Visit the Old West at Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon
By Melissa Wynn
After being cooped up in the house through a seven day series of Sierra snow storms, my sister and I decided to cross the mountain. We were in search of some fun and sunshine in Nevada’s famous Comstock Lode. It is only about 15 miles from the US 395 exit 57B to Virginia City, but that short drive is like a time tunnel that carries you from the modern hustle and bustle of Reno back more than a century to the simpler times, reminiscent of the 1860’s. In those days, gold and silver miners filled the saloons of Virginia City by day and many spent their nights a mile down the road at the Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon. We also spent the night in this nostalgic, official historic site that claims the title of Nevada’s oldest operating hotel. Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon first welcomed boarders as the Riesen House around 1859 and remains a most warm and inviting place to hang your hat for a night or two. We arrived excited, chattering about our earlier visit to downtown Virginia City where we met members of The First Regimen of Fort Churchill. Colonel Ringo, Sergeant Whiskey Rivers and his brother Brigadier General GB Rivers were three of the characters in Civil War period clothing who relive the old west here every weekend. What fun! The feathery hats, floor length dresses, parasols and uniforms made us feel like we were really back in those days. Hotel Manager Melody Reynolds gave a knowing smile as we oooed and ahhhed at the memorabilia on the office door from the Cartwright boys and the Ponderosa.
Now there was a piece of Virginia City history from our own childhood. The flowing drapes in our beautiful, antique furnished room framed an amazing view of the sun setting pink, gold and orange over the rolling, sage dotted hills. The ancient head frame of old Yellow Jacket Mine stands tall next door and I stood there wondering how many miners left this very room for a long day’s work beneath the ground. A fire was laid in our room’s stone fireplace and the copper oil lamp on the thick wooden mantle spoke of days before the light switch was installed. My sister and I sat before the fire awhile wondering about the host of outlaws and celebrities that must have ventured here over the last 150 years.
The Saloon at The Gold Hill is still slinging drinks so we headed downstairs to check it out before dinner. Another roaring fire was burning in the Great Room when we passed through on our way to the tiny full service bar where dollar bills decorate the ceiling. Our charming host, Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon owner Bill Fain, was at his regular post in front of yet another fire, eating his lamb chop dinner and visiting with patrons as if we were all old friends at a planned get together. Everyone felt right at home. My sister ordered a cocktail and I ordered coffee, remarking that I would be driving after dinner. Mark, the bartender, changed my mind by telling me about an extraordinary local gentlemen that shuttles folks around Virginia City, working for donations with no set fee. His name is Grant Smith and he is a great big beautiful doll. Every business in town knows who he is and how to contact him–the friendly neighborhood designated driver. This town rocks! “A little Irish cream in my coffee please.”
A stroll back through the Great Room and down the hall brought us to Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon’s own Crown Point Restaurant that specializes in gourmet dinners. We were greeted by Executive Chef Randy Bryant. Not only is Randy an excellent chef, he is a delightful barrel of laughs. We asked about the menu and learned that if the ingredients are in the kitchen, Randy will prepare any meal you choose and with a weeks notice he will make sure that the ingredients for your chosen dishes are in the kitchen. Now that is down home service. My sister and I both love sushi so when we saw the Homemade Sushi Rolls Combo ($15), we ordered up. This appetizer included my favorite California Roll with crab and avocado, a Majuro Roll with spicy Ahi Tuna and Ami bi Sweet Shrimp all served with Soy sauce and a wonderful cucumber wasabi sauce that was both cool on the tongue and hot up the nose, a delightful way to start our meal. Next came two fresh green salads topped with a very creamy homemade blue cheese dressing that I would love the recipe for and a warm basket of fresh baked bread. MMMMMM. Our empty salad plates were replaced by a scoop of raspberry sorbet to ready the palette for entree treasures yet to come. My sister had the thick and juicy 10 oz ribeye cut right off the prime ($18) served with sauteed fresh spinach, grilled spaghetti squash and a huge baked potato fully loaded with scallions, butter, sour cream, grated cheese and bacon bits. She took over half of it back to the room in a box. I let Chef Randy choose for me and was delighted when our lovely server brought me a thick Halibut fillet ($22) topped with diced tomatoes, calamara olives and a tangy, buttery sauce, Randy’s own secret creation. He finished my amazing meal with cheesy au gratin potatoes and the same spinach and squash of the evening. As light and flaky and delicious as that halibut was, I still couldn’t finish it all but I gave it noble effort…one more bite. Oh goodness, very stuffed.
Danielle Dubois and Kieth James made the short drive from their Reno home to dine at Crown Point as well and we so enjoyed their company. Chef Randy made Danielle a custom Alfredo dish filled with fresh veggies ($15) and topped it with chips of aged parmesan cheese. Kieth savored The Buffalo Filet Mignon($38), just one of the specialty game dishes served at Crown Point Restaurant. It is wrapped in apple-wood bacon and topped with Chef’s Jack Daniels Red Bell Pepper Sauce. Did I say oooo yummy? Excellent food, service and company, what more can you ask for?
With our tummies full we ventured back to the Saloon and made that call to Grant for our ride to town. We made our $10 donation and decided since we were staying at Nevada’s oldest hotel that we might well get dropped off at The Old Washoe Club,Virginia City’s oldest Saloon. We danced the night away with the locals and a few other visitors to the rockin’ tunes of Road Dawgs, an excellent band that played all our favorite classic rock and kept the crowd lively to the very last song. When the music was finished and the lights came up we saw Grant sitting at a corner table sipping a 7Up, waiting patiently to safely deliver us back to Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon. What a guy!
We drifted off in our soft and comfy bed, dreaming of Comstock adventures. This was a great getaway and rates are very reasonable beginning at just $55 a night for the double bed rooms on a weeknight and topping out a $225 for a weekend night in the Brewery Lodge, a private 3 bedroom residence across the way. Virginia City always has some thing going on. If you would like to visit, you can learn more about Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon and Crown Point Restaurant by visiting goldhillhotel.net or just give owners Bill and Carol Fain a call at 775-847-0111. Tell them Mountain Valley Living sent you and have ball…we did.