Monday, August 31, 2009

Oldest Drinking Establishment

After towing our home uphill on a winding mountain road for five miles to Groveland, CA, we needed a restful week touring Yosemite and the surrounding area. We had stayed at an RV park here because of its proximity (26 miles) to the Yosemite Park entrance.

Well, the week has ended and Yosemite has had an energizing effect on us, but before we say good-bye to this area, we wanted to take a walk through Groveland.

As you could probably guess, gold brought the initial flood of citizens to what would become Groveland. James Savage discovered gold there in 1848, and the town of Savage's Diggings was born. This soon became Garrotte in 1850, named so for the area's swift and harsh justice. Soon Garrotte was a boom town, but by the 1870s, the easy pickings were gone and Garrotte was transformed from dozens of bars and bordellos to a quiet community.

By 1875, citizens changed the name of Garrotte to Groveland, and as luck would have it, Groveland soon thereafter experienced a second gold rush with the advent of deep shaft mines and milling operations. But this was over by 1914.

Yosemite is responsible for the latest influx. Today, Groveland and nearby communities hold more than 7,000 residents and serve as hosts to tens of thousands of tourists, many of whom stay at the Charlotte Hotel (above) and stop for an espresso across the street.

Among the most visited sites in Groveland is the Iron Door Saloon, reputed to be the oldest “drinking establishment” in the state of California. Built before 1852, it was first called the "Granite Store" because the front and back walls are made of solid granite blocks. The sidewalls are made of "shist" rock and mortar, and the roof consists of three feet of sod, covered by tin.

The first owner of the store that would become the Iron Door Saloon served the Groveland community as the first Postmaster from 1863 to 1880, running the post office in the store. The establishment became a saloon in 1896, when it was purchased by Giacomo DeFarrari and was named "Jake's Place."

“In 1937, a second story was added, and cards, billiards and pool were offered for an evening’s diversion. The establishment was renamed ‘The Iron Door Saloon’ after the hefty iron doors, which had been hauled in on mule back across the Tuolumne River by way of Wards Ferry. These iron doors were manufactured in England, brought around the tip of South America by sailing ship, and sold to the saloon as a fire protection device. The idea was that if the town was burning, you just shut the doors and waited it out” (from the saloon’s website). The original iron doors remain today as a relic of the saloon’s past.

Inside, the restaurant is dark, and the bar area is decorated with Old West memorabilia, including a fire hose on a two-wheeled wagon hanging directly over my head. One can picture early miners sitting at the long mirrored bar and dreaming about striking it rich.

This is another one of those places you come to for history and atmosphere and not for food. But we were there at lunch, so food we would have. The luncheon menu is short and heavy on sandwiches. Being at the point where I couldn’t stomach (pun intended) another sandwich, I looked elsewhere on the menu. I do remember seeing a calamari appetizer. Not only do I not believe one should order seafood when more than one hundred miles from a body of salt water, I feel even more strongly that seafood or fish should not be eaten when in an area that gets neither cell phone, air card, nor satellite reception. Way too remote.

So we played it safe and shared two appetizers – an order of spicy wings and an order of beer battered veggies (mushrooms, onion rings, and zucchini). The wings were meaty and not overly sauced. The hot sauce had a vinegar tang, but not overly so, and there was plenty of “heat”.

The onion wings and zucchini strips were very well cooked with a light and crisp batter. The coating did not work as well on the mushrooms. These were very large mushrooms and I suspect that the water content of the vegetable made the batter soggy. Both appetizers came with a cup of ranch dressing for dipping.

A decent lunch. A fun place. Inexperienced service. A rating of 3.5 Addies.

After lunch we wandered across the street to the Iron Door General Store (AKA gift store). Both of us were intrigued by the SoapRocks (ad slogan – “take us for granite”). Since the soaps contain no animal products and are not tested on animals, I felt obligated to purchase a couple.

Besides, I think they look and smell good.

Now it was time for the five-mile trip downhill on that winding mountain road.

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