I hit the jackpot today at Pala Casino Spa Resort in San Diego County. I didn't win any money, but I did get to see the unveiling of Cave, a new $5 million underground wine cave and accompanying 4,300 sq-ft aboveground restaurant and lounge.
Designed by Pala's in-house architectural team and built by Swinerton Builders of San Diego, the 2,400-sq-ft Cave looks like a real cave inside, with lots of rock and granite outcroppings, and highlighted by a contemporary design that incorporates heavy wood with steel and copper finishes.
The new wine cellar and eatery replaces the resort's Mama’s Cucina Italiana Restaurant.
“It is the only underground entertainment venue of its kind in San Diego County,” said Pala CEO Bill Bembenek at the media opening event. “We have dovetailed an already popular industry in our region, wine and wine tasting, with the gaming industry to create a place with a unique ambiance that is not available elsewhere."
To find room for the new development, which began construction in mid-January of this year, Bembenek said they located Cave between the existing hotel and casino. He said they buried the cellar 15 ft underground, beneath a new outdoor entertainment area with a permanent stage and seating for 2,200 people.
Jeff Crook, Swinerton Builders superintendant for the project, told me that during excavation, Swinerton unearthed a group of 25 ft x 30 ft x 6 ft thick tower crane footings left behind from the original construction of the hotel back in the early 2000s.
"This was an interesting challenge," says Crook, who I met at the unveiling event. "They were solid concrete with rebar and it took three days with 12-hour shifts of non-stop breaking with the excavator to demo them out."
Officially opened to the public on May 23, the Cave boasts more than 480 domestic and imported wine labels, with 18 tables, 52 seats and 10 bar seats; the aboveground restaurant provides 21 tables with 96 seats; and the Lounge offers eight tables with 32 seats and 26 bar seats.