Ian Garfinkel is a true history buff. But then, he'd almost have to be - having taken on the challenge of running a 150-year-old hotel in downtown Grass Valley.
A San Francisco native, Garfinkel launched a real estate career in his hometown prior to moving to the foothills a decade ago. He'd fallen in love with the city's historic buildings and spent years buying, restoring and renting treasured urban relics.
When the Holbrooke Hotel came up for sale in 2010, despite ongoing projects in the Bay Area, Garfinkel jumped at the chance and went in with eyes wide open.
"I knew this would be a major project - a labor of love," he said. "This hotel has become my new main focus and I'm enjoying more of what I do."
Garfinkel's mission has been to restore and celebrate the historic feel of the hotel while upgrading and adding modern conveniences, such as providing Wi-Fi in all rooms (except the bar, which still has its original copper walls).
The hotel includes 17 antique-furnished rooms in the main building and 11 additional rooms in the rear "annex," known as the Purcell House. The historic guestbook boasts the likes of Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland and James A. Garfield. Other famous guests reportedly include Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Black Bart and Lotta Crabtree.
But the business is much more than a hotel, said Garfinkel, who commutes from his Penn Valley ranch where he lives with his wife Susie and three children, ages 8, 12 and 14.
"It's essentially four businesses: hotel, restaurant, bar and banquets/weddings," he said. "This is a small business and margins are thin - it's very hands-on."
While lodging at the Holbrooke is popular among out-of-town history and antique lovers, the bar and banquet rooms are frequented primarily by local residents. Clubs such as Rotary and the Mining Council hold regular meetings in the banquet rooms, one of which can hold more than 200 people.
The hotel's classically-trained chef, Dylan Pengelley, has become one of the reasons more local groups are scheduling meetings and gatherings at the Holbrooke, said Garfinkel, and the late-night weekend menu served till midnight is popular among bar patrons.
A musician himself, Garfinkel says offering free live music Tuesday through Sundays is a high priority, and he plans to turn the old "library" adjacent to the bar into a full-fledged dance floor.
Garfinkel plays guitar and sings with the local group, The Nevada Country Regulators. His group occasionally performs at the Holbrooke's historic bar, the Golden Gate Saloon, rumored to be the oldest continuously operating saloon west of the Mississippi. The ornate wood-carved bar, said Garfinkel, was built in 1862 and shipped "around the horn" from Connecticut by the Brunswick Company.
Downstairs is the Iron Door, an intimate nightclub featuring live music and comedy. The hidden-away, cellar-like feel of the club lends credibility to tales of it once serving as a speakeasy and cabaret frequented by ladies of the night.
"I love my job - the tourists keep it fresh," said Cheryl Stucky, who has worked at the Golden Gate Saloon for the past 20 years. "There are some local residents who have been coming here longer than I've worked here. Ian has brought in some fresh ideas and great music. I'm not going anywhere."
As far as the long-standing rumors that the Holbrooke is haunted, Garfinkel and Stucky say the jury is still out.
"I've had some pretty reputable people say they've heard odd things," said Stucky. "People believe it."
"Whenever ghost chasers come to the hotel they claim to pick up tons of activity - energy, magnetic fields, etc.," he said. "I'm not saying I believe this stuff, but too many things have happened here - a lot of mischief. Things are missing, then suddenly reappear. Guests have been known to call down to the front desk and complain there are kids running down the hall when we know there are no kids staying here. That's been a problem for years."
"That's weird," said Stucky. "I've never talked to Ian about that, but our former human resources girl said the same thing. She'd hear children laughing, giggling and running up and down the hall."
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4203.