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John Keane

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February 11, 2014
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Remember Dick and Nan, owners of National Hotel

The memories came flooding back that day in 1973, as I stood in the bar entry to the National Hotel — memories of Hopalong Cassidy, the Cisco Kid and the Old West TV towns of my youth.

The woodwork gleamed and smelled of lemon oil lovingly applied. And then there was the back bar which was originally from the burnt down Speckles’ mansion.

The large brass scales atop the back bar led the eye to three bullet holes in the tin ceiling.

As a classically trained bartender I knew that I had to work that bar someday.

Gordon Smith was the hotel chef but was tending bar that afternoon.

When I told him of my aspirations he wished me luck as there were no jobs in this financially depressed town and that people kept the ones that they had.

His words proved prophetic when a month later I found myself broke sitting at the bar waiting for the bus to Sacramento.

Just then the head of maintenance came in looking worried.

“Jack,” I said. “What’s up?”

“It’s Christmas Eve,” says he. “One of our busiest weekends and the dishwasher has quit.”

I thought he meant that he was having equipment problems.

“No,” he said. “The dishwasher person has quit.”

“Well,” I said, “I’ve washed plenty a dish and after five years in the business I know my way around a kitchen.”

“But, you would have to do janitorial duties after closing” (he thought that this might be beneath me).

“Let’s go,” says I, and off into the kitchen, and a suddenly changed future, we went.

The next morning, after cleaning the kitchen the dining room and the bar area I went back to the kitchen to talk to Chef Gordon and then home for some rest. Gordon was not happy.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“It’s the busiest day of the year and two waitresses are sick,” he said.

“I’ve waited plenty of tables,” I said. “If you need a waiter . . .”

“There has never been a male waiter here,” he said. Then, “OK, go home and get changed and be back ASAP.”

Home I went with wings on my feet. I would need them for the next 16 hours.

From my duffel bag I retrieved a pair of black slacks, a black leather vest from my old biker days, a sort of white shirt and a tie and returned to become the first male waiter at the National Hotel in memory.

After the shift, Dick Ness, the owner, called me to the side to thank me for filling in — or so I thought. Instead he said, “I need a lunch waiter and you’re hired if you want, but don’t ever show up in my dining room dressed like that again.”

“Yes sir; no sir,” I said, and he flipped me a 100 dollar bill. “Go and get some good clothes and a haircut and be back tomorrow.”

I had become a Nevada City stealth hippy.

That summer I got the idea to open The Veranda for cocktails and a happy hour.

If I wanted to do the work, Dick said that he would support it.

It worked well and I made a good living between that and lunch. With the coming of winter, my dream came true. I got the full-time weekend shift behind 1the bar.

Meanwhile, I met my future bride, who was cocktailing at the Holbrooke Hotel, and after a whirlwind romance, Dick and Nan insisted that we get married at the National … at no charge.

Dick and Nan Ness were a class act and the best ambassadors that Nevada City ever had.

They worked hard and got dirty during the week, but on the weekend they would be impeccably dressed to the nines and come Sunday morning would promenade up Broad Street and down Commercial Street wishing all a good day.

On a given weekend they would arrange to have an antique car club meet an antique airplane club at the airport and drive the pilots to the hotel for two days of fun.

The “hotel car” was a ’39 Bentley. They helped to promote the bicycle classic.

Your article on the local hotels was great, but I’m sorry that Dick and Nan Ness were not included in the list of great owners of the National Hotel.

They were truly great friends to me and to this town. They should not be forgotten.

John Keane lives in Grass Valley.

Dick and Nan Ness were a class act and the best ambassadors that Nevada City ever had.


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The Union Updated Feb 11, 2014 08:14PM Published Feb 11, 2014 08:14PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.