This article was copied from the Mendocino Beacon, December 1976, just after the fire that destroyed the restaurant. Unfortunately a portion of the article was lost. Otherwise, it appears as it was published in the newspaper.
Sea Gull Cellar Bar Remembered
by William Bradd, Mendocino Beacon, 1976
In Greek mythology fire was brought to man by Prometheus. It might have happened. In other times fire may have been discovered by two ancients striking a flint and a stone together. It might have happened. Or, someone harnessed lightening. That too might have happened. Fire is still the one element that both man and animal fear. It is slippery and unpredictable. Last Saturday night, December 11th sometime between two, and six o’clock in the morning, fire broke out in the Seagull Restaurant and Cellar Bar, burning it to the ground. This did happen.
This writer worked in the Seagull Cellar Bar for more than a year. Five nights a week, then weekend nights, when our license was beer and wine, finally I worked days. I worked in the Cellar during an important time for our town, for things were changing quickly, and over the polished bar, I kept up on all the changes, real and imagined. People told me about the closing of the UG, the demise of Rex’s, the opening of Slades. All the changes were brought to the Cellar and laid out for inspection. I knew about real estate deals, construction plans, the progress of the new hotel, and about the many deaths that rock a small community. No one lost their life in the fire that destroyed the Seagull, thank God, but a man did die that day. Another fire, this on Albion Ridge, took the life of Jim Reed, a musician and a poet. Jim came to the Seagull may times while I worked there. I watched him go through many cycles up, down, around. Like all of us, he had his problems, but he was a man free of malice and there are too few such men, and the gap between them is a place of shadows.
Last Saturday night the Seagull Restaurant and Cellar bar, our clubhouse, burned down. No one lost their life in the fire, but something was lost, a certain special spirit was lost. This piece will be my personal reflections on that spirit. I’m not going to mention any names, I’d have to list almost everyone in town who has contributed something. So I’ll stick to the Cellar.
A good bar is a place where you can get a little mercy, where commerce doesn’t interfere with human considerations. The Cellar was such a place for me. Amid the rush for the tourist designed jiggery—pokery, the Cellar had risen above contrivance. All the junk in there was real junk, and if the place was seen in the harsh light of day, the place was absolutely grotty. Cobwebs, nicotine stains on the walls, the awful blowfish lamp which I plotted against daily, the dried alligator skin, the happy pictures of Cinderella’s Ball, fifty-seven of the most uncomfortable seats in Christindom, the beautiful rugs, the lamps, all these things placed somewhere else would have made no sense. But in the Cellar they made complete sense.
Only once in a great while did some peahead steal one of the objects. The pieces were not locked down. They didn’t have to be.
I lived in Toronto when the Embassey Tavern burned and I was an habituee of the old Cedar Bar in New York before it burned. In those bars, old masters sat and drank and talked about the grand art. The Cellar was not such a place, it’s pretentions were humbler. This is a small town, with a small town bar. People talked about what they cared about.
Here questions like, “do you know of a place to live”? or “your place, my place, or forget it”? were just as important as any talk of art. For this was a place where people came to ease their loneliness. Every time the cowbells on the door signaled, someone arrived with expectations, and sometimes one left with disappointment. Such is the way of the world.
So many funny things happened there that it’s hard now to recall many. The funniest line I remember came from a crusty old rice farmer visiting here from the valley. He’d been walking on the point, in the summer sun, and he came in around five for a drink. The wind was up on that day, and he leaned over the bar and said, “it’s so windy out there it would blow a rooster into a wine bottle.” Okay, I bought him a drink. When I worked at night, I exercised the bartenders prerogative and had a long afterwork drink. Sometimes I was joined by a tall man who will be nameless here. One night he and I had a few too many, and he said that he felt so good he felt like jumping. He was sitting in a stuffed chair in front of the fireplace, so he stood up in it and jumped straight up. Unfortunately, his head was only a few inches below the ceiling, while he was standing, and as he leaped, he cranked his head right into the ceiling, knocking him out. He plunged backwards off the chair, his head coming to rest under the corner bar stool. There he was, long and cocked. I didn’t know what to do, so I got some more ice for my drink and waited for him to return. the music played, the bar was empty, my friend was out and I sipped my drink. He came round, finally, and we drank till dawn, laughing.
When I gazed on the smoldering ruins Sunday morning I thought of that man and the laughs.
People came to the Cellar bar for many various reasons. A drink after a C.R. class, after a play rehearsal, to find someone, to lose someone, to laugh, to complain. Some came from other places to cuddle with a date, some came for trouble, and some because they felt “kinda cold and small”. I went there myself for all of the above reasons. But mostly I went there because it was our thing, our place, a fifteen foot wide fifty foot long piece of the planet where I met some of the finest people I’ve ever met. Thank you all.
I found out about the fire at 11 o’clock Sunday morning, and I didn’t cry till seven that night. When you’re crusty, it’s not that you don’t cry anymore, it’s just that it takes longer for the tears to get out. When a man’s favorite bar burns, it’s civilized to get drunk and cry. I did so last night. Sunday and today I know a new place will replace it probably, a new clubhouse with some new faces. And I’ll probably go there and enjoy it. The fabric of a small town is a fragile thing, a chalice woven of cobwebs. The loss of the Seagull Restaurant and Cellar bar will not be fatal to our town, it the fabric’s been torn a little. And it hurts.