Just back from a trip to the Eastern Sierras. My family has been vacationing on the June Lake Loop for seventeen years now. While we generally spend most of the week barbecuing, we choose one very special night to get dressed up and hit up our favorite high sierra watering hole. The Historic Mono Inn 55620 Hwy 395 Lee Vining, CA 93541.
Mono Lake is one of California’s only remaining inland seas. The salt content is so high that Mark Twain once wrote that he cleaned a dirty shirt by dunking it into the briny waters. In 1922, Mono Inn was built to be the base camp for a proposed resort on Paoha Island. Wally and Venita McFerson were planning to turn Mono Lake into a beach bunny paradise for high sierra visitors, but the project went bust during the early conceptual stages. After this, the Inn became the lakeside resort and hosted Mark Twain day which was held every year until 1944.
The Mono Inn was passed around between a series of different owners, but the most famous would arguably be Sarah Adams who is Ansel Adams’ granddaughter. In 1996, Sarah helped to renovate the restaurant and turn it into a more elegant place for diners to visit. The top floor was converted into an Ansel Adams gallery and also housed a collection of Ansel’s family’s vintage cookbooks.
In 2011, partners Jim O’Meally and Mario Aguilar leased the building from Sarah and renamed it The Historic Mono Inn. Chef Jim’s new menu is truly something to behold. He describes it as international peasant cuisine and the seasonal menus feature paella, bolognaise, braised short ribs, seared antelope steaks and ceviche to name a few favorites. Not only is the food divine, but Mono Inn has a fantastic wine list. They are only four hours from Napa and Sonoma wine country, so it’s no surprise that they’d opt for top notch libations.
There are no bad tables at Mono Inn. Every patron of the restaurant receives a stunning view of the lake shore tufas, Mono’s two islands, Negit and Paoha, and the surrounding mountains. Live music is played on Summer evenings on the twinkle light-draped patio and Chef Jim (a former pianist) even jams on the piano some Friday nights. The Ansel Adams family gallery is still available for visitors to view; as is the collection of vintage cookbooks. First edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking anyone?
If you find yourself visiting Mammoth, Yosemite, or anywhere in the high sierras, make it a priority to come down to Mono Inn. The service is impeccable, the staff is so welcoming and treat every guest like family. For an extra treat, make a reservation about an hour before the sunset so you can see the glow of the lake as the sky turns pink in the twilight.
The Historic Mono Inn is open for lunch and dinner. Be sure to visit their website for more information and to make a reservation!
Photos courtesy of The Historic Mono Inn Facebook page.