Exploring California’s Landmarks: Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley

Diving deeper into our state’s checkered history is now becoming a favorite pastime for many Californians, bound to stay in place due to COVID-19 safety measures. While traveling is generally discouraged, local road trips in a car with a member of your immediate household (a.k.a. husband) are not really prohibited.

Oh what a joy it is to be driving somewhere—anywhere! What a pleasure to stare out the car window at the rolling hills and grass valleys of the northern counties that gradually give way to the deep-green pine forests and red soils peeking from underneath fresh snow in the majestic Sierra Nevada Foothills.     

The air is getting crisper, the sky wider, and the calm and serenity of the formerly boisterous, Gold Rush-famed part of the Golden State descends upon you like a dream, a gossamer veil that separates you from all the troubles and ennui of daily home routines and lackluster webinars and video meetings.      

Welcome to Grass Valley, a picture-pretty historic town of gold mining memorial parks, Cornish cultural traditions brought about by the first settlers mid-19th century, and a centrally located landmark Holbrooke Hotel with a storied past all its own.   

In their heyday, the town’s Empire Mine and North Star Mine (the richest gold mines in California, allegedly worth four hundred million dollars) attracted numerous guests to Golden Gate Saloon, founded by Stephen and Clara Smith in 1852, to which a small Exchange Hotel was added one year later. Two fires and some gunfights later, in 1879, the hotel was acquired by the new owners, Ellen and Daniel Holbrooke who gave the imposing structure its current name.

Among the hotel guests there were U.S. Presidents—Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison and James Garfield as well as famous authors Mark Twain and Bret Harte, prize fighters, high-profile female entertainers—dancer Lola Montez, actress Lotta Crabtree and operatic singer Emma Nevada, and much less savory types, like con artists, gamblers and stagecoach robbers.    

One of California’s oldest hotels, The Holbrooke was designated a California State Landmark in 1974. This year, Acme Hospitality, which now manages the property, finished up a large-scale two-year renovation that brought into sharp focus the building’s historical features and aesthetic elements aided by the addition of modern luxuries.

“I’m so proud of the passion and dedication our team has put into restoring the Holbrooke,” said Sherry Villanueva, Managing Partner of Acme Hospitality. “I believe it’s a source of great pride for the local community, and it’s now welcoming a new generation of visitors to experience the beauty of Nevada County.”

Lovingly restored by the area architects, designers and artists following the town’s motto, “Support Local-Live Local,” the two-story building boasts a spacious lobby with period furnishing and décor, the Golden Gate Saloon bar adorned with stained glass and tulip-shaped lights, a vintage cast iron elevator, and a large sepia-toned landscape mural painted by Sarah Coleman and Brianna French on the second-floor landing.

The high-ceiling guestrooms have opening windows, antique light fixtures, archival photography décor, wood furniture and high pillow-top matrasses under premium linens. Some white-tiled bathrooms with brass plumbing fixtures feature the original claw-foot bathtubs, others—walk-in showers.

The North Star Room on the main floor is an elegant conference/wedding/family gathering space with a lot of character and the meticulously restored historical charm.  

More luxury awaits in the Bridal Suite, opulently decorated with crystal chandeliers and Victorian-style furniture.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of the reopening of this grand hotel in beautiful Old Town Grass Valley,” said Ted Robinson, Interim General Manager of the Holbrooke Hotel. “This historic landmark has been a central part of the Grass Valley community for more than a century and a half, and we cannot wait to welcome guests with a new, elevated experience throughout the hotel.”

In compliance with the outdoor dining recommendations issued by the state, a fully refurbished patio with stylish black garden umbrellas over bistro-style tables becomes a fine dining oasis equipped with gas heaters and a fire pit. The Golden Gate Saloon’s new menu, inspired by California cuisine and local farms’ bounty, and created by Chef Zachary Ahrenholtz, is served here alongside custom-crafted cocktails and California wines.    

At the recent media opening, the ladies and gentlemen of the press were treated to Chef Zachary’s select dishes, both mouth-watering and intriguingly eclectic. Chicharron (crispy fried pork skins) with house made guacamole, spiced up with pickled Easter Egg radish, red mustard and romesco aioli was followed by Caesar salad of whole baby red romaine, cured egg yolk, shallot jam, sourdough croutons, cotija cheese, and crispy bocquerones (anchovies).

Clams & Chorizo little masterpiece was made with white wine, heirloom tomatoes, fennel and shallots, and served with grilled bread. Mt. Lassen Trout Veracruz, fried to crispy perfection, with fennel, broccoli rabe, and Veracruz-style stew was rivaled only by flat iron Steak with seasonal roasted vegetables and Yukon Gold potato puree. For a sweet finale Fudge Brownie with malted whipped cream and toasted black almonds was topped with bright ribbons of salted caramel.       

Even though lounging in the beautiful Holbrooke Hotel might be the best way to spend a day or two here, the surrounding town and its environs offer plenty of sports activities and entertainment. Explore gift shopping in locally-owned boutiques, visit the gold mines, old foundries, antique stores, museums, and parks. You can fully enjoy the exquisite natural environment open year round for hiking, cycling, boating, and skiing.

Just wandering around the historic streets of downtown Grass Valley or driving the picturesque Highway 20 framed by the snow-sprinkled pine trees would be a great adventure for a San Franciscan or any other city dweller. To find out more about Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley, California, go to https://holbrooke.com/