Stumbling through the times
In Miguel de Cervantes’ masterpiece novel, Don Quixote states, “I drink when I have an occasion, and sometimes when I have no occasion.” Here in Truckee, we live in shadows of a similar reality. In fact, many of us have arrived here by our own Quixotism i.e. romantic (and possibly impractical) ideals and have managed a way to stay awhile. Truckee residents have a long history as visionaries, with the infamous Donners leading the trend for today’s post-graduate ski and snowboard bums. Likewise, the booming town shares with Don Quixote a long-standing affinity for drink, with a contemporary nightlife scene rooted in a deep tradition that may surprise you. Did you know that Truckee has existed in fluxing forms since 1863, when it was established as a provisions outpost for Westward emigrants? In fact, by 1868, Coburn’s Station (as current Downtown was then known) housed five saloons. That means, that for much of the last 138 years, Truckee has offered more nightlife than Las Vegas! Indeed, the town achieved acclaim with the 1875 opening of the Boca Brewing Company.Our town’s reputation as one of the coldest in the country stifles many of us on these often warm winter days, but cold weather was imperative to Truckee’s late 19th century boom. Just across the Truckee River from Boca’s Interstate 80 exit exists a short but interesting walking tour of historical remnants of the town that once existed there. With winter temperatures frequently dropping to 15-20 degrees below zero, and without the advent of modern refrigeration, the Union Ice Company established itself by harvesting large blocks of ice. By insulating them with sawdust from local lumber mills, ice could be stored for nearly a year, and thus was transported all over California and even as far away as New Orleans to preserve food and drink. With unlimited ice available to keep ideal fermentation temperatures, a brewery was added to the town of Boca. The beer was sold worldwide, and the brewery produced up to 30,000 barrels annually. It gained further acclaim when the local lager was served along with the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower at the 1883 World Fair in Paris. For eighteen years, the cold mountain-water brewed beverage kept Truckee on the map until the brewery burned down in January of 1893. While the fire quelled Truckee’s prominence in booze history nationwide, the local scene survived in Old West fashion, with local bars including the original Pastime Club on Donner Pass Road. It would take more than a building fire to wipe out drinking in a town like this. In fact, this Monday, January 16, marks the dark anniversary of the instigation of Prohibition. On this day in 1920, the sale and consumption of alcohol became illegal in this country, and would remain so for 13 years; but that didn’t stop local business owners and residents from bootlegging their own liquor.
As they did all over the U.S., illegal saloons soon flourished in Truckee whiskey made here was considered some of the best on the continent, with local officials accepting bribes for warning saloonkeepers whenever federal agents would be coming. Whenever they did get caught, they usually had a volunteer who would fulfill a jail sentence, in order to allow survival of this underground business. As the late longtime local Gene Barton disclosed, “everyone drank in those days and nobody considered it wrong.” So you see, not all that much has changed, except our beers stay cold in the fridge, and a safe ride home has replaced being tangled up in a gunfight as a major concern for many a nighttime revelers. If, unlike Don Quixote, you save drinking for special occasions only, head out this week to appreciate a good buzz legally, because 86 years ago you would have had to use the back door to the following downtown Truckee “speakeasies.”Moody’s Bistro & Lounge, 10007 Bridge Street, 530-587-8688Classic cocktails to the tune of live jazz, Moody’s offers a sip of a hip, urban lounge in our rustic mountain town.Bar of America, 10040 Donner Pass Road, 530-587-3110While still embracing its rogue motorcycle past, B of A underwent a millennial metamorphosis into the comfortably styled bar it is today with good music and plenty of room to shake in.
The Tourist Club, 10010 Donner Pass Road, 530-587-7775Perennially offering “Free Beer Tomorrow,” you can settle for $2 PBRs today, in this local well.The Pastime Club, 10096 Donner Pass Road, 530-582-9219A Truckee staple since 1890, the Pastime offers music and events amidst wall murals of testy bulls, and offers a stripper pole to boot.Casa Baeza, 10010 Bridge Street, 530-587-2161An authentic taste of Mexico where patrons pack the house for slammin’ Margaritas. If they don’t take you back down South, at least they’ll send you to the floor.
Cottonwood, Hilltop Lodge off Old Brockway, 530-587-5711An intimate setting for drinks of all types, set within the cozy, antiquated wood of one of the nation’s oldest ski lodges.The Blue Coyote, 10015 Palisades Drive, 530-587-7777Catch all the big games here, at Truckee’s only sports bar.OB’s Pub & Restaurant, 10046 Donner Pass Road, 530-587-4164A St. Patrick’s Day favorite with a loyal local following and great pub food in the bar.