The gold veins marbling the hills of Amador City called to immigrants and miners in the 1850s like mythical sirens in the sea.
Almost two centuries later, the restoration and reopening of the historic Imperial Hotel & Restaurant has made it once again irresistible.
With a soaring cockscomb and second story veranda, the Imperial Hotel is the solid brick heart of Amador City. It’s been that way on and off since 1879, when the hotel first opened its doors to visitors.
But the interior was in rough shape when Kevin Carter and Cassie Davis took over the property last fall.
“We could always sense the potential in here, but it was just kind of tired,” says Carter. It took several months to strip the place down to its original wood floors and exposed brick walls, revealing the “beautiful soul” underneath.
The Imperial Hotel's six guest rooms are outfitted with vintage style and modern touches.(Courtesy of Imperial Hotel)
Carter and Davis meticulously outfitted the hotel and restaurant with a mix of antique and modern touches. They rehung the original gas lights, scoured local antique stores for Victorian couches and mirrors, and put back up the best of the art that had collected on its walls over the last century. To the six original guest rooms and three back cottages they added plush beds, electric tea kettles, A/C, and minibars full of goodies like CBD gummies and cocktail kits.
Downstairs, the pair sanded down the existing bar and crowned it with botanicals. They outfitted The Snug, a first-come first-served cocktail lounge, with cozy emerald seating, and reorganized the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, adding reclaimed redwood tables inside and on the darling garden patio.
To man the kitchen, Carter and Davis tapped executive chef Max Benson, whose pedigree includes a stint at Manresa. At dinner, he executes both a six-course tasting menu ($75 per person) and a la carte selections like savory salt cod croquettes, umami dashi poached turnips with dry aged beef, and succulent young hen with oyster cream. At weekend brunch, Benson turns out an equally impressive array that includes almond waffles with sweet honey butter and crispy pork hash. At both meals, artisan cocktails are crafted with exquisite care (try the unique, ultra herbaceous house martini with freshly pickled veggies).
Executive chef Max Benson's creative cuisine is served a la carte or as a six-course tasting menu at the Imperial's fine dining restaurant.(Courtesy of Imperial Hotel)
At first glance, the smallest town in California seems like a strange choice for a boutique hotel and fine dining destination with such spot-on style and culinary panache, historic or not. Most people have never even heard of Amador City, let alone thought about going there.
But the adorable community’s charm is undeniable, something in which the town’s other small businesses play no small part. The influx of a handful of creative proprietors over the last few years have revitalized Amador City’s Main Street without abandoning its Gold Rush era roots (a history you can learn more about in the free Amador Whitney Museum and in the ruins of the now defunct Keystone Mine).
Carter and Davis’ first project in town, Break Even Beermakers, which opened in 2021, has grown to now include a beer garden and local, seasonal kitchen. 3 Fish Studios, creators of the iconic image of a grizzly hugging the state of California, relocated their gallery and workspace here from San Francisco in 2020.
Amador City, the second smallest town in California, is simply adorable.(Courtesy of @greg_traverso)
Then there’s End of Nowhere Wines, vintner of natural, local wines with loads of character and a sweet backyard patio for pouring its $5 tastings; Alley + Main, purveyor of chic home goods and custom design pieces; and Small Town, a cafe and wine bar with thoughtfully prepared sandwiches, salads, and flatbread pizzas; among others.
But it is the resurrection of the Imperial Hotel & Restaurant that completes the transformation of Amador City from forgotten mining metropolis to delightful overnight destination. For the first time since the Gold Rush, the tiny town is once again ready to draw in the crowds, securing its status as one of Northern California’s most charming small towns.
// Imperial Hotel, 14202 Old Hwy 49 (Amador City), imperialhotelamador.com
The beer garden at Break Even Beermakers.(Courtesy of Break Even Beermakers)