Patrons line up early at Lotus Pub for a night of slow dining and drinking with friends. The inviting space was originally built in 1855 and was home to a general store and post office. (Photos by Steve Martarano)

Lotus Pub Is a Low-Key Gourmet Hideaway

A place to take your time by the South Fork of the American River

Back Article Feb 14, 2024 By Steve Martarano

This story is part of our February 2024 issue. To subscribe, click here.

It’s the first night back after Lotus Pub’s annual two-week holiday break, and at 5 p.m. when the doors swing open on this frigid Friday in January, a line has already formed.

The four groups arriving promptly at 5 seem to know the routine at this cozy fine dining restaurant turned neighborhood pub, which features some of the best food in El Dorado County’s river-centric community of Lotus and Coloma. Open just 5 to 8 p.m., four days a week (Wednesday through Saturday), with no reservations allowed, the trick is to get there early, grab one of the booths and relax — this isn’t going to be a fast dining experience.

Among the early arrivals on Jan. 12 were Julia McIver and Richard Weiss, who both maintain homes in the area and say they’ve been coming to the restaurant since it was called Cafe Mahjaic.

“The wait is always a while,” says server Kelsey Henry, who works the dining and bar area and has been with the restaurant for four years as the only employee that’s not a family member. “You have to tell people when they come in to plan on spending the evening here and to really enjoy the food, which is excellent.”

Among the first arrivals of the night are Julia McIver and Richard Weiss, who both maintain homes in the area and say they’ve been coming to the restaurant since it was called Cafe Mahjaic.

Even if there were a bounty of good restaurants in the area, “this would stand out,” says McIver as she shares some wine with Weiss. “Yes, the food is really good. The atmosphere is good. You always run into someone you know.”

For 20 years, John and Gina Metropulos have run a restaurant out of the nearly 170-year old location, which is close to several whitewater river rafting companies. In fact, they first met in 1994 while working as river guides for All-Outdoors Whitewater Rafting in Lotus, eventually becoming one of the 40 or so married couples All-Outdoors is credited with connecting.

When they first met, John Metropulos, who had graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, was working as a chef in Grass Valley, and Gina was going to school in San Francisco studying to be an ultrasound technician.

Gina Metropulos and daughter Charlotte look out over the outdoor patio at the Lotus Pub on Jan. 12. Chef John Metropulos and son Henry, not shown, all work in the restaurant the family has run on the property since 2004.

In between the restaurant and former Lotus Inn is an outdoor patio area that is available during the summer months.

“We spent most of three summers working rafting trips together, and then I would go back to school in San Francisco, and he would go back to being a chef,” she says.

The couple married and lived in San Francisco before Gina got a job at a local hospital, and they returned to the river community. John continued to work as a rafting guide and at area restaurants before they bought the historic 5-acre parcel with two buildings on Lotus Road in 2004. One building, built in 1855, was originally the site of a general store and post office, where the couple opened the fine dining Cafe Mahjaic restaurant. In the other building, a six-room house built in 1857, they opened the Lotus Inn while living in one of its 400-square-foot apartments.

 Cafe Mahjaic built a reputation as one of the top restaurants in El Dorado County, with a New American menu that featured locally sourced, fresh food, sauces and breads — all made from scratch. The Cafe Mahjaic and Lotus Inn run, however, ended after about a dozen years, when in 2018 the business was completely revamped.

 “We decided that we just wanted to scale down the amount of employees and make it a little bit simpler,” says Gina Metropulos, who notes the restaurant was having a hard time maintaining its staff of 12.

The former Lotus Inn was built in 1857 and is on the Metropulos’ property, serving as the family residence today.

 By 2018, the Metropulos family had grown, with the addition of Henry, now 16, and Charlotte, 13, who both grew up working in the restaurant. The Lotus Inn was closed, and the family moved in while beginning the almost year-long process of converting the restaurant into a more casual pub, adding booths and a bar that was built with recycled wood and steel from the backyards of friends.

 The new Lotus Pub opened about a year-and-a-half before COVID, which shut the business down for almost two years. “We were doing really great before COVID hit,” Gina says. 

 Today, the Lotus Pub, with seating inside for 42, is back in its groove, featuring a full bar and a regular $24 (one side included) dinner menu along with seasonal specials. Currently, that includes warming dishes like lamb shawarma and “Slo Roasted” pork belly banh mi to go along with an array of more traditional pub plates. 

 “It is kind of a secret hideaway,” says Placerville’s Chris Flores, who frequents the bar with friends. “We can play cards. We take our time. Definitely a place you come and enjoy your company. And just relax.” 

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