Don Rogers: Legacy for a new era
It was Golden Era’s first Fourth of July in Nevada City, as well as mine. Steve Giardina, proprietor, made old-fashioned sodas at the bar that had been sailed around the Horn long ago. Hollie Grimaldi Flores and I set up at a plastic table on Broad Street that already hot morning for the parade.
She would host and I would serve as clueless color commentator for the public TV predecessor to Nevada County Media. Fun morning, great old-timey sodas. My wife would come to love them.
Steve told me about the history of the bar, and The Bar. His enthusiasm for the Golden Era, his sodas, for all of it, was infectious. I was new in town. The magic still ran strong. He only made it stronger that morning, to think of all the elbows on that bar, all the stories told, laughs shared. All the memories stored in the grain.
Now I have some memories of my own tucked into this place: Jordan Fisher Smith holding court during the Wild and Scenic Film Fest before I knew him. The retirement party for banker Mike Vasquez. The time my daughter and I bumped into Jordan and novelist Louis Jones after cleaning up at an event at the Miners Foundry. I’m a huge, butterflies-in-the-stomach fan of the literary authors in a way that movie stars, ex-presidents, athletes, musicians don’t touch. Weird, but the way that is.
Then the evening I bumbled into my daughter and one of her coworkers by the fireplace and had the best time ever, impromptu. I’ve gone in with groups, to meet a friend, alone before my wife and daughter moved out from Colorado, tired of the empty house, just to observe the living, take in the buzz of the hive with my beer, though that’s kind of a wasted drink here, given all the cool craft mixes.
I’m sure this was the vision that bonded the Giardinas — Cindy’s living room, I’ve heard it put — and what they have worked so hard to keep up. For me, sure, among this whole wide range of people who found what I found here. Growers, bankers, visitors, retirees, lovers, boisterous sets of friends, jazz lovers, colleagues after work, the whole fine panoply of political worldviews, artists, no doubt a lawyer or two.
They welcomed them all, the whole family, and Steve. I sensed he had a gift, that extra gear. I paid attention to that.
The odds were stacked against this establishment opening, to hear the story at Mike’s retirement party there in 2017. Cindy had grown up around her grandmother’s restaurant. Son Eric tended bar in San Francisco. Daughter Jessica hopped right in, too. These are the best places, hands down, where the family works and has fun doing it.
They knew what they wanted to do, but the banks they checked couldn’t work out the numbers until they tried River Valley, and Mike, who noted the family would be taking shifts, too, in his calculations.
Steve had an easy repartee with Mike last summer when I joined Mike, who makes sure I get my conservative education periodically over an IPA for me, Chardonnay for him. Steve, unabashedly liberal as I quickly discovered, bantered with Mike in a way I knew they argued often over politics, but genially, acknowledging each other’s better points while slapping away others with guffaws.
I took this for a lesson. We can disagree fundamentally, deeply, even throw and take some barbs, and get along just fine nonetheless. This can be done. I was watching it happen.
Jeff Pelline, who championed Golden Era in his Sierra Foothills Report blog and magazine FoodWineArt, tapped into this very quality as he emailed me word of Steve’s passing from pancreatic cancer. Such was Steve’s effect, I like to think, that a longtime critic with no love lost for The Union would reach out like that.
My wife and I got our first shots at Dokimos on April 1, the first day our age group was eligible. We went for hike along the ditch up Red Dog afterward, and found ourselves waiting at the front door of Golden Era for opening, no idea Steve had passed overnight, right around last call.
I marveled aloud as we sipped our drinks out back at how they bought the lot next to theirs for outside service and got Chef Antonio Ayestrian to set up shop in the kitchen. These were pandemic moves, but also look just right for the days ahead. Pivot or perish, Steve and Cindy said. Pivot or perish.
I remembered Steve laughing and reminding Mike, the conservative banker, to put on his mask for the walk to the restroom. He was laughing, but he took the restrictions seriously. He was clear that he would err on the side of caution and his sense of the community’s greater good. Some lines you don’t cross.
Mike only grumbled a little, and mainly for show. He liked Steve too much to disappoint. I think everyone did.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299.
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