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Historic Grass Valley bar in danger of closing

The Holbrooke Hotel includes the Golden Gate Saloon, said to be the oldest continually operating bar west of the Mississippi. It is likely to close unless a buyer comes forward, a co-owner says.

March 04, 2009|Richard C. Paddock

A saloon in California's Gold Country that is said to be the oldest continuously operating bar west of the Mississippi River is in danger of closing because of the downturn in the economy, a co-owner of the establishment said Tuesday.

The Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley, which includes the Golden Gate Saloon, is likely to close Monday unless a buyer steps forward, said managing partner Jim O'Brien.

"We are losing money every day we are open," he said. "We are trying to keep the business open long enough to let people make some kind of serious commitment to go forward."

The hotel building, registered by the state as a historic landmark, is a centerpiece of the Gold Rush town of 11,000 people about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento. A plaque on the wall declares that the saloon has been in continuous operation since it was built in 1852 and rebuilt three years later after a fire.

The hotel also boasts that author Mark Twain and four U.S. presidents stayed there. An old, yellowed hotel register bears the signatures of Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland.

O'Brien acknowledged it would be hard to prove the claim that the saloon has operated continuously through 157 years of ownership changes, at least one bankruptcy, Prohibition and earlier recessions.

"The locals are very proud of that," said O'Brien, who has lived in neighboring Nevada City for the last nine years. "I'm not sure whether it's fact or legend. It's been carried on for maybe 100 years."

Regardless of the history, O'Brien and his partners do not want to be the ones to shut down the business. The Holbrooke, which includes a restaurant and a catering business, employs 38 people and is a popular meeting place.

He and his partners bought the building in 2005 for about $2.5 million. By last June, business had fallen so much that they dismissed their management company and took over the operation. Since then, business has slipped even more.

Last week, the hotel announced it would close its doors this past Monday, triggering an avalanche of community support and overflow crowds during the weekend.

"It's an emotional thing; it's an institution here," O'Brien said. "We have been wall-to-wall. Our dining room was packed. Our bar was packed to overflowing. . . . If this was going on all the time, we wouldn't be closing."

As word spread of the Holbrooke's impending demise, the owners began receiving calls from interested investors. That prompted them to delay the closure for a week to see if anyone makes an offer.

"The reality is, we are holding our breath for another week," O'Brien said. "There's a lot of interest. It takes time to sort through these and determine which of these are really potential buyers."

Even if the partners are compelled to shut down the business, O'Brien said, he expects the hotel, restaurant and saloon would reopen once the economy recovers.

"It has been here for over 150 years, and if it is necessary to close, it will rise again," he said. "It's too precious a landmark. It's a real gem."

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richard.paddock@latimes.com

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