The State of the Union (House)
By Antoinette May Herndon
A new chapter has opened in the unfolding saga of Mokelumne Hill’s Union House. The hero is Jared Williams, a twenty something electrical contractor from the Bay Area, who has just reopened the historic bistro. Wisely, Jared is keeping his day job. The Union House has had a very checkered career just in the 11 years that I’ve lived in the Foothills.
But the building and most particularly the property it stands on dates back much farther than that. Since its original opening in 1855, the Union House has been an elegant three-story hotel, countless stores, a service station, a brewery, and a supper club.
During the Gold Rush days, Hinton Helper, a Mok Hill miner, wrote home opining: “I will say, that I have seen purer liquors, better segars, finer tobacco, truer guns and pistols, larger dirks and bowie knives, and prettier courtesans here, than in any other place that I have ever visited.”
It’s likely that Helper bought some of those segars and knives at Levinson & Bros. Store (sight of today’s Mokelumne Hill Exchange and Reading Room) and chatted up those pretty courtesans while drinking his fancy liquor at the Union House.
The late Jeff Tuttle acquired the property in the 1990’s but as time passed and his focus shifted to law, Jeff perceived the selling of liquor as a possible source of conflict. The property was sold but the sale didn’t “take.” The Union House returned to Jeff and the building stood empty, all the while growing more and more dilapidated.
Jeff, then 59, had been district attorney for ten years and was running unopposed for yet another term when he died suddenly of a heart attack in
the spring of 2010.
Soon after, Jeff’s parents, Dick and Sally Tuttle, decided to reopen the restaurant as a memorial and town center. It took master carpenter Chris Niebur six months to get the place up to speed.
“The design process involved extensive underground excavation,” he told me. “I started out repairing a sewer line and ended up on an archeological dig.”
In the course of his work, Chris exposed the basement of the original Union Hotel. “The hotel had burned to the ground years ago, nothing left but ashes. Beneath those ashes, I found a thousand pieces of Gold Rush life.”
The Union House flourished for a time under the Tuttles as a kind of supper club. There was great food and live entertainment. Really live. Remember the hoochy koochy dancers? But eventually the business closed once again.
Now it appears that with Jered Williams’s guidance, the Union House has reincarnated once again. Jared has assembled a team that includes Drew Phillips, a pizza consultant from Los Angeles, Jack Ftacek, a custom carpenter, Jenny Lyman, a decorator; and—to locals anyway—most importantly, Desirae Noland, waitress par excellence formerly of the Hotel Leger.
Jered’s current menu offers four different pizzas: Hawaiian BBG chicken, Margherita, white veggie and Drew’s baked potato pizza pie. Additionally, there are 23 extra toppings from which to choose. (Everything you can think of.)
He is also designing a special breakfast pizza and plans to expand the operation to include a weekly barbecue night.
There’s a huge screen for viewing major sports events and classic movies, also a piano for community sing-a-longs. Plans center around entertainment of all kinds. Besides singers and musicians,
the girls in Mok will be back with their hoochy koochy dance.
Opening night on June 14 was a scene of controlled madness. Guests must go inside to one counter to order their pizzas and another to order their beer or wine. Long lines, long waits, but hopefully all that will be fixed by the time you read this column.
Three of us shared the Hawaii BBQ Chicken Pizza ($17.50). It consisted of mozzarella cheese, chicken, bacon, sweet onions, pineapple and jalapenos. For my taste the pizza was a little heavy on the jalapenos, but taste is so subjective.
We added cherry tomatoes for an extra $1. All extra toppings are $1 each.
There are four different beers on tap and additional specialty brands available. I had a mug of my old favorite, Moose Drool, ($3). There’s also a large and varied wine list.
The menu includes two salads, Caesar and garden, for $4 each and Ron Pitner’s signature cheese cake at $6.
We went back the next night and ordered Drew’s Baked Potato Pizza Pie. ($17) Take my word for it, this is like no pizza you’ve ever tasted. Just imagine a mashed potato base, cheddar and mozzarella cheese, bacon, sweet onions, broccoli and chives. It’s very interesting.
The Union House has always been a dreamy palace to dawdle on warm summer nights. I plan to do a lot of that in the next three months. Hope I’ll meet you there.
VITALS: Union House is located at the corner of Main and Center in Mokelumne Hill. Phone: 623-5965. Hours will be Thursday room 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Credit cards accepted.
Jered Williams is the new owner of Mokelumne Hill’s Union House.
Outdoor dining is delightful at Mokelumne Hill’s Union House.