“Six, five, four…” the ancient countdown began. “Three, two, ONE!” A last cheer went up at the doomed Boonville Lodge that would close forever in two days. “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
And it was happy, and it was a new year, and everyone embraced, and a comfortably plump woman flung her sweet arms around my neck and gave me an optimistic kiss as cameras flashed, balloons popped and glittery confetti seemed to rain down from the ceiling as the jubilant crowd broke into Auld Lang Syne.
Proprietor and host Tom Towey moved round the packed house filling champagne flutes to their unquenchable brims. Everyone seemed to be talking at once, trying to be heard over the music and celebratory din. One party of women danced among themselves, a blue-haired gent staggered out sloshing a glass of scotch onto his suit. It was raining outside and some poor fool was laying face down in a puddle, too drunk to stand, laughing with strangled delight, infinitely amused with his plight.
Deputies Squires and Walker separately cruised past, exchanging wry remarks on their radios.
“I think he turned 21 recently.”
“Yeah. He’s a legal alcoholic now.”
“And he’s got a roof over his head tonight — the roof of his car!”
Refugees from more sedate parties down the street were hurrying along, hoping to crash the gate and get in without paying the Lodge's $10 cover charge. Piece of cake. The doorman had gone to the men’s room.
The long pepperwood bar, crowded three deep with the thirsty partygoers in a variety of silly hats, seemed to sag under the weight of a huge clutter of neglected cocktails and abandoned beer bottles. The bartenders, oddly alien in their sobriety, saluted behind their ears and cocked their heads quizzically at the slurred and mumbled orders coming from the writhing confusion on the customer side of the bar.
Amidst the pandemonium, a table elegantly covered in starched linen and polished chaffing dishes lay spread with a full moon of camembert ringed with water crackers. There were filleted flanks of smoked salmon on silver salvers, piles of sliced thuringer and muenster, mounds of diced cheddar and pepper jack, chicken wings, fish sticks, dips and sauces — an island of undisturbed nutrition in a flood of alcohol. Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway were chatting in a dark corner. Simply everyone was there.
An unknown bum had slipped in uncontested and was edging in the direction of the hors d’oeuvre table, having downed the dregs of an abandoned martini. His hand ventured tentatively toward a cracker. An angry voice shouted, “Hey, you!” Heads turned and suddenly the crowd was ravenous. They fell upon the food and devoured it in an instant. The bum was jostled out the door without a crumb. C’est le vie! You can be a bum, but unless you're a Boonville bum get away from the hors d'oeuvres.
Some revelers were insatiable. They wanted more. Clamoring at the bar well past the last call, the last minute, the new year two hours old, they staggered out into the damp night, some of them even finding a designated driver.
* * *
Class is always more obvious in a small town. There’s Us, there's Them and there's they, and it's the they who are totally ruthless. They have made it impossible for The Lodge to go on living. They want more money for the aging premises than the business can pay, and the business, which was so much more than a business to the people of the Anderson Valley, is gone.
I asked a bartender about his prospects. A vintner’s ‘prentice, he said. Other bartenders from the Lodge are already laboring in the stuffy parlors of the vine.
* * *
The Boonville Lodge was the only bar between Cloverdale and Mendocino south moving north to south. There's Ukiah over the hill to the east with its more anonymous waterholes, and a commute the thirsty residents of the Anderson Valley are unlikely to make.
Tom Towey transformed The Lodge from a place where standards of personal behavior had ranged from barbarous to beastly, but he stood up to the bores, the bullies and the bar fighters and made it a place of style and civility where sane people could meet and enjoy themselves a community in the best sense rather than the worst. And he did this without making the Lodge pretentious or exclusive. It was a tricky tone to set. It took good sense, hard work and determination. There were difficult characters who wanted to drag it all down, but in the end Towey's perseverance and patience paid off. Anybody who could behave was welcome. Anybody who couldn't behave was banned not forever but until he understood he'd been the cause of his own exclusion. Over the past four years Towey made the Lodge into an asset the community could take pride in, and where over a dozen of our locals could make a living.
Success of course can breed envy. Or greed. Or both. And Towey’s absentee landlord, a certain Dave Johnson who lives in Sonoma County, moved to force Towey out. We can't know Johnson’s exact plans, if he has any, but even the most obtuse landlord, one would thing, would rather have a tenant than an empty hole in the wall.
Which, if you'll excuse the digression and shaky analogy, reminds me of my ex’s dog, Precious, a fat little yap dog. I brought a dog to the marriage, too: an old stock dog, Bobbalouie. Precious would get tidbits and morsels from the dining table. Bobbalouie, when no one was looking, got an odd scrap out of the kitchen slops. But Precious soon grew envious. She wanted that random scrap and, unable to bear the success of others, she'd fight the old stock dog for it. Bow wow, Mr. Dave Johnson, and I shudder to think who your master is!
* * *
If you don’t respect your elders, you’ll have no dignity when you’re old.
— Grandpa McEwen
* * *
Ten ayem on a Saturday morning and a few old men sat at the bar. When they talked it was in short sentences of trite observation on any given topic: the weather, the national news, the past. “It’s supposed to rain. Too bad about the Lodge closing. Things have changed.” In the laconic dialogue of folks who share the same views, they summed up the no-bar-in-Boonville situation and considered their prospects. These guys were too old to drive 40 miles for a beer and a few hours out of their lonely houses. The Lodge in familiar company had been a good thing for them, the highlight of their waning days.
You can get a prescription for marijuana, even heroin (Oxycontin), merely by telling your doctor that it makes you feel better. But there is little sympathy for the person who finds it therapeutic to sit in a bar and nurse a beer. The old bar culture is nearly dead. The new bar culture is for the young and the rich who can plunk down $100 for a couple of bottles of 90+point pinot or a case of micro-brewed beer and leave a $50 tip before driving to the next “tasting room.”
There were several of these old codgers who came out New Year’s Eve for the last hurrah of the Boonville Lodge. They were all in bed by the time the party started but, I suspect, they will miss it the most.