This newly renovated hotel merges history with hip interiors.
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Holbrooke Hotel in California, Western style decor and a real saloon
Credit: Kat Alves

It's not often that a hotel's restaurant comes before the hotel — but then again, there isn't much that is ordinary about the Golden Gate Saloon at the Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley, CA, a relic of California's gold mining days that reopened last January, retaining the spirit of its frontier era, but now with refined touches every step of the way.

"Design decisions mix classic and modern touches with vintage furniture and fixtures, set against the building's raw structural elements of brick, wood, and stone," the Holbrooke Hotel says of its own "timeless aesthetic" on their website. "Local architects, designers, and craftspeople have preserved the charm and history of this treasured property while revitalizing it into the modern day."

Holbrooke Hotel in California, Western style decor and a real saloon
Credit: Kat Alves

The saloon was built in 1852 during the heart of the Gold Rush — and the following year, the Exchange Hotel was added to the property. But their resilience was quickly put to the test. An area-wide fire in 1855 destroyed both properties, but the saloon owners quickly adapted, setting up a tent among the damage to sell whisky and beer. Both were rebuilt, and when another fire destroyed the hotel in 1962, it built back bigger, as two stories instead of one.

It's that kind of fearless energy that still dominates the saloon, believed to be the longest continually running one west of the Mississippi. The current menu, re-invented under Acme Hospitality, still harkens that gold rush influence, with both smoked meats and Mexican-inspired accompaniments, which chef Zachary Ahrenholtz — an alum of renown Napa Valley kitchens like Calistoga Ranch, Hotel Yountville, E'toile at Domaine Chandon, and Il Posto — calls "refined yet cool and approachable." Among the highlights are a tuna tostada with sashimi-grade yellowfin, fried corn tortilla, avocado, watermelon radish, green and red onion, and cabbage; smoked chicken adobo with chorizo-spiced potatoes and roasted corn; and pozole verde made of summer squash, tomatillo, pasilla peppers, hominy, jalapeño, radish, cilantro, crema, and lime.

Holbrooke Hotel in California, Western style decor and a real saloon
Credit: Kat Alves

The setting adds to the vibe with mounted animal heads in the dining room, designed by Doug Washington Design, and the saloon's stunning bar, the work of Anne L'Esperance Design, featuring Victorian lampshades and mahogany mirrors.

Holbrooke Hotel in California, Western style decor and a real saloon
Credit: Kat Alves

But the historic saloon isn't the the only eatery on the premises of the 28-room hotel that was deemed a California State landmark in 1974 — though you may need to look a little harder for the other. Down the stairs and in the basement is The Iron Door speakeasy, known for its handcrafted cocktails. Inviting guests to "forget the world above," the amber lighting cast along the original stone walls provoke an adventurous atmosphere, thanks in part to the custom bar sitting against the original metal doors that once opened up to an underground tunnel network. Signature drinks here include the Violet French 75 with gin, lemon, violette, and a sparkling float, and the Palonita with tequila blanco, grapefruit, Aperol, and lime.

Just five miles northeast of Golden Gate Saloon and Holbrooke Hotel in Nevada City is another recently renovated historic property from Acme Hospitality, the 38-room National Exchange Hotel, which opened in 1856. Oozing with Victorian-era influences, the property is home to more than 400 art pieces, as well the region's well-loved National Bar and the new Lola Dining, named after gold rush-era performer Lola Montez and led by chef Tom Bevitori, a Nevada City native. Both properties are also overseen by region culinary director David Rodriguez