ESCONDIDO — It’s been 16 years since Melissa Walker and Sam Pulvers purchased a desolate, 7,000-square-foot building on Grand Avenue in downtown Escondido. The duo purchased the vacant site on one of their first dates and quickly transformed it into a vibrant space now known as Distinction Gallery.
After more than 100 exhibits, two children and sadly, the death of Pulvers — Walker is now completing the business with one final venture: the Last Spot bar.
“Sam and I always had a passion for red wine,” Walker said. “We spent our anniversaries and special occasions at wineries in Paso Robles or Temecula and often visited our local Escondido wineries on weekends. I really wanted to combine our love for fine wine and craft beer with my love of art.”
The Last Spot bar, which opened this month inside Distinction Gallery, features local, craft beers, wines and kombucha. It’s one of several businesses inside the warehouse, including ArtHatch, which provides local artists with rental space, and locally owned Escape Rooms.
Walker said the Last Spot Bar contributes to Escondido’s developing character in the region as a hotspot for art, trendy restaurants and fun bars.
“When we first opened, I remember a few people coming in saying we would never survive in Escondido showing the type of artwork we exhibit,” Walker said. “I just laughed and explained that we opened in Escondido for the good schools, fantastic restaurants, and ever growing downtown.”
The 20-hour days Walker and her late husband worked for years paid off. Distinction Gallery is now a go-to art space for artists and aficionados alike.
“Luckily I knew at the time that businesses see no boundary limitations,” Walker said. “We have always heavily relied on out of state and out of country sales. We still do although I have to say that locals have supported us far more than I ever could have dreamed.”
Sadly, Walker lost her life and business partner, Pulvers, two years ago when he died from a rare esophageal cancer.
Despite the devastating loss of Pulvers, Walker said his memory is alive at Last Spot and the gallery as a whole.
Pulvers, who had a passion for art, is remembered throughout the business, including at the new bar where his photos are shown on the furniture.
“I am grateful that most of my staff knew Sam, but not all of them,” Walker said. “It always crushes me to change anything Sam built and this project was filled with those changes. But I have to remind myself that Sam never dwelled on the past. He, like me, understood that in order for the business to work well you have to stay relevant and that means frequently updating with whatever is happening in the world or economy at the time.”
Melissa Ralston, who has worked with Walker for years at Distinction Gallery, said customers will appreciate the warm space of Last Spot.
“Melissa does everything over the top, so it has a really cool vibe and lots of artistic eye candy,” Ralston said. “It’s just a really cool place to be. They serve and support local breweries and wineries and have mocktails, which is trending right now for those who want to be out in the scene without alcohol.”
More importantly, Walker hopes the Last Spot bar will bring in more customers to appreciate art — the way her late husband did.
“My husband loved art,” Walker said. “I found that out on our first date and I have the reminder daily. Every piece we bought has a story and I am so lucky to be surrounded by them every single day.”
For more information about the Last Spot, go to lastspotbar.com. For more information about Distinction Gallery, go to distinctionart.com.
Hoa Quach has 15 years of experience in journalism, garnering multiple awards ranging from investigative reporting to feature writing. She’s been named a “Woman Who Means Business” by the San Diego Business Journal, featured in BuzzFeed during International Women’s Day and recognized by the California Legislature for her work. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.