Anyone, everyone: Always welcome at Pete ‘N Peters bar |

Anyone, everyone: Always welcome at Pete ‘N Peters bar

[Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a three part series that focuses on Pete ‘N Peters sports bar in Tahoe City.]

The old adage contends that opposite personalities attract, and it’s an appropriate one in defining the solid business relationship between Peter Paine and David “Johnny B” Rutter, co-owners of Pete ‘N Peter’s sports bar.

A resident of the Tahoe area since March 1958, “That’s 46 winters ago,” as Paine likes to repeatedly remind anyone who inquires, he started as a bell hop at Squaw Valley Lodge, now known as the Olympic House.

“I came here to work and see the Olympic Games (in 1960), and I thought I’d leave the engine running and be outta here,” he laughs loudly. “Well, that was 46 years ago.”

Although born and raised in Napa, Calif., Paine carries with him a rich pride about his Tahoe roots, tracing back to his days of carrying suitcases for visitors at the hotel in Squaw. Paine is for the most part controlled, but it’s almost as if there is a good joke or an outburst of laughter hiding behind every word he utters.

Even at 64, Paine still has a boyish Italian charm that transcends his age and draws a listener in the more he talks. It’s not the slightest trace of immaturity, rather it’s a zest for life that some people are afraid to reveal to the world.

Rutter is 13 years younger than Paine and much more reserved. Contrary to Paine, in his ways he consistently remains distinguished and mature and chooses his words carefully. It’s the way that Rutter carries himself that conveys a sense of seriousness, and Paine is aware of Rutter’s responsible nature and counts on Rutter to handle the myriad tasks of the business.

“Johnny is probably the best partner you could ever have,” Paine said. “He basically runs the bar. I come up with a lot of the ideas, and we work together.”

A graduate of Ball State, Rutter came to Squaw Valley in the summer of 1973 and “came out here for vacation and just fell in love with the place. I started skiing and said, ‘This is where I belong.'”

After Rutter decided to stay in the area, he took a job bartending at the Bear Pen at Squaw. He soon met Paine circa 1975, and eventually joined Pete ‘N Peters as a bartender in 1978. After a short stint as the general manager at River Ranch Restaurant & Lodge from 1981 to 1983, fate brought Rutter back to Pete ‘N Peters.

In a big snow year, as Paine recollects, he became sick with viral pneumonia. Unable to carry on business from a hospital bed, Paine convinced Rutter, who Paine considered to be his “best bartender,” to come back to Pete ‘N Peters. Rutter was already familiar with the bookwork and the process of opening the bar. With his hard work and enthusiasm, Rutter won Paine’s respect during this time and the two went into business together officially in 1983.

Paine and Rutter combined account for 77 years of Tahoe living, and they have created a successful partnership that has kept Pete ‘N Peters running smoothly in Tahoe City beyond its first quarter century. On Feb. 1, 2001, Pete ‘N Peters celebrated its 25th anniversary in its surrounding parking lot.

“That was a great event,” Paine said. “We tented the whole parking lot, and we had people coming from all over the place for that.”

Rutter said Pete ‘N Peters is unique because the owners still hang around the bar and make themselves noticed.

“We’re still active,” Rutter smiled. “You take a lot of bar owners that have had a place for 28 years they’re not really active. You don’t see too many of them go behind the bar.”

Rutter still bartends on Mondays during the day, but Paine serves as more of an overseer these days.

“They kicked me out from behind the bar two years ago,” he jokes.

But there is a third leg to the operation whose role was essential in getting the business off the ground back in 1976.

It was during his days as a bell hop at Squaw that Paine met Pete Perata, the other half of the business name and the founder of Perata Excavation Co., a local business in Truckee (Perata had taken his excavation company to Hawaii at the time Paine fell sick, so Paine felt it would better serve Pete ‘N Peters to make Rutter his business partner.)

Paine worked at Squaw until 1969, when he went to work at an Italian restaurant at Bacchi’s Inn in Lake Forest. Paine worked there for seven years and remained good friends with Perata.

It’s not that they were unhappy with their jobs, necessarily, but the two men were looking for something new and challenging. Realizing that there was not a lot of competition in the bar business (especially the sports bar business) at the time, they signed the lease for Pete ‘N Peters in November 1975.

“The only bar in town was the Tahoe Inn, next door,” Paine said.

So Paine and Perata seized the opportunity, and ever since the grand opening on Feb. 1, 1976, the bar has thrived in its location just off Northlake Boulevard. Perata has moved back to the Tahoe area now, and Paine contends there is no hard feelings between them.

“There was no animosity (at the time they split business ties),” he said. “He wanted me to go open a bar with him over in Hawaii, and I just didn’t want to touch that.”

Tahoe locals continually show they are glad Paine decided to stay on the shores of Lake Tahoe through their support, friendship and loyalty to the bar.

“We got a lot of norms and good claimants in this bar, believe me,” Paine said. “People that know everything about anything, and they don’t know anything about anything.”

Ruth Asleson has been a bartender at Pete ‘N Peters for 10 years. In reference to Paine and Rutter, she said: “They’re the best bosses on the lake (because) they’re honest people. They also offer a great benefits package, which a lot of bartenders don’t get. If someone’s in trouble, they’re the first ones to pony up.”

When asked if she’ll ever leave Pete ‘N Peters, her answer pretty much signifies the loyalty and content attitude among employees at the bar.

“(I’ll be here) until I die,” she said.

Any night of the week is a good night to visit Pete ‘N Peters, which also serves food. On Wednesdays during the winter months, the bar runs a popular pool league. The weekend crowd is made up mostly of tourists, and the regulars tend to flock into the bar on the weeknights.

Asleson doesn’t hesitate when citing her favorite thing about bartending at Pete ‘N Peters.

“The customers,” she said. “We get people from all over the world, and they make it their favorite local spot when they come to Tahoe.”

Rutter added: “We get people from the banks. We get people from insurance companies. A lot of office personnel. We get a lot of construction guys that come in. (And) we get athletes. We’ve been here 28 years now, and we have customers that started out 28 years ago that still come in. We’ve served three generations.”

Whether it’s a special promotion for a notable brand of liquor or a routine night of watching sports, one thing is for sure: Tradition is strong at Pete ‘N Peters.

“We’ve celebrated births (of) kids who are now regular customers,” Paine said.

Part two will focus on Pete ‘N Peters instrumental role in raising money for North Tahoe’s sports programs. Part III will focus on the heritage and success of the rich softball tradition that surrounds the bar’s history.

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