The Murphys Hotel was registered as a California Historical Landmark and later it qualified for recognition as a Natiional Historic Place. When we moved here in 1978, it was the only game in town. Some say, in the county, which then boasted a total population of 29,000 people. There wasn’t a single stop light in the whole county and not many stop signs, either. The sleepy, quaint town enjoyed a steady trickle of tourists on their way up to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, or up to Mount Reba Ski area on Highway four in the winter. Highway 4, Ebbetts Pass, is one of the narrowest passes over the mountains to Reno, Lake Tahoe and is closed completely during the winter. Old time skiers say Mt. Reba was one of the best kept secrets in the skiing community. The trouble is no one with a business in town could make a living, and the hotel has struggled through multiple owners over the years.
I’d heard rumors that Gordon Ramsey, who hosts Nightmare Kitchens, and Hotel Hell was coming to the Murphys Hotel. I couldn’t pay much attention, but one cruise through town and I saw the yellow tape, the hotel was closed for a week and no one was allowed in. But, on their last day, I just happened to be returning from Angels Camp and they were packing up their gear.
I walked in and no one stopped me. I was allowed to click away. This guy said, I’m a local, I’m a local. He was an electrician fixing something.
The lobby has been modernized over the years. I remember an old rocking chair next to the stove where a Miwuk Indian used to hang out and tell everyone stories of the old days. Once the wine interests took over the town, I quit frequenting the hotel or just about any business downtown and hadn’t paid much attention to what goes on there.
I felt like an intruder in the empty bar, with its Indian Rug and deer horns that have been there forever, it seems. One of my best friends met her husband to be at this bar. So what, I asked myself is Hotel Hell?
The technicians moving out of this tent behind the hotel where they stayed were hustling and I didn’t get one picture of them as they packed themselves out of there. It seems Gordon Ramsey, helps struggling hotels with the issues that drive business away. He goes over their menu, tastes everything. He checks every aspect for cleanliness and appeal, the effectiveness of employees and so on. Then he presents his findings on TV. It can be brutal, but the price tag for an event like this is about $7,000,000 according to one technician’s estimate. (No cost to the hotel, just the program’s expenses to film here.)
The hotel has patio dining in what was once part of their parking lot. I thought that was a great improvement.
At the back and a parking lot’s distance from the main, historic building, is a 1950′s style set of rooms I’ve never been in. Most people stay in this part of the hotel. The historic hotel rooms are few. They are quite quaint, and the rooms share a bathroom down the hallway. There are no closets. I couldn’t do the steep stairs to take pictures, but I’ve been upstairs in a lovely party/ meeting room many times in the past.
I suppose the idea of sleeping in a hotel once frequented by famous people wears thin and the historic aspect carries a limited amount of cache. So, my guess is Ramsey has plenty to attack in the 50′s part of the hotel.
It was interesting to see how they lit the place for filming. They brought their own lighting temporarily attached to the ceiling out of sight of their camera. The chandelier lighting isn’t bright enough for television production. This tech was removing the lights from one of the dining rooms when I walked in.
One former bartender worried that the “Ramsey Machine” will have the owners modernize the hotel to the point where it will lose its sense of community. All the old wonderful stories about the hotel even the new owners don’t know anything about. We talked a bit about how do you address that?
But, we’ll see sometime in September when the program is expected to air. Tune in if you can. I am not a TV watcher so I don’t know what channel Hotel Hell appears on. And, in the meantime, I’ll try to remember some of those old stories and write them down.