The long-awaited renovation of The National Exchange Hotel will be unveiled this Thursday, when its restaurant, bar, and rooms officially open for business. For long-time residents who remember the historic building (the oldest continuing operating hotel in California) as a weather-beaten drinking hole, its new look may shock. The restaurant is upscale, with 30-dollar duck breast on the menu. The cocktail bar and rooms are an Instagram-friendly swirl of Victorian patterns and plush banquettes. There’s no longer karaoke – when it will return is unclear, with COVID restrictions in play. But one thing’s certain: Nevada City finally now has a fancy date night spot.
“People in this town love to dress up,” said Kristi Boal, a stylist at Nevada City’s Bel Capelli salon. “We needed something like this.”
The makeover is the work of Santa Barbara-based Acme Hospitality, which also oversees the Holbrooke Hotel in downtown Grass Valley, reopened last September. The Holbrooke’s redesign was supposed to be conceptually more “masculine” , says Erin Lewis, Marketing Manager for both hotels. That translated into mounted animal skulls, leather, and fancy decanters. The National was envisioned as more “feminine” – patterned floral wallpaper, jewel-toned velvet, glowing antique lampshades. Overall The National’s ambience is more dark and mysterious than that of the Holbrooke, feeling less like a place you’d get brunch with visiting family, and more like the backdrop for regrettable hedonism over fancy drinks.
Besides a craft cocktail bar (The National Bar) and 75 seat capacity restaurant (Lola), the revamped National Exchange will also feature a sundries store called “Good Morning”, selling things you might need as a traveler, as well as locally-made gifts and souvenirs. A backyard drinks-and-snacks patio replaces the former derelict swimming pool. The gilded Grand Lounge on the second floor opens out onto the balcony seating area that was once the hotel’s most popular drinking spot. Now, that balcony will only be accessible to the public during certain hours to give the rooms that abut it privacy.
“On Fourth of July, these rooms will be in demand,” says Lewis. “People can sit out on the veranda and watch the parade.”
These pleasures will not come cheap: On the lower end, a queen room will cost between 250-350 dollars a night. King suites will run between 350-450 dollars.
Lewis says she thinks The National is perfectly positioned for rehearsal dinners, send off brunches and room stays for weddings taking place at the popular nearby event venue The Miners Foundry Cultural Center.
Things sure have changed. Yelp reviews from the pre-makeover days reflect a looser decor and marketing sensibility:
Cobwebs on the walls, spiderweb [sic] on inside of windows and one in the corner of the room with spider. The bathtub had black mold around the entire calked [sic] seam.
The wall and the desk had been sprayed with a sticky substance, likely a coke. The dust under the bed and in the room made breathing uncomfortable. The one lounging couch looked like a cat had shredded the material – it was likely just old. – Yelp reviewer, Kathleen F. Shingle Springs, CA
The old National was beloved by locals: a place where rock bands played in the bar and threw loud, rowdy afterparties in the rooms upstairs. Whether the revamped National will have live music is still up in the air (noise complaints may be an issue for rooms near the bar). Nonetheless, its rock and roll spirit will at least live on in Executive Chef Tom Bevitori. Front man of local rock band The Beautiful Dudes, Bevitori grew up in Nevada City and got his start working at New Moon Cafe, before moving on to cook at several Portland, Oregon restaurants. He returned home in time to helm the Nationals’ new restaurant, Lola, named after Nevada City’s internationally renowned Gold Rush-era entertainer, Lola Montez.
The menu at Lola reflects Bevitori’s interest in refined classics, with simple, yet elegant flavors. Ingredients are locally sourced whenever possible, and the menu will change with the seasons.
Whereas the Holbrooke’s food is more “ranchero” style, with tamale pie and beans on the menu, Lola’s will feature starters like French onion soup, oysters, and short rib croquettes, and mains such as steak frites and mussels.
“It’s that vibe of just really leaning on some old school French stuff,” says Bevitori. “In this beautiful dining room to me, it’s kind of fun.”
Desserts will be created by pastry chef David Rodriguez, formerly of Nevada City’s recently closed Búho Bakery and Grass Valley’s Watershed and the Owl. You can view Lola’s full opening night menu, here.
And what about the ghosts? Are the paranormal affected by major remodels? According to local legend, there are spirits that haunt The National, their reputations potent enough at least to have attracted the attention of the cast of the TV show Ghost Adventures, which visited in 2012. It may be too soon to answer this question. At the moment, the scariest thing about the National is the thought that you may no longer be able to get a seat at the bar on a Friday night.
Featured image courtesy of Kat Alves Photography. Visit The National’s outdated Yelp page here.