Murphys Hotel- A Sign of Good Things to Come
Sierra Lodestar 11/11/09

Murphys Hotel- signs of good things to come

By Antoinette May Herndon

It was a cold and stormy night. To make it worse, the day hadn’t gone too well either. Misunderstandings, missed connections, missed everything. Now, hoping for better things, we’d just driven all the way to Murphys—quite a ways from Moke Hill—intending to review a highly touted new restaurant.

Following the street numbers carefully, we found it without too much trouble. Miraculously, there was a parking spot right in front. I hopped out even before Charles could brake the car. Perhaps our luck had changed. A quick glance at the outdoor menu and I was sure it had. Yummy.

We eagerly hurried up the stairs. The elegant Victorian looked strangely dark inside. Well, of course. Duh! It was closed. “Well, you could have called first,” Charles chided me. “Who closes on Wednesday?!” He nodded at the closed door. “Obviously, they do.”

We turned dejectedly away. Just one more minor disaster in a day already crammed with them.

It was dark, cold, wet; we were hungry. Where to go? As we walked back to the sidewalk, I looked up the street.

And there it was—a light shining in the east.

What could be more welcoming on a storm-tossed night than the sight of a martini glass twinkling in the distance? “Hurry,” I gasped, grabbing Charles’s arm. “This way. I believe I’ve found the holy grail.”

. We followed the bright neon triangle anchored by a cute little olive to its origin, Murphys Hotel. The luck of the one-quarter Irish had finally kicked in. The night was saved.

Now, I don’t just write for newspapers, mind you. I do read them. Hadn’t there been a shade of controversy surrounding that

blessed beacon? Weren’t there some who considered the very idea of a neon sign in pristine Murphys blasphemy?

I recalled reading about meetings, meetings, and still more meetings. The issue dragged on for some two years. Voices were raised, fists waved. I wish I could say that at least one duel had been at least threatened. They do add a little color, don’t you think?

Finally Dorian Faught, Murphys beleaguered owner, played the history card. There had been, he announced, at least once, a neon sign in front of the bar-restaurant. This beacon had welcomed patrons in the long ago 1940s. Doesn’t 70 years of tradition count for something? Apparently so.

Anyway, on the cold winter night of our visit, Murphys martini sign blazed cheekily—or do I mean cheerily?

Nice to say, the bar inside lives up to its sign with its iron window shutters reminiscent of the gold rush days when panners from the diggings paid their way in gold dust. There’s a long wide bar, just the kind you want to belly up to, and lots of western memorabilia. The gallery of stuffed buck headd is impressive, too, if you’re into dead deer.

Murphys Hotel opened on Aug. 20, 1856, functioning as a popular stopping point along the stagecoach route between Milton and Big Trees. Today it is thought to be the oldest operating wooden hotel in California. remains one of the state’s oldest operating hotels.

Once considered the finest hotels outside of San Francisco, Murphys dining room drew the likes of Mark Twain, Black Bart), Henry Ward Beecher. John Jacob Aster, Ulysses S. Grant, and J.P. Morgan.

Which brings us back to Charles and me. Just your ordinary hungry couple. Though a Wednesday night. the dining room was

well filled. Megan Shires led us to a pleasant window and handed us an inviting menu. Lots to choose from. I wanted to share the Spinach Salad (spinach leaves, bacon bits, slice egg. and sesame seeds) but was Charles enamored with the French Onion soup. So, I went with the small salad ($5.95). It was fresh and crunchy, lots of tang to the dressing and Charles was equally pleased with his soup. ($3.95)

I was very pleased to meet up with an old favorite on the menu: Lamb Shank. It had been braised, then slow cooked in vegetable gravy and served with creamy polenta. (21.95.) Very, very good.

Charles chose the Grilled Maple Leaf Duck Breast topped with dried cherry shallot port Demi glace. ($24.95) For once he was kind enough to share a little. The duck was outstanding, though (for me) the topping tasted slightly over the top. No pun intended. Honest.

It was an excellent dinner, fine service, pleasant low-keyed atmosphere. Outside again on the dark, rainy street, I looked back at that feisty sign twinkling against the blackness. A sign’s an inanimate object some might say, but I clearly saw a lively spirit of fun and good times crying out.

“Erin Go Bragh,” I called back. There was no one to hear but Charles. I don’t think.

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.


Murphys martini sign is a beacon to some.

The bar at Murphys has a vintage feel.

Megan Shires makes you feel right at home.