As New Year’s Eve draws near, we venture to our local watering holes to savor spirits and camaraderie. Some of Sierra Lodestar’s ladies share their takes on a quick night out together, and we explore some of the not-so-familiar places where we gather together for good times.
Nights on the town require some planning. Be sure that someone in the group is not going to drink so that everyone gets home safely. Also, ask other revelers where they might like to visit, because most all of us know of a cool place to warm up in the winter.
Sometimes you have to change things up, and in almost decade of Sierra Lodestar, the cocktail edition was that change this year. The meeting that birthed the end-of-year story was lively with the inclusion of most of the female contributors, so it seemed fitting to have a ladies’ night out at an area watering hole to inform our readers how it went.
Most of us got off a bit easy on this front, because as often happens in editorial meetings as the idea was fleshed out, it was decided that our personal musings would accompany Charity Maness’ task of locating off-the-beaten-path places for readers to try. She has given you an awesome story about those places.
I was looking forward to getting together with this group of women who come from such diverse backgrounds. Writers by and large tend to be a very interesting lot. We all come to our writing spaces on different paths. I have yet to meet a writer whose faith in making it one day is dimmed to the point that he or she doesn’t try, try and then try again to be published.
Truth told, I’ve never been much of a drinker, but I am fascinated by the creation of all different sorts of drinks, which is one reason why I have enjoyed writing the cocktail feature for all these years. Every bartender or mixologist may make their drinks from the same recipes, but somehow, depending on who’s making the beverages, they can taste a bit different. Although the process may be different, I always think this is not unlike winemakers, who craft wines using the exact same grapes, yet each version of the wine from various winemakers tastes different. To say everyone puts their own stamp on things is a wild understatement.
We all decided that Camps at Greenhorn Creek would be the best place to meet. If it was somewhat warm, we could have sat out on the patio, and if it was colder, which it was, we could sit inside the lounge, which has a nice open atmosphere and a comfortable, easy feel to it. I was running a couple of minutes late, which usually happens when I need to be somewhere that’s two minutes from my home. I walked in to see Charity and Patricia Harrelson had claimed a table that was nestled in the corner, near enough to the action to be a part of it but far enough away to observe what was going on. Yes, most writers tend to do this, settle themselves on the outskirts because it’s easier to see everything.
The waiter came over, and the irony settled on me that I was going to order a 7-Up at a Ladies Night centered on cocktails. I vaguely wondered who was going to ask me about it first, and Charity didn’t disappoint. She is intelligent, curious and not backward in coming forward, as my Nann used to say. She is full of sparkle and life, and is delightful to spend time with.
The three of us sat for a bit, wondering if Maggie Sloan was going to be able to make it. We already knew Jenny Baxter couldn’t be there with us, as aligning schedules was an interesting string of emails, only rivaled by the length of CVS receipts.
After a bit more time it became apparent that it was just going to be a trio. And, what did we end up talking about? Writing, of course. But that was just the start; soon the conversation turned toward life and family.
As I sat with these two amazing women whom I had really only known through their written words, I realized that I’d like to spend time with them without having to do anything work-related. Not only are they incredibly bright, but they have warm, caring hearts and generous dispositions, attributes that, in turn, help make them the writers they are.
And yes, they said their drinks were good.
We did do a take two; this time Maggie and Jenny were able to make it. Patricia and I were there, too, but for unforeseen reasons, Charity couldn’t be there. We met at Camps again, but the dynamic between us all was the same. Was it the atmosphere at Camps? Or was it the company? I like to think it was a bit of both. Either way, I came away from the time spent with them thinking I wouldn’t mind making a Sierra Lodestar Ladies Night Out a regular occurrence.
Camps at Greenhorn Creek Resort has a spiffy lounge, appointed with large round tables and a long marble-topped bar. I’ve visited the lounge on dissimilar occasions, including a brief wait before a dinner reservation, a chatty visit over drinks with girlfriends and a super fun meeting with Sierra Lodestar’s contributing writers.
Though it was only 3 p.m. when the Lodestar writers met, most tables in the lounge were full and the bar was lined with men, golfers perhaps, enjoying refreshment after an afternoon on the fairways. Pale winter light filtered through tall windows, but was enhanced by recessed lighting at the perimeter of the vaulted ceiling. The result is a warm glow on the room. Conversational voices mixed with the clink of ice. This was an altogether delightful setting to enjoy the company of friends or colleagues.
Though I’m a white-wine girl, I asked our server, Josiah, to bring the cocktail menu. A millennial friend had recently informed me that ordering the cocktails I’d once enjoyed – rum and Coke or gin and tonic – was passe. I already knew that her generation preferred craft beers over cans of Coors, but according to my friend, millennials are bringing fresh new ideas, techniques and cultural influences to bar drinks. For example, culinary cocktails – the point at which food and liquor collide – have arrived on the scene. That may be why my friend offered this advice: “Order a cocktail like you would a salad. What calls to your taste in the moment? What combinations sound delicious?”
Camps appears up to speed on this trend, for the cocktail menu lists some delectable-sounding concoctions like the Cucumber Mint Mojito and Chameleon Martini. If I were to follow my friend’s advice, I would have picked the Aperol Spritz, a mix of “Aperol and Prosecco, served over ice with a splash of grapefruit and orange.”
But alas, I stuck with the Ironstone Vineyards Chardonnay, while my compatriots ordered a beer, a whiskey neat and a club soda with lime.
“I’m on the Whole 30 Diet,” admitted Jenny Baxter, our food writer, “or I would have ordered the Lemon Drop Martini.” Clearly, Jenny has taste buds ready to roam with the millennials.
Still, we are an older bunch well past the trendy age, and our purpose was not to explore cocktail culture. We were a happy group of foothill writers brainstorming ideas for future issues while enjoying the ambience of a comfy establishment. Camps met our needs nicely and, judging from the cocktail menu and the crowd on a Friday afternoon, the lounge is versatile enough to suit the tastes of residents and visitors, young and old. At this lounge, you’ll find Mother Lode comfort with a touch of chic.
I have long loved editorial planning meetings. To be sure, these meetings aren’t generally the throbbing, alcohol-fueled party nights I remember from college, when the girls from my dorm painted the town red. Normally, no one at an editorial meeting shimmies to 1970s rock and roll; no one at an editorial meeting flirts with cowboys or giggles helplessly at the pool table as she whacks the cue ball completely off the felt. College was a long time ago, but I dimly remember a break shot that nearly broke someone’s head in a dark and cramped logger bar. Was that my shot?
An editorial meeting is decidedly more low key; that’s fine for me these days. I’ve forgotten how to play pool. I prefer tea and nonfat milk to rum and Coke. I haven’t danced on a table to “Whole Lotta Love” for a whole lotta time.
Camps is a perfect place for an editorial meeting. It’s beautiful. It’s quiet. It has big round tables where everyone can spread out their notebooks, pens and drinks. As the autumn sun streamed through the west-facing windows, we were Jenny Baxter, Patricia Harrelson, Sarah Lundsford, Mike Taylor and me. Some of us had wine; one of us (not me) had a rum and Coke. Some of us had tea, and a young man kept the tea pot perpetually full of hot water. Luxury!
Planning meetings have their own forms of amusement. At the best editorial meetings, writers and editors kick up their heels and throw caution to the wind as they fling around ideas like they’re handfuls of confetti. I can tell you, it’s a wild time. For instance, Patricia mentioned alternative winter sports; I got excited about snowshoeing; Jenny suggested that some preferred indoor recreation during winter. Just like that, we had a feature planned. Watch for it in January.
Together we planned our articles through March, spinning out ideas, offering information, sharing sources. Like free-trade economics, editorial content is most successful when all parties concerned are generous and helpful. That’s why I love editorial meetings: I can get drunk on the exchange of ideas and still be able to drive home afterward.
I’m sorry to have missed the Sierra Lodestar ladies’ night out, but I am darn glad I made it to our planning meeting, where it was only ideas that danced on the table.
I didn’t get to enjoy a drink with the ladies from Sierra Lodestar, but I wanted to share a couple of very festive cocktails that are served at the Murphys Hotel in Murphys.
Jason Eisenman was tending bar when I arrived, just as he has for the past decade. Co-owner Brian Goss was conversing with him about the Pama-granate Martini as I approached the 150-year-old bar. Being a teacher, I tried to correct Brian on the spelling of pomegranate, but in the end, I was the one with egg on my face. Brian purposely spells that concoction that way because the drink is made with Pama pomegranate liqueur.
“I took a standard recipe, added some personal touches and ended up creating this martini,” Brian said.
Bartenders hear on a daily basis customers’ requests to, “Make me something good,” and that is how this particular martini came to be. As Jason shook the liqueur, vodka, simple syrup and cranberry and fresh lime juices in a shaker, Brian rimmed half of a martini glass with sugar and placed a lime wheel on the other. Jason gently poured the rose-colored drink into the chilled glass and the Pama-granate Martini was born.
If you’re like me, I was curious as to why only half the rim of the glass was sugared.
“When I am tending bar and we are busy, I don’t have time to ask the customer if they want their rim sugared or not, so I just began sugaring half the rim,” Brian explained. “This way, however the customer likes her or his drink, it is available.”
Jason really had his heart set on making me a hot toddy. I was amazed at how quickly he produced this eye-catching and delicious melange. He poured hot water into a glass mug, added a half ounce of Tuacca, gave it a stir and then poured in a packet of powdered apple cider and stirred again. He heaped the top with whipped cream, a sprinkle of grated nutmeg and poked a sprig of mint on the side.
A woman at the end of the bar was oohing and ahing as Jason presented the drink to me. If you like Hot Apple Pie, the name of this drink, you know where to go to get it.
Luckily, Brian agreed to share the Pama-granate Martini with us.
- ¾ ounce Pama liqueur
- 1¼ ounces vodka
- Squeeze of fresh lime juice
- A splash of simple syrup
- ¾ ounce cranberry juice.
Place everything in a shaker with ice and vigorously shake. Pour the cocktail into a chilled, sugar-rimmed martini glass and decorate with a slice of lime.
Note: Simple syrup is made by placing equal amounts of sugar and water in a pan and bringing it to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Once it is removed from the heat, store it in a container in the refrigerator.
Everybody knows your name
Hidden gems that serve liquid libations abound in the foothills, many just waiting to be discovered. This journey to find the ultimate place to relax, feel at peace, make new friends, entertain old friends and enjoy a creative cocktail or two will take you through Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amador counties on a tasty, fun-filled journey.
We will start this journey at the Steam Donkey at Pinecrest Lake. Pinecrest Lake is a resident and tourist destination just off Highway 108 in Tuolumne County that boasts cabin and boat rentals, hiking trails and beautiful beaches. During tourist season, it can be a bit hectic, but if you hit it before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, it is an exceptional place to hang out with friends and enjoy the beauty of nature. Can there be a better place to hang out when there is simply no Wi-Fi to be found?
“I joke with the customers that we pay extra to have a dead zone,” joked Bruce Pedretti, longtime Steam Donkey bartender. “I tell them they will just have to talk to each other.”
He says he gets mixed responses from folk, but notices a lot more interaction due to the lack of virtual access.
The Steam Donkey pays homage to the area’s logging history with not only its name, but with decor of the time. Steam donkeys were the steam-powered engines of logging in the 1880s, used to lift, drag and move logs from stumps to accumulation points.
Seating is limited in the bar area of the Steam Donkey, yet dining areas are both inside and out, offering a rustic flavor indoors and a natural picnic ambiance outside, complete with propane heaters to ward off the chill as winter sets in. When fire season is over and all is safe, the place offers an outdoor fireplace shaped much like the steam donkey itself. Cuddled around the fireplace or the heaters, strangers become friends as the sounds of classic rock emerge from the speakers to gently mingle with the sounds of nature.
Bruce has a few cocktail tricks up his sleeve, including creative mixed drinks, beers and wines, as well as his own Bloody Mary creation.
“I like to think I’ve perfected it, but it’s always changing just a bit,” he said.
His Bloody Marys are not the average spicy tomato-infused drinks. “There’s a little turmeric, a little sweet chipotle, a little honey,” and the list goes on. Whatever his secret ingredients, it’s a Bloody Mary that gets the taste buds singing; it doesn’t hurt that he tops it with a crisp slice of bacon!
As the seasons change, the hours change, yet the bar and restaurant are open each evening. It is best to call 965-3117 to be sure of the hours or visit pinecrestlakeresort.com.
Bruce’s Bloody Mary rivals that of the Lucky Penny in Murphys. Amid a sea of pubs and wine tasting rooms on the corner of Main Street and Big Trees Road, the Lucky Penny has tight seating indoors, creating an intimate atmosphere without revelers feeling packed in. There is some outdoor seating available, perfect for people watching and conversation.
While the bar is fully stocked with myriad spirits with which to make a blessed brew, “My favorite cocktail to make is our Bloody Mary,” exclaims bartender Katherine Fortel. It is a science; it’s an art and it’s a meal.
Made with bacon-infused vodka and bacon topping, one would think that might be enough bacon, but not for the Lucky Penny Bloody Mary; oh, no, Katherine doesn’t stop there, as she uses a blow torch to freshly cook a thick slice of peppered bacon to top your drink. Did I mention it comes in a half carafe?
Sonora Tap Room
The Sonora Tap Room is a fun little find tucked away just off Washington Street on Linoberg Street in downtown Sonora. When you stop into this wine and beer pub, you can’t help but smile.
“I love meeting all the people who come here,” said bartender Cara Wolfe. Then, she added with a shy smile, “And I love tasting all the beer.”
The pub offers a fun selection of beers on tap as well as mouthwatering ciders and wines. If you don’t see anything you like from the “Featured suds,” you can check out the eclectic and tasty selection of bottled and canned brews chilled to perfection in the fridge. And if you still can’t make up your mind, you can take a little brew trip around the state and order a flight of your choice of brews.
The setting is homey with a classic garage feel, and there’s cozy seating for two and large groups. The Sonora Tap Room also presents live music throughout the year. Call 288-2423.
Stogies Gold Country Lounge
Stogies, on Lemon Drop Lane in downtown Jamestown, is one of those rare finds that you want to keep a secret, yet you just can’t help but share. Stogies, as its name implies, is a fine cigar bar that serves top-shelf liquor and an ever changing variety of craft brews on tap. The plush leather chairs call to you as you select from a vast variety of cigars.
Once your selections are made, you can make one of those chairs your own for a time. The chairs are set up with four around a center table with ashtrays and cigar torches at the ready. Whether you come in solo or as a pair, you are bound to meet new people and make new friends.
Dan Nicholas of Sonora enjoys the welcoming atmosphere.
“I can come with a friend or alone, it doesn’t matter; and Phil and Cindy (Herrero, the owners) know just what I like to drink. I feel accepted.”
“I met some nice folks from Australia,” Nicholas added. “I’ve met people here from all around the world.”
Cory and Dava Adams have visited Stogies for at least three years.
“I love the atmosphere,” Dava exclaimed. “It’s very grown-up and laid-back.”
“I really like the owners,” Cory offered. “They make it feel like you are at your own home or that of a good friend.”
Stogie’s has created a following to the point where a club was formed: the Stogie Monkeys. It is a private club that has grown from a common love of good cigars and fine liquors.
“Once a month we get together. We just show up, have a cigar and some fun,” said Cory, one of the original Stogie Monkeys.
The Lube Room
The Lube Room on Highway 4 in Dorrington has recently undergone a major facelift, and offers a great setting for couples or lots of friends. It’s a full bar that has bar seating as well as deck and lawn seating. Pub fare is offered inside and out, and live music can often be enjoyed on weekends during the warmer months. There is a large lawn area with games to play.
Check out theluberoom.com.
Coffee, wine, beer and ice cream? A delicious all day menu and beautiful surroundings? What more could you ask for in a special hangout? Bistro Espresso on Oak Circle off Highway 4 in Arnold offers all that and more in a very family-friendly atmosphere.
In the summer it presents free outside concerts in a community park-type setting. In cooler months, a warm fireplace with local talent performing on most weekend nights and Taco Tuesdays with live music are offered throughout the winter. Find the menus and more at thebistroespresso.com.
Whether you stumble across this gem in the warmth of summer or the cold of winter, you are sure to be pleasantly surprised. Situated on historic Main Street in Mokelumne Hill, the Hotel Leger Saloon offers something for everyone.
In the summer you can enjoy the Blues and Barbecues on the poolside patio. In the winter months, you can cozy up to a huge potbellied stove in the historic bar.
Richard Dominguez has seen to patrons’ needs as bartender for the past five years.
“I really enjoy being an ambassador to the town,” he said with a smile.
Dominguez greets locals and visitors alike, imparting gems of local wisdom and secrets, as well as drinks and pub fare.
“Moke is such a cool, quaint little place,” claimed Sherry Pease, visiting from neighboring Amador County, as she happily sipped on a Bloody Mary.
Resident Walter Moore claims that the Hotel Leger is one of his favorite watering holes, as he thoroughly enjoys the history of the town, and the hotel has often been at the center of that history. “It is a fun Gold Rush town.”
Check hotelleger.com for scheduled entertainment.
Hidden in plain sight is a perfect gem: Jose’s Cantina on Highway 49 in Jackson. While it is actually in the “back” of Jose’s Mexican Restaurant, it has a fun side door that makes you feel as though you’re entering through a secret door.
The cantina offers sports on TV, karaoke on some evenings and the best margaritas this side of Mexico. Every variety and taste you can imagine is offered.
And if you are in the mood to add food to your cocktail experience, there is an incredibly tasty Mexican menu.
This is a nice place to come for a girls’ night out, a guys’ night out or a date. No matter the occasion, there is seating to accommodate. Visit josesmexandcantina.com.
The “verse from the “Cheers” theme, “… where everybody knows your name,” applies to the two Moose Lodges in the Mother Lode. Both Ebbetts Pass Moose Lodge in White Pines and the Sonora Moose Lodge in Sonora offer family-friendly atmospheres with many activities, evenings of planned fun and cocktails to whet any appetite.
If you head to a Moose Lodge, you may visit as a guest of a Moose member. But I’ll warn you; you may enter a stranger, but you will leave a friend; and everyone will know your name.
Whether it’s just the two of you or time for a big group to converge, the Mother Lode serves spirits with small-town charm and lots of fun.
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