It took many months, a big pile of money, some serious engineering skill and the guidance of a history-minded city planning staff, but Allan Sandler has built the highest restaurant patio — the front of the Granite Taphouse — in a city increasingly full of elevated dining patios.

The balcony completion achieved the rare goal of building a mostly new facade on the 1880 Masonic Temple with a whole new balcony on the third floor, one that's attached to the front wall but is structurally anchored to the ground by new concrete and steel and stands on its own.

Why? If the long-expected "Big One" earthquake ever comes to the I-5 corridor, the 137-year old structure could be vulnerable but the streetside segment won’t tip over into the pedestrian-heavy Plaza.

On a less-ominous note, the balcony seats 10 and provides a boffo dining spot in Ashland to gawk at Grizzly Peak and people-watch on the Plaza below.

The other balcony spots also offer a platform for delightful summer dining. On the Plaza, in addition to Granite, there’s Martino’s, Brickroom and — on Calle Guanajuato, facing cozy Ashland Creek, there’s Greenleaf, the rear of Brickroom and Loft Brasserie & Bar.

Sandler says city officials and the city Historic Commission were immensely supportive of the re-do, helping to keep all the historical features of the old building, while pioneering with seismically correct construction.

Historic corbels and column tops had to be removed, but the originals went back up, Sandler said, while relaxing on the balcony under sun umbrellas.

“A really nice thing about being so high up here on this balcony, is the nice summer breeze,” said co-owner Sally Rose Sandler.

A nearby restaurant, the Brickroom, features balconies on the Plaza and, at the back, above the much-strolled Calle Guanajuato and Ashland Creek.

“On the front, you see the heart of town. It’s a cool opportunity to sit and see people come and go. It’s always a nice place to snack and watch time pass,” said owner Eli Katkin. “The back is bigger and much more popular. The sun breaks over it at 11 in the morning, when people start having beverages. The Calle is always kind of hopping."

Ashlanders are crazy about the balconies and it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t lounged on them.

“They are awesome. I love to sit out on the Brickroom rear patio, under an umbrella on the creek,” said Ashlander Krista Johnson. “They make me feel very cosmopolitan. It seems I’m in another part of the world, like I’m traveling. It’s very different than just going out to dinner. It’s super fun to look down on the trees and Plaza. Martolli’s is great, real close to the passing crowd.”

Amy Arapoff, also of Ashland, says, “I love them. We should have more. I’m all about balconies. They give me that cosmopolitan feel like being in Europe. The view is lovely and you can get in a lot of people-watching.”

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at