Murphys Hotel -- Dine on History
Sierra Lodestar 11/24/10

Foothill Flavors

A Slice of History at Murphys Hotel

By Antoinette May Herndon

When the ten of us trooped into Murphys bar on a recent Saturday night we were pretty high on ourselves. All that afternoon we'd been up the street at the Native Sons Hall shooting off our mouths, (so to speak). The excuse for getting to talk about what we all like to do best- write-was that we were panelists in a symposium, "Harvest the Word."

Hopefully, the audience came away knowing a little more about editing, researching, manuscript presentation and publishing than they did coming in.

One thing is certain, they had been a wonderful audience, enthusiastic and full of questions. And not one of them walked out despite the fact that the Natives Sons Hall was cold enough to see your breath. I personally had felt my feet turn to two solid blocks of ice that were only now beginning to thaw in the warm ambience of the historic bar.

Murphys is a real saloon straight out of the 1800s. Imagine an old fashioned pot bellied stove and a 30- foot long wooden bar made from one plank that has been in place since 1865.

Hands clasped around a welcoming martini, I surveyed the art work-prints of Custer's Last Stand, Sheridan's Charge at Winchester, and a 31-star American flag. I tried my best to avoid the reproachful stares of moose, elk, and stags mounted on the walls above me. Murphys bar is a macho kind of place.

Carrying our cocktails like Holy Grails, we threaded our way out of the bar into the old fashioned dining room where a table for ten had been arranged for us.

Our table was anchored on one end by Mother Monika (Rose), the heart and soul of the symposium, and her pretty and able assistant, Linda Field, who'd handled the details with a former flight attendant's charm and efficiency.

Our table "Stars," surely in my mind, were Lou Gonzalez and Jim Lanier who gently and patiently walked the symposium

attendees through a short course in Ebook publishing. Let's face it, like it or not, ebooks are our reading and writing future. Accept it or prepare to fall on your quill pen. The book world as many of us knew and loved it, is changing fast. (Way too fast for me.)

Lou and Jim, harbingers of the future though they may be, nonetheless went with a traditional Murphys selection, fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. ($14.95) The chicken was tender, moist and flavorful.

A true "old fashioned" fried chicken, the dish made me think a bit about the traditions of the dining room itself. Murphys Hotel opened on Aug. 20, 1856 as a stopping point along the stagecoach route to Big Trees. Today it's thought to be the oldest still operating wooden hotel in California.

Lou and Jim's partners, Jennifer Tristano and Becky Lanier respectively, also joined the chicken contingency. Clearly, they knew a good thing when they saw and smelled it. Fried chicken is the dining room's tried and true failsafe dish. It is always delicious.

Once considered the finest hotel this side of San Francisco, Murphys drew the likes of Mark Twain, Horatio Alger, Henry Ward Beecher, John Jacob Aster, Ulysses S. Grant, J.P. Morgan and Charles Bolles, alias Black Bart.

That night I felt very honored to sit across the table from the famous Black Bart impersonator Glenn Wasson, who is also the author of "Tales Mark Twain Would Have Loved to Steal."

It didn't surprise me that a rootin' tootin' guy like Glenn would go for prime rib. ($22.95-eight oz.) It was cooked to perfection and I noticed that there didn't have anything left to take home.

Glenn's wife, Joanie, and I were not so lucky with our selections: lamb shank. (21.95.) They were "ok" but tasted suspiciously like leftovers heated up. Since I've had delicious lamb shanks before at Murphys dining room, I was disappointed.

Charles, my husband, who'd

been a captive throughout the day -"forced" to tote my books into the hall, sit through a symposium that had nothing to do with his profession, then carry the books out at the end of the event-rewarded himself with a three course meal. First there was a very succulent prawn cocktail ($9.95 for six) with a piquant hot sauce.

He followed up with French onion soup ($3.95). It was very, very good. (I know because I, too, had a cup.) Charles topped the evening off with fish and chips ($11.95). He was well pleased.

Monika and Linda, who had worked so hard all day (and into the evening cleaning up), got a late start at dinner, but quickly made up for it with fresh spinach salads (bacon bits, sliced egg and sesame seeds along with very fresh spinach) at $5.95 and filet mignon (six oz. $24.95). Very nice.

It isn't always easy for restaurants to serve groups of 10. The day's pressure was over for us and we wanted to par---ty. What a challenge to get 10 laughing, chattering extroverts to calm down! Murphys rose to the occasion. Brian Goss, the manager-host, and Jason Eisenmen, our waiter, were pleasant, patient and perseverant.

For us it was a commemorative evening in a perfect setting. Murphys Hotel is registered as California Historical Landmark #267 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

That evening the ten of us felt that we had also made history, albeit small and personal, of our own and wanted to celebrate. Murphys Hotel was the perfect place.

VITALS: Murphys Hotel and Restaurant is located at 457 Main St., Murphys. Phone: 728-3444. Open seven days a week including all major holidays (Christmas is fun there, we've tried it). Hours are from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations on weekends are advised. Credit card accepted.


Jason Eisenmen is an expert and obliging server in the dining room of Murphys Hotel.