When Jim O’Meally and Mario Aguilar open the doors to the Mono Inn for the first time in several years next Friday, it will be a dream come true.
O’Meally has loved the Mono Inn since he first played there as pianist while Sarah Adams ran the restaurant (the Ansel Adams family still owns the inn and its acreage).
Although he’s run and/or opened several restaurants and wine bars across the West, and played piano for the Awahnee hotel in Yosemite, it’s been the Eastern Sierra that has held his heart.
To O’Meally, the Mono Inn IS the Eastern Sierra: history, beauty and the potential as a community gathering place all in one location.
“Look at this place,” he said, pointing wide across the inn’s patio to the view of aqua Mono Lake, the snow-capped White Mountains, the young cottonwoods just budding brilliant green.
“How could we not want to share this?”
Business partner Mario Aguilar is no different. Climber, waiter, bartender, he too worked at the Awahnee and has worked with O’Meally in other businesses. But when he first saw the Eastside, he knew he was home.
“That was it,” he said with a laugh. “It was all over.”
During his time playing piano at the inn, O’Meally developed a friendship with the Adams family. So when another venture fell through recently, he got to thinking about the Mono Inn, empty for two years and no longer on the market. He asked the Adams family if they were interested in him reopening the inn.
“They were very receptive,” he said. “I’d always wanted to have my own gig and from the first time I worked here, I wanted it to be the Mono Inn.”
So the two friends and business partners got to work.
Scrubbing, rebuilding, wiring, refurnishing, keeping the best of the old inn and adding their own flair for art, color and style, they mean to make the Mono Inn once again an iconic Eastside gathering place.
They plan to offer “casual California country cuisine,” focusing on using locally grown produce as much as possible. The menu will be priced somewhat lower than the gourmet offerings of the Sarah Adams days, but still affordable to locals and visitors.
“We will have something for every budget, “ O’Meally said.
“We want the elegance of Convict Lake and the affordability of Whiskey Creek in Bishop (where Aguilar used to work) and we just want to share it with people,” said Aguilar.
And it’s not just a destination restaurant they are aiming for. They also plan to open the store that sits next to the restaurant, serving ready-to-go lunches for hikers and travelers, complete with homemade breads, fresh tapenades and spreads, and more.
Their wine selection, O’Meally said, “is going to be great,” with daily wine tastings soon to come. “I’ve got a nice selection of wines from all over the world, from France, from all over Europe, from South Africa.”
And then there is the patio. The wide, arbor-covered patio is one of the inn’s crowning glories, along with the famous “Lakeroom” with its room-sized windows overlooking mercurial Mono Lake. They intend to keep the patio hopping until the snow flies, bringing in live music, theater, poetry slams and other entertainment, as well as dining.
Art will be another focus, they said. In fact, the walls of the inn are covered with the art of California painter Kevin Maddrey, with an exhibition planned in the near future.
Both O’Meally and Aguilar have a background in theater, and are hoping to make the inn a strong venue for plays and musical theater. They said they aren’t in it to make a lot of money, but more to provide a unique and iconic place for locals and visitors to gather.
“There is so much history here,” said O’Meally. “The inn is the old bunkhouse for what was going to be a resort on Paoha Island. That fell through, but the building remains. Jeanne Adams (she is married to Michael Adams, who is the son of Ansel Adams) told me that Ansel used to love to come here and she started coming here when she was 12. When she married Michael in 1957, they came here on their honeymoon.”
“Like we said, we just want to share this,” said Aguilar.
“This place is so much bigger than we are.”