A Renaissance for Mokelumne's Hotel Leger
Calaveras Enterprise 8/2/03

By Antoinette May Herndon

AT THE HOTEL LEGER: Everything Old Is New Again

"Just a job" took on a whole new spin twenty years ago when Jane Cantry met Ron Pitner. Jane was the bartender at the Leger (pronounced lah-jay). Ron the maintenance man. Love at first sight? Maybe. For certain, work became lots more fun. Still, no one could ever have guessed what fate had in store for them.

Jane and Ron became a couple, then a married couple. Jane worked for three Leger owners, Ron for two. A familiar refrain around their house was seemingly a pipe dream, "Now, if that place were ours..."

Jane's daughter, Ashley, grew up, graduated from Calaveras High School and high tailed it out of Dodge--I mean Mokelumne Hill. "I couldn't get out fast enough," she says today. "I wanted the big city life. She got it too. First Ashley went into retail, then interior design.

But, of course, she came home often to visit her parents. Driving by the Leger, a place where she'd literally grown up, the interior decorator in Ashley saw its possibilities. "I felt the old building calling out: 'Save me! Save me! Make me pretty again!'"

Suddenly, unexpectedly, opportunity did the Knock! Knock! thing. The rest is modern history. Jane, Ron and Ashley bought the hotel in November and the transformation began. What's followed is a renaissance. A year ago Mokelumne Hill was the town that time forgot, but once its centerpiece was reactivated the tempo changed. Four new businesses (a gallery, coffee house, brewery/beer garden and antique shop) have opened.

Suddenly the slumbering village is a happening place.

One of the most historic hostelries in the Mother Lode, the Leger has always been the hub of town activity. Beginning in 1851, a hotel has existed on the corner of Lafayette and Main. From 1851 to 1879, its owner and proprietor was the bon vivant Frenchman, George Leger. Part of the building served as the Calaveras County courthouse until 1866.

The courthouse section of the present building dates from 1855, the annex in back, also made of stone, from 1862. In late August of 1874 George Leger embellished his hotel with a new bar. It was said to be a gorgeous creation of black walnut, maple and laurel. The Calaveras Chronicle raved: "All the hotel lacks to make it equal to any house in our rival city of San Francisco is an elevator." Wow!

Unfortunately, the building was gutted a week later in the Sept. 4 fire which raged through Mokelumne Hill. The hotel as we see it today dates from April 1875,

The newly refurbished Leger bar is the town's living room. Everybody goes there. The décor is Victorian with comfy couches and cute ice cream bar tables and chairs. The piece de resistance is the "new" bar, circa 1875. Above are magnificent stain glass windows dating from 1851, brought by boat and buckboard from San Francisco.

Maybe you think it was Jane's pixie smile that first attracted Ron. But I suspect it was her prowess with a martini shaker. Whatever, the Leger's martinis are awesome. Perfect martinis are hard to come by. Here's Jane's cherished recipe: Put a martini glass on ice. Fill shaker three-fourths full.

Add one-half ounce dry vermouth (Jane prefers Martini and Rossi). Swirl--don't shake--four times. Drain off vermouth. Pour in three ounces of your favorite gin. Swirl 17 times! Pour into chilled glass. Add two olives. Rim the glass lightly with olive juice. Enjoy!

The Leger is open Thursday through Monday. Monday is a one-dish night with entrees under $10. Hard to beat that. But then there's Kareoke Night on Thursday. That's when the Leger's hidden treasure, Shana Molotch, the singing bartender, steps into the limelight. She's only wonderful. Bo and Kim Evans of Evans Entertainment run a good show that keeps people coming back every week. Wait till you hear Jack Galvin, of Angel's Camp, a Frank Sinatra sound alike.

The Gold Rush Forum, an ongoing series of cultural events, is the Leger's newest attraction. More later about award winner Jim Spencer's short story workshop on Sept. 20 and the two-day seminar and fashion show, Celebrating The Woman on Sept. 27-28th.
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Perhaps you're wondering why a latecomer from Palo Alto is writing this column. I guess it's because writing is what I do. I'm a biographer, former newspaper editor and wannabe novelist. The Leger is very special to me. I fell in love with my husband there in October of 2001. Two months later we were engaged and ten months later we married in the garden of our Mok Hill dream house.

I hope you'll share your news, interests, causes and concerns by calling 286-1320 or just dropping a note in the mailbox opposite the peach house on West Center.