RYDE — The cool thing about the Ryde Hotel and its stunning presence on the Sacramento River is that it has hidden places – and during Prohibition there were lots of hidden things in order to keep the bootlegging a (not so) secret.
It’s a legend in the Delta with stories swirling around about its former guests, their alleged activities and the probable raids that occurred at the speakeasy.
The current Ryde Hotel – a couple of predecessors burned down – with its tall, leggy water tower and backdrop of palm trees, sits on Grand Island and was built in 1927 (think Prohibition). It offers a Sunday champagne brunch that Viksit Bhardwaj, the establishment’s general manager, said people have been coming to for decades.
One couple in their 90s made a return visit after sharing their first date at the hotel in 1937. They were in the eighth grade.
The rich and famous have also used the Ryde Hotel during its history – that included the notorious, such as various mobsters. Herbert Hoover announced his election campaign at the hotel and later on writers from San Francisco used to host parties at the hotel.
“It was the perfect hideout for the Hollywood types,” Bhardwaj said.
But in the late 1920s, the downstairs allegedly cashed in on illegal booze, like many area establishments. That era left behind some awesome nefarious hidden things, such as a door masked as a closet that leads downstairs to the former location of the illicit speakeasy. The door came complete with a peep hole, a password, and at the bottom of the stairs, if you were let in, a small window to pay before being allowed into the real fun.
The downstairs is currently used as a banquet facility, or for such events as weddings and receptions, but one look at the original black-laquered bar, art deco motif, columns and some original ornate wooden booths, and it’s pretty easy to picture an Al Capone lookalike sipping ill-gotten booze in a smokey atmosphere while listening to the sounds of Al Jolson, Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong.
Off to the side of the bar, tucked away, is the entrance to a tunnel that lead out to the river – the booze allegedly came in from the river. Lookouts supposedly used to stand out on the rooftop or the water tank to watch for anyone coming, Bhardwaj said.
“Back in the ’20s the traffic came by boat, not by road,” he said.
A small building out back was also rumored to be a still, producing gin and whiskey, according to “The Historic Delta Country” by Charles A.Bohakel in 1979.
According to information published by the hotel, it was also a riverboat way station and rumored to be a bordello, connected to the hotel by a second tunnel. The “dancing ladies” used to live on the grounds behind the hotel in a building that was torn down about a year ago, Bhardwaj said. They used that other tunnel to go “home.”
“The men used to follow them out there,” he said.
For more information about the hotel’s amenities, go to www.rydehotel.com.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.