooms building, a 1900 historic building that sat as a condemned property on 4th Street in Ashland’s Railroad District. “The building had an amazing charm to it,” says Barnett, “even as a condemned building.” After purchasing the building, Barnett spent two years as her own general contractor, restoring and retrofitting the building to meet modern building codes as well as modern travelers’ expectations, while still giving each room an authentic and eclectic charm that met the guidelines of the National Register of Historic Places.

Sitting across an adjoining garden space from the hotel, the Peerless Restaurant & Neighborhood Bar opened three years after the hotel was complete, in a separate building that had also been home to a variety of businesses over the years. What they all had in common, says Barnett, was that they provided a community center where people could connect, from floral shop to coffee tables to concerts. With that focus in mind, and a chef hired from her native Honolulu, the Peerless Restaurant opened with a focus on Pacific Rim fusion cuisine. At the time, says Barnett, “nothing like that was happening here.”

Since its opening, the Peerless Restaurant has continued to play host to a range of community connections. “The venue is such that we’re open to a wide variety of events,” says Barnett. With a private dining room, beautiful garden spaces, a covered deck and indoor dining room and bar, the Peerless has hosted wine tasting evenings, intimate weddings, fashion shows, training events, live music, and even a guest-inspired croquet game. While their menu evolved over time, their reputation for a fresh and refreshing dining experience remained the same.

And now, says Barnett, “I’ve come full circle and we’re back to Pacific Rim fusion cuisine again.” With the introduction of highly acclaimed Chef Joshua Ketner (also from Honolulu) in July of 2014, the Peerless has returned to its roots. The menu features a range of dishes that highlight the seasonal variety of the area, including locally sourced and sustainably grown ingredients. “The beautiful thing about fusion is that you bring ingredients found locally and combine them into something unique,” says Barnett. Partnering with local suppliers like Dunbar Farms and Southern Oregon wineries, Chef Ketner brings a fresh and unique dining experience to each table at The Peerless Restaurant.

Barnett also recognizes that their location gives them a two-fold presence in Ashland. For locals, “it’s more of a neighborhood feel,” describes Barnett, which frequently involves diners sharing memories of past events and occasions from the building’s history. For area visitors, being a little off the beaten path adds a joy of discovery, says Barnett. “It’s really an adventure for them to come down to the Railroad District.” And what they find brings them back. 

Barnett now looks back herself and laughs. “The only familiarity I had [with the hotel business] was staying in hotels.” While she admits that she originally harbored thoughts of selling the building once the restoration was complete, Barnett sums up what actually happened: “ … and twenty years later, I’m still here. With a restaurant.”


Peerless Restaurant & Neighborhood Bar

265 4th Street, Ashland


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