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Nostalgia, to me, is not the emotion that follows a longing for something you lost, or for something you never had to begin with, or that never really existed at all. It’s not even, not really, the feeling that arises when you realize that you missed out on a chance to see something, to know someone, to be a part of some adventure or enterprise or milieu that will never come again. Nostalgia, most truly and most meaningfully, is the emotional experience—always momentary, always fragile—of having what you lost or never had, of seeing what you missed seeing, of meeting the people you missed knowing, of sipping coffee in the storied cafés that are now hot-yoga studios. It’s the feeling that overcomes you when some minor vanished beauty of the world is momentarily restored, whether summoned by art or by the accidental enchantment of a painted advertisement for Sen-Sen, say, or Bromo-Seltzer, hidden for decades, then suddenly revealed on a brick wall when a neighboring building is torn down. In that moment, you are connected; you have placed a phone call directly into the past and heard an answering voice.
Michael Chabon, The True Meaning of Nostalgia
Much of what I blog about is personal—from my time at the Sea Gull to working as a financial adviser to ancient memories of growing up in small town America. This may or may not appeal to you. I hope it does but that isn’t really the point. The point is that I feel compelled to do this and that I enjoy it. What you or anyone else makes of it is entirely up to you.
When I’m with other people it’s natural that discussions arise about past lives, livelihoods, and so forth. Sooner or later the fact that I once had a restaurant comes up. Immediately the questions begin. What kind of restaurant, food? Where? What was the name? Is it still there? On and on. Lots of these topics are covered in past blogs and there is more to come. What I’m going to do in this post is to give you some other points of view, in particular the views of those ubiquitous review writers, some paid, some not. Yes, this is self-indulgent. I make no apology. My hope is that you will find something interesting that maybe you will experience a bit of nostalgic pleasure yourself.
The nostalgia that arouses such scorn and contempt in American culture—predicated on some imagined greatness of the past or inability to accept the present—is the one that interests me least. The nostalgia that I write about, that I study, that I feel, is the ache that arises from the consciousness of lost connection. Michael Chabon. The True Meaning of Nostalgia
What kind of restaurant was the Sea Gull? The Sea Gull was the beating heart of Mendocino at a particular time and place. Based on the food we served most people would characterize it as Continental or American. You can judge for yourself. At the end of this post there is a list of several items we served over the years. Continental may be the best description but a mild Mexican influence and Asian influence flared up from time to time depending on who was in the kitchen. Fresh local seafood was prominently featured. It was a family place. Children were allowed, even encouraged. It was country casual, a warm spot to hang out on a cold, foggy day. There was an eclectic mix of patrons hip and straight. Hanging from the walls, roof, and tucked away in corners one could find antiques, instruments, photographs, paintings and other paraphernalia (“happy crappy” was a word the previous owner used). Most of all, the Sea Gull was born of a particular time—the sixties, seventies, early eighties—a time both lauded and loathed depending on your point of view and the historical time from which you perceive it.
I’ve been reading Michael Chabon lately. He was young when the Sea Gull was functioning and did not visit to my knowledge. He was around 25 when I left the restaurant business. Whether or not he’s been in Mendocino, locals here are aware of his popular body of work. Just this week Gallery Books sponsored a reading of his latest book Moonglow.
Much of Chabon’s work is centered on a soft and subtle form of nostalgia that works for me and seems relevant to this post. I’ll sprinkle a few quotes throughout to tickle your brain while I take you back to the Sea Gull days.
Memory, not melodrama, is his proper concern, and his stories work best when the grave and irrefutable evidence of life’s designs against us are sheathed in the light comic irony of sophisticated prose. …
The Short Fiction of Michael Chabon, Douglas Fowler
The Sea Gull was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the Cellar Bar was open from about noon to 2 a.m. Always open is a policy I soon discovered was good for business. On and off again is confusing. To set up a meeting, casual or otherwise, you need a place you can depend on.
“When I remember that dizzy summer, that dull, stupid, lovely, dire summer, it seems that in those days I ate my lunches, smelled another’s skin, noticed a shade of yellow, even simply sat, with greater lust and hopefulness – and that I lusted with greater faith, hoped with greater abandon. The people I loved were celebrities, surrounded by rumor and fanfare; the places I sat with them, movie lots and monuments. No doubt all of this is not true remembrance but the ruinous work of nostalgia, which obliterates the past, and no doubt, as usual, I have exaggerated everything.”
“I was conscious, then, of a different ache, deeper and more sharp than the feeling of bereavement that a hangover will sometimes uncover in the heart.”
“This song always kills me, I said. She sighed, and then gave up. Why? Oh, I don’t know. It makes me feel nostalgia for a time I never even knew. I wasn’t even alive. That’s what I do to you too, she said, I’ll just bet. I was what everything I loved did to me.”
Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburg
The Breakfast Book
It was a cold and foggy morning in Mendocino. I had just spent a freezing night camping in Russian Gulch State Park and I was looking for a breakfast place that would take the chill out of my bones. I had in mind unlimited refills of hot coffee and some French toast. My friend Judith had told me about the Sea Gull, and I decided to check it out. It looked so beautiful and inviting from the outside, that I just had to go inside. By the time I left I had not only warmed up my poor chilled body, but had enjoyed a terrific breakfast of French toast (four halves for $1.25, six halves for $1.65), served with fresh sweet butter, cantaloupe chunks, and unlimited refills of excellent coffee (35 cents). I ended up spending over an hour and a half here, eating, reading the newspaper and writing postcards.
The Sea Gull doesn’t look like it used to. In 1976 it burnt to the ground, but it was quickly rebuilt and open once again for business. Located at the corner of Ukiah and Lansing right next to the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Station, it’s a large, gray, split-level wooden building with a slanted room and lots of framed windows. The inside is designed for maximum coziness, and it’s many small dining sections assure maximum privacy. Framed paintings and the photographs of local photographer, Nicholas Wilson, hang on the walls, which are made from unfinished white fir. It’s a comfortable place to come either with friends or alone. If you come alone, you get a small table all to yourself.
The breakfast menu offers a wide variety of food for both large and small appetites. Egg dishes start at $1.85 fore two large eggs, as you like them, served with very crusty homefries (made from freshly grated potatoes) and a choice of white, wheat, Wheatberry, light or dark rye, or sourdough toast, or an English muffin, served with strawberry jam. For $2.85 you can add bacon or sausage to your eggs, or, for $2.95, Canadian bacon or baked ham. For $3.25 you can order Eggs Benedict any day of the week, or the Dutch Breakfast: two poached eggs on toast with fresh cheeses and fresh cold meats. The steak and eggs with homefries and toast ($4.95) comes highly recommended.
Omelettes come with potatoes and toast. They range from $2.25 for the cheese to $3.25 for the Denver. For something different you might want to try the Cantonese Style Omelette ($2.85) with mushrooms, sprouts, bell peppers and onions.
If you don’t want eggs for breakfast, there’s a wide range of other delectables in addition to the French toast. Buttermilk pancakes come in three portions (one for 75 cents, two for $1.25, or three for $1.50). For $1.15 you can get some dry cereal and toast, for $1.25, a bowl of hot oatmeal and toast, and, for $1.45, some fresh fruit and toast. Fresh fruit with either yogurt ($1.50) or granola ($1.65) is a nice way to start the day, and the fresh homemade pumpkin bread with cream cheese ($1.85) is wonderful. “Eye openers” include the Irish coffee or Bloody Mary ($1.25) or a special New Orleans Fizz ($1.50).
Yes, the prices are correct. That was the 1970s and prices went up rapidly as inflation spiraled out of control. When I left they were about double those quoted in the article. Conservatives claim to hate inflation but they actually love it. Inflation confuses the financially naïve. Economists even have a name for it, money illusion. I remember an article in the Sacramento Bee, Village Growth Ousting Vendors. The subtitle was: Mendocino, From fishing village to highly commercial community. I was actually quoted in the article in defense of the street vendors who were being banned at the behest of the upscale shops:
One opponent of the ban on street vendors is David Jones, operator of the Seagull Inn, a popular eating and drinking spot for locals.
“The tourists came first because of the rugged beauty of the coast,” Jones says. “Later people came because of the art center.”
“Ten years ago people made all of the things they sold. Then land values started to go up,” Jones continued. “People sold out and the new owners had to make more money.”
The love-hate relationship between tourists and locals was evident throughout the town. No doubt those who walked into the Sea Gull noticed it. It’s understandable but unfortunate. We need the tourists whose spending supports many local jobs. The tourists need us to create and conserve an environment they enjoy visiting.
The Sea Gull Restaurant and Bar provides two so very divergent worlds it seems strange they co-exist ion the same building. The upstairs bar is clearly for locals who view the tourist with suspicion at best and disdain at worst. The quality of service is dependent on your ability to blend into that native crowd. Downstairs, however, is entirely the home base of the tourist. It is always busy and they take no reservations, so some time spent in the bar becomes mandatory. We are fortunate in that we could spend some time on the bar’s small deck soaking up the warm sun.
The menu at the Sea Gull ranges from fresh sea food to Mexican dishes. The food is excellent, but the demands on the waitresses renders the service only mediocre. It is, however, one of the few restaurants in town for casual lunch and dinner, and the quality of the food brought us back for a late evening supper. Skip dessert, for just a few blocks away is the Mendocino Ice Cream Company, winner of the State Fair’s gold medal. And if you have run out of Flying Bear caramels, they can replenish your supply.
Bay Views Magazine July/August 1979
Some things that are invisible and untouchable can nevertheless be seen and felt.
Michael Chabon, Summerland
The Sea Gull was featured in several restaurant and tourist guides. I found it useful to make a note of how others saw us. It was not always as I pictured the way things were. It can be helpful to look at yourself through another’s eyes. We often adjusted and made changes based on the reviews and the spoken viewpoints of our patrons. It’s a healthy way, I think, to evolve. Here are a few guidebook spiels—the names of the books and authors are, I’m afraid to say, forgotten.
On entering the rustic redwood interior you wonder if you are in a restaurant or an antique store. It’s crammed with funky Victorian memorabilia. The menu is more varied than those of most restaurants in the area, listing fresh Noyo seafood “when the boats come in,” as well as an array of continental specialties: lamb Persian with yogurt and peaches ($6.75), sweetbreads sautéed with fresh mushrooms ($6.25) and chicken Kiev ($6.75), which they swear is prepared in their own kitchen. Prices include an unusual appetizer tray of vegetables and fruit (grapes, cantaloupe, pineapple, cherry tomatoes, pickled peppers), soup and green salad with a delicious honey-curry dressing; and for dessert, homemade pies and puddings. There are also a la carte sandwiches, salads and mussels on the half shell, all under $5. Lunch (mostly sandwiches and salads) and breakfast are also served. Full bar service.
… I really ought to have recognized it for what it was and, perhaps, to have stopped right there – for it was nostalgia, and what inspires nostalgia has been dead a long time. Michael Chabon
What a joy of a place. Entering The Sea Gull is like walking into your own wild imagination. The little dining areas seem to drip with ornaments and antiques, including beer steins, unusual musical instruments, and two old coal stoves. There used to be so many other items, but they were lost during a recent disastrous fire.
The Cellar Bar is still of the same name though it is now located upstairs with a beautiful ocean view. Here you’ll see a giant carving out of a single redwood slab 4 ft x 8 ft, and a beautiful mahogany handmade back bar. Groups chat quietly around hand-wrought brass tables while music flows softly in the background.
Though the breakfast and lunch menus offer some interesting dishes (try the yogi bowl or the fresh oyster stew), it is the dinner menu we found worthy of particular note. The relish tray includes such items as kelp, palm hearts, black grapes and pineapple chunks.
The entrees offer some excellent choices, including homemade chicken Kiev, fresh oysters, lamb Persian with peaches and yogurt, and the coastline favorites ling cod and red snapper. For a real treat try the fresh Pacific salmon dinner for $6.75.
Nothing is boring except to people who aren’t really paying attention.
Michael Chabon, Summerland
The Sea Gull Inn in the heart of Mendocino has been a popular place for both tourists & locals for many years. Rebuilt (in the traditional Mendocino style) after a fire destroyed the original building in the 1970s, the Inn is open every day for breakfast, lunch & dinner, serving good American cuisine.
On the first floor is a small coffee shop with counter service, and a restaurant divided into several small alcoves to create a feeling of intimate dining. Upstairs is the spacious & beautifully decorated Cellar Bar.
The dinner menu features traditional American entress such as Ground Beef ($6.95), Liver with onions & bacon ($6.95), and Steak ($9.95). Also offered are many seafood entrees ranging in price from $7.25 for Ling Cod or Breaded Oysters to $8.50 for Trout, Salmon, or sautéed Shrimp. Dinners are served with soup, crisp green salad, French bread, & a choice of desserts, including deliciously fresh fruit & cream pies. Many a la carte items are also listed on the menu, such as Crab or Shrimp Souffle ($5.50), Bouillabaise ($5.95), or Quiche ($4.75).
For lunch the Sea Gull offers a variety of sandwiches ($1.75-$2.25), salads, chili beans ($1.95), & desserts (+/- $1.00).
At breakfast you may order egg dishes ($2.25-$5.50), omelets ($2.75-$3.75), cereal, French toast, pancakes, or side orders.
The Sea Gull is a busy & interesting place serving very good food. Since it is a popular spot, there may be a wait for a table, especially on weekends.
In the immemorial style of young men under pressure, they decided to lie down for a while and waste time.
Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
It’s like dining in some eccentric’s cleaned-up attic: antiques and Oriental carpets and stuffed animals and musical instruments and antlers and ship’s wheels provide the whimsical setting for some really good food. The moderate prices include a relish dish of raw vegetables, fresh fruit, peppers, homemade soup, fresh green salad, crusty French bread and butter with dessert. Entrees include red snapper or ling cod (when the boats come in), rainbow trout, shrimp sautéed with mushrooms and herbs, sweetbreads, and the finest chicken Kiev outside of a Russian restaurant. The Sea Gull special salad with meat and cheese is a stomach-expanding meal in itself. For lunch, I like the mussel on the half shell in broth served for two people or any of the gourmand sandwiches. Breakfast pastry is fresh from the kitchen. (Try to be seated in the cellar portion for the best “feel” … metal tables, classical music and low couches.
I don’t mean to make a big deal out of sobriety, by the way. Of all the modes of human consciousness available to the modern consumer I consider it to be the most overrated.
Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys
After recovering from a disastrous fire in December, 1976, which burned their business to the ground, owners David and Cathy Jones have recently opened the new Seagull. The modern angular architecture distinguishes the structure markedly from the standard New England style which predominates in Mendocino. The use of natural wood grain, house plants, and contemporary stained glass windows provides a relaxed atmosphere in this extravagant coffee shop.
Undeniably the favorite breakfast spot in town, the Seagull offers a complete menu of juices, fruits, cereals, eggs and other familiar favorites. Lunches feature a variety of sandwiches and salads.
The dinner menu is surprisingly varied, specializing in Chicken Kiev and Lamb Persian, the latter served with yoghurt and peaches. Fresh local fish is featured. The a la carte section is lengthy and very reasonably priced, including a bargain soup and salad dinner for two with French bread and wine for $5.45. The wine list is the standard distributor list with a couple of small Mendocino county wineries included.
One of the big attractions to the Seagull is the “Cellarbar” located upstairs from the restaurant. Here comfortable chairs around a large fire pit and before a wall of plate glass windows offer a leisurely setting.
Long life wore away everything that was not essential.
Michael Chabon, The Final Solution
The Sea Gull Restaurant has been a dining tradition for Mendocino artists, residents, and travelers for several decades. Many begin their day here with conversation over a breakfast of fresh fruit, cereal, homebaked bread, buttermilk pancakes, egg dishes, omelets, meats, and hot or cold beverages. Only God knows what creative endeavors they will start or accomplish by days end. And sure enough, as the sun sinks below the horizon, you’ll find the same group loyally gathered till last light upstairs for drinks & live music in the “cellar bar.”
For lunch a variety of sandwiches, salads, specialties, desserts and refreshments are served. A good selection of seafood beef, lamb, and fowl entrees are served for dinner. Your meal includes homemade soup or salad (try the yogurt & curry dressing). French bread and vegetables & potato ($6.00 – $15.00). In the basement “attic” is a fresh & cheerful banquet room (for 50), and art gallery for weekend dining. The front entrance of the inn is marked by a seagull perched on a large driftwood sign with the words “Sea Gull Inn – Lodging.” First converted to an Inn in the 60s the rooms have provided simple & neat shelter for almost two decades (9 rooms from $25). The Sea gull is located on the corner of Ukiah and Lansing Streets. It is an important landmark you should not miss.
… and because it was a drunken perception, it was perfect, entire, and lasted about half a second. Michael Chabon
Before I arrived at the Sea Gull, there was a time when the menus were printed on paper surrounded by local advertisements. Later they were printed on thick, placard-board-like stock. In one version menu items were surrounded by silly expressions taken from Boontling or other local lingos.
Breakfast in the Woods (Grub Pile)
Grunt & Cackle (Ham & Eggs)
Cackleberries (Fried Eggs)
Sow Belly (Bacon)
Two on a Raft (Eggs on Toast)
Graveyard Stew (Milk Toast)
Portuguese Sandwich (Two Hotcakes Around an Egg)
Bumper of Mud (Cup of Coffee)
Skid Grease (Butter)
Citizens & Characters:
Russian Bear – A hirsute hostelry man.
Squealing Charlie – A falsetto Indian.
Steeple Head Johnson – Possessed a painted bear.
Dirty Face Johnson – Boiled pine pitch deep in the woods.
Big Kid and Little Kid – Practical joking brothers.
You’re Drunk – Destroyed clocks when sauced. The ticking seem to say “You’re drunk, you’re drunk.”
Pollack Pete – Favorite stunt, breaking beer bottles on his head.
Santa Claus – Wore his floor-length white beard inside his union suit.
We Boys – Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the looging crews.
Joe Stink – An odorous Indian.
Apple Pie Jones – Mendocino’s Johnny Appleseed.
Blueing Ball Willie – first genuine juvenile delinquent. Defaced picket fences with stolen blueing ball.
Pecan – Had a head like a nut.
Fury Town Race Horse – Always ran carrying bundles of laundry on her head. Also known as the blue Lizard.
Old Fashioned Occupations
Pursuits – Callings – Professions – Tinkers – Toilers – Choremen – Chars
In the Woods
Bull Puncher – Highest paid, most profane worker, goaded ox teams.
Buckaroo and Hostler – cared for the horses.
Sniper – Undercut logs for easy sliding.
Water Slinger – tossed water under ox drawn logs. Doubled as a fire extinguisher.
Broom Boy and Grease Boy – Kept the skidroad clean and slippery.
Bull Whacker – Welded the long, persuasive bull-whip.
Peeler or Barker – Stripped logs of bark and limbs.
Bucker – Sawed logs into lengths.
Blacksmith – Retread horses, repaired buggies, manufactured hardware.
Cooper – Made barrels.
Brewer – Gladdened the hearts on Main Street.
Constable – Local law defendant.
Coffine Maker – Early undertaker.
Fiddlers – Played for dances, were renowned drinkers.
Gamblers – Appeared suddenly, sharply dressed, on paydays.
Drummers – Traveling specialty stores; sources of amusing anecdotes.
Horse Traders – Quick sale artists.
Shot-Gun Messengers – Guarded money on overland stages. Poor insurance risk.
So, that’s my Indulgent Nostalgic Journey. A sample of Sea Gull menu items is listed below. In case you’d like to eat these once again, I’m thinking of a Sea Gull Cookbook. Any offers of help with that?
Sea Gull Menu Items Over the Years
- Abalone a la meuniere
- Artichoke Saute with brown rice and vegetables
- Beef Brochette specially marinated with brown rice and vegetables
- Beef Stroganoff, prepared to order using choice rib eye saurteed in a light sour cream sauce served with homemade pasta & green salad
- Bouillabaise (hearty fish stew)
- Broiled Chicken Polynesian chicken breasts boned & specially marinated served with rice and fresh vegetables
- Broiled New York Steak
- Broiled Pork Chops, cut & cooked to order with homemade apple sauce
- Chef’s Dinner Salad
- Chicken Kiev, chicken breast boned & prepared in our kitchen
- Chicken Saute, chicken breasts boned & sautéed to order with white wine, mushrooms and herbs
- Eggplant Parmesan with green salad & bread
- Fettucini Alfredo wide noodles served in cream with parmesan cheese green salad and bread
- Fresh Fillet of Sole
- Fresh Liver & Onions with Bacon
- Fresh Pacific Salmon
- Fried Ocean Prawns, specially breaded & sautéed to order
- Giant Cheeseburger with green salad & potato
- Ground Beef Italian, topped with Italian mushroom sauce and parmesan
- Ground Beef Steak, topped with sautéed onion
- Lamb Persian w/yogurt, peaches
- Large Shrimp sautéed with mushrooms, herbs
- Mussels on the half shell
- Oysters, specially breaded and cooked in butter
- Pepper Steak, choice New York steak served with crushed peppercorns & bordelaise sauce
- Rack of Lamb “Diablo” roasted to your liking with our special combination of herbs & spices
- Rainbow Trout, boned and stuffed
- Red Snapper or Ling Cod, when the boats come in
- Roast Duckling, braised with brandy sauce
- Sea Gull Fish Sandwich
- Sea Gull Special Stew
- Sea Gull Steak Sandwich
- Shrimp Louie
- Soup & Salad dinner for two
- Spinach Quiche with green salad rice & vegetables
- Sweetbreads, breaded and sautéed with fresh mushrooms
- The Sea Gull special Steak, choice beef aged & cut in our kitchen
- Veal Milanese, veal cutlets in a special breading with garlic butter sauce
- Veal Oscar with asparagus & crab topped with Bearnaise
- Veal Parmesan, pan fried with a special tomato sauce & melted cheese
- Veal Picatta, tender slices of veal sautéed in lemon & wine sauce with imported capers
- Veal Scallopini, with onions, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, & madeira wine
Cookbook! Wow. An ebook? Full color, with your napkin lore, illustrations? That would be worth some moola. Amazon? Apple’s iBook store? eBay. Something upper and lower case! I love it. I’d lend a hand.
Thanks for the nostalgia. Yes, Sea Gull in the late 60’s is a strong memory. Breakfast was a real treat, special. Night time found us in the town’s living room for Arigo’s wheel fiddle, later came Smoke Dawson. On and on.
Thanks for that. One story that briefly features Arrigo can be found here: https://thinkinthemorning.com/we-cracked-pots-have-a-sense-of-humor/
We used to close the Pyrwacket Wednesday nites and treat ourself to the fabulous steak sandwiches and yummy food at the old Sea Gull. Thanks for buying it from the Halls. It was everyone’s favorite.
I remember the Sea Gull from the beginning when the Halls owned it. Before that it was called Casa Mendocino. I still miss it. We locals didn’t know what a treasure we had. I so enjoyed this walk down memory lane. Well done.
A step back into the memories of my home town. I remember a few lunches during my high school years and young adulthood. During my working life, it was a favorite of all of us from the Savings Bank. Many a lunch hour was spent there, enjoying the food and friendliness. Christmas eve was brightened by hot beverages with David. In my later years I was lucky enough to have part of the Cellar Bar gifted to me . It is one of my prize possessions. Thank you.
First time was ever in mendo when I was like 7, I had hot chocolate with whipped cream at the restaurant bar. I just thought that was the best thing in the world. AlbertPrestholt.