To Hotel Hell and Back – Following up with the Murphys Historic Hotel

The Murphys Historic Hotel, now even more famous for its appearance on Hotel Hell this summer, was awarded the 2014 Innovations in Tourism Award for Best Lodging.  We took this opportunity to sit down with the three owners Brian Goss, Joel Lacitignola and Kevin Clerico and find out what’s changed since the show and their plans moving forward.

Having your business featured on national television is sure to get you a ton of exposure, so when the producers of Hotel Hell called Goss, he knew he needed to say yes.  But his partners weren’t so keen. Clerico and Lacitignola definitely needed more convincing, and it was pretty clear that once they signed on, they were in for a good Gordon Ramsay drubbing.   “I was pretty sure the focus was going to be more on the negative side,”  said Gross – and really, what’s a good reality show without some dramatic embellishments?   In the end, the boys were good sports about the whole performance, and the timing of the show was great for them.   Gross had been working under the previous owner Dorian Faught and he and his partners had taken over ownership less than a year before being approached by Hotel Hell.  In fact,  many of the improvements needed were already on their agenda, but the show really helped light the fire under their feet to put those upgrades into action.

One thing that you’ll notice walking into the hotel now – if you saw the Hotel Hell episode – is updates to the modern decor installed by Ramsay’s team. The “historic”  part of the Murphys Historic Hotel is actually what draws many visitors.  On any given day, you’ll see people coming in to walk through the hotel just to see its old wooden bar, antique maps and Gold Rush era paintings.  The new owners want to keep a historic feel, replacing the worn out bed frames, sofas and fixtures with other well kept period pieces that they source from antique shops around the country.  Also gone are the carpet floors of in the dining room, replaced by a rustic looking hard wood that Clerico installed with the help of local contractors.   Kevin’s background as a carpenter is coming in handy as he tackles everything from floors to fixtures, admitting he’s not a decorator, but he knows quality woodworking when he sees it.

Inside the Murphys Hotel dining room

In the kitchen, Lacitignola has ushered in a seasonal menu, making sure to keep a couple staple favorites available but changing up sauces and sides to reflect what’s fresh and in season.  He sources as much as he can from Arnold Pantry and Covers Ranch in Sonora, and Orvis now supplies all the ground beef for their burgers – they’re hoping soon to have all their beef coming from Orvis as well.  The wine list is 80 percent local  – Gross says he’s still trying to pencil out how to offer the wine flights suggested by Hotel Hell – and when we spoke he had just installed a new 14 tap beer dispenser and upgraded the kitchen appliances with new ovens, stoves and refrigeration.

An example of typical room decor at the Murphys Hotel

Perhaps the spotlight helped the three focus on balancing what the Murphys Hotel is all about.  They need to offer a fine dining experience, provide rooms for the traveler who may just be looking for a place to stay while they recreate in the area, and then there’s the bar.  Let’s face it, that bar is an institution and has been since Ulysses S. Grant rolled through town.  People come to party – whether it’s a wedding, holiday weekend or any other special event – and the owners need to deliver on that expectation.  One big change – closing at 1am has made a big difference in clearing out revelers before the wee hours of the morning, something that the guests who are actually there to sleep appreciate.  “We’re always working on customer service,” Goss adds, “we want every customer to leave with a smile.”