Edible Monterey Bay

ROADSIDE DIARIES: TALES FROM THE LOST WEEKEND BAR

Travel up a winding road and into the fogs of time to discover a colorful Santa Cruz Mountains watering hole


The Lost Weekend in its heyday. Image courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY PATRICK TREGENZA

Bonny Doon is the kind of place where out-of-towners with a bad sense of direction could easily get lost—maybe for a whole weekend. But that’s not why the only commercial business in Bonny Doon for more than 30 years was a bar called the Lost Weekend.

The name was borrowed from Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning movie of 1945 starring Ray Milland as a writer in the throes of a particularly self-destructive drinking binge. These days, only those branding professionals with a savage sense of irony would suggest naming a bar after a movie designed to be a cautionary tale against the evils of alcoholism. It’s akin to calling your new burger joint The Arteriosclerosis Café. But in Bonny Doon—a tiny, redwood-shaded community in the mountains northwest of Santa Cruz—the name Lost Weekend evokes a warm wave of nostalgia for a plain, simple mountain tavern that served as a kind of de facto community center.

The Lost Weekend (or Lost Week End, as a sign outside the bar once read) sold its last bottle of beer almost 35 years ago. The building at 10 Pine Flat Road is now the tasting room of Beauregard Vineyards. No one is more invested in remembering the Lost Weekend bar than Ryan Beauregard, the winery’s chief vintner as well as its owner, along with his father, Jim Beauregard.

Inside the tasting room is a large poster for the movie The Lost Weekend, and among the offerings at Beauregard Vineyards is a bottle of red labeled The Lost Weekend. Well-known master sommelier Ian Cauble gave the wine a swallow: “Notes of huckleberry pie, wild raspberries and dried goji berries dominate the nose with secondary notes of rose petal candy, wet forest, exotic spices and sandalwood lingering in the background,” was the way he described it.


Ryan Beauregard and the present-day Beauregard Vineyards tasting room

“I remember the sheriff would stop by, just kind of open the door and say, ‘Aw, crap,’ then close the door and walk away.”

Ryan grew up in Bonny Doon as part of one of the area’s most celebrated families. His great-grandfather Amos Beauregard purchased the vineyard that would become the winery back in 1945 (yep, the same year the movie The Lost Weekend was in theaters) and his grandfather Bud opened Shopper’s Corner, the beloved Santa Cruz grocery store still operated by the family today. Ryan was only eight years old when the Lost Weekend bar closed for good.

“As a kid, I would come down here and hang out,” he said in his tasting room, which has a cozy, ski lodge feel. “They had a video game here we all loved called Dig Dug, and some pinball. It was always a community spot. It was the only thing in Bonny Doon, really.”

Today, Bonny Doon retains much of its remote mountain-town character. It’s more of a bedroom community than it used to be and locals say that traffic is heavier. But the roads are still as mysterious and tree shrouded, and the Chipotles-on-every-corner sprawl of the greater Bay Area seems as distant as Neptune. Santa Cruz is still an uneasy 20-minute drive away.

The urbanized world is physically no closer to Bonny Doon today than it was in the days of the Lost Weekend. Psychologically, however, in a world before smartphones, the Internet and cable TV, Bonny Doon felt even more isolated. Hank Moeller grew up in Bonny Doon in the 1950s and ’60s. “One of the big summertime thrills,” he remembered, “was to go out in the middle of Martin Road and just lie there all day to see if a car would come by.”

WORKINGMAN’S BAR

The Lost Weekend bar first opened for business in 1950. It was owned by another legendary local family, the Iacopettis, who had operated the Bonny Doon Cash Store on the site since the 1920s. Naming the bar after the popular movie was the idea of Gus Iacopetti, but the bar itself was managed for more than 20 years by his sister Mary and her husband Enrico Ricci. The Riccis maintained a small store that sold staples such as bread, milk and other essentials. But most of the old Cash Store was converted to a simple country bar that served only jug wine and bottled beer. The Riccis lived with their only child Lana on the premises, under the same roof as the store and the Lost Weekend bar. When Enrico died in 1960, Mary ran the store and the bar for the next decade and a half. The Lost Weekend was nobody’s idea of a boutique bar. The rustic interior—what you could see of it in the poor light—was mostly knotty pine paneling. One regular said, “It was your classic workingman’s bar.

Everyone smoked. Nothing was comfortable. There was a long bar with stools, maybe one bar table. It was not designed for people to come in and stay for a long time.” Its beer selection was limited. Food consisted pretty much of bagged chips, hard-boiled eggs and maybe jerky. The bar’s clientele, in the early years, was mostly loggers, hunters and other locals. Mostly, it was the place—the only place—where Bonny Dooners could meet neighbors, exchange gossip and otherwise practice their social skills.

A jukebox and pool table came in time. But Mary didn’t want either for years. “She resisted that,” said Mary’s daughter Lana Ricci Carson, 66, who now lives in eastern Washington state. “She just didn’t want people hanging around playing pool and not buying anything. But finally, she gave in.”

When Lana says that she grew up at the Lost Weekend, it’s no metaphor. Her family home throughout her childhood was just beyond the back entrance to the bar. From the family’s kitchen table, Lana and her mom could see someone coming into the bar. Lana’s graduating class at tiny Bonny Doon School numbered 11, “and that was the biggest graduating class in years,” she said. After the death of her father, Lana said that her mother ran the store and tended bar by herself, without any employees. The bar’s hours were whatever Mary determined them to be. If she ran out of beer, or wanted to retire for the night, she’d unplug the jukebox and escort everyone out, no matter the hour.

Hank Moeller was one of Lana’s classmates. As a boy, he would often go to the store attached to the Lost Weekend for candy or ice cream. But he never set foot inside the bar until he was 20, when he was working on a local logging crew as a slash cutter. “For awhile, Mary would only serve me a Coca-Cola,” he said. “But after a month and a half or so of coming in there, dirty, sweaty, exhausted, she finally relented and gave me a beer.”

In the early years, the Lost Weekend was open to the public only in the most technical sense. Out-of-towners would receive something less than a warm welcome. “You’d open the door and walk in,” said Moeller. “It would take a few seconds for your eyes to adjust. Everyone in the bar, including the bartender, would turn and look at you. If they knew you, it was all, ‘Hey, come on in.’ But otherwise, it was like walking into the wrong territory. Mary liked her regulars. She could be tough as nails, but ultimately she was a sweet and wonderful lady. Sometimes, she would just pour herself a glass of wine and talk about old times. It was great to listen to.”

PARTIES AND PET ROCKS

Life at the Lost Weekend began to change dramatically in 1973. That was the year that Lana graduated from San Jose State University, giving her mother the impetus to sell the bar and move to Santa Cruz. Over the course of the next decade, the Lost Weekend went through a series of proprietors, each one changing the character of the bar. Among the several post-Ricci owners of the Lost Weekend was Gary Dahl, the Los Gatos ad man who in the mid-1970s created what was one of America’s most ridiculous consumer products, the best-selling gag gift known as the Pet Rock. Given that Dahl bought the bar just a couple of years after his unlikely invention became a national sensation, we can safely assume that the Lost Weekend was purchased with Pet Rock money.

Pool tournaments and backroom poker games began to attract a wider clientele. The food menu expanded to include pizza and burgers. Bikers traveling up Highway 1 to Davenport would often take a detour for a cold one at the Lost Weekend. Longhairs and counterculture types, who were becoming more common in Santa Cruz at the time, began to pop in. The days of Mary unplugging the jukebox before midnight were long gone. On the weekends, the party would last well into the wee hours.

Dick Tiffin, 82, was a regular, two or three nights a week, he estimates. His presence at the Lost Weekend was usually announced by his reddish-orange El Camino parked out front. “You’d stop off after work, just to have a beer. Then an hour later, more friends of yours would come in and you’d stay a little longer and then someone else and someone else after that. And pretty soon, it was a real party atmosphere.”

“One of the big summertime thrills,” he remembered, “was to go out in the middle of Martin Road and just lie there all day to see if a car would come by.”

One of the first bartenders in the post-Ricci period was Moeller. After Mary had served him that first beer, he found that he had amassed a rather daunting bar tab. So, he said, when the new owners came in, he traded an old ’38 pick-up and $20 for a clean bar tab. Then, he went to work behind the bar, as a way to avoid another surprise tab. Moeller remembers only one genuine bar fight at the Lost Weekend, a dispute between Bonny Doon neighbors that resulted in a beer bottle getting up close and personal with someone’s skull. The number of customers that Moeller remembers having to bounce for over-intoxication is one. Occasionally, he would close the place with a customer still dozing in the corner to sleep it off until the next morning. Mostly, he said, the Lost Weekend was a mellow place.

“It was the best way to meet anybody,” he said. “I had lots of eye-opening conversations. Lots of things that I didn’t know I learned behind the bar at the Lost Weekend.”

“You’d have a hippie bending the ear of some guy in a suit,” said Tiffin. “A couple of times, I remember the sheriff would stop by, just kind of open the door and say, ‘Aw, crap,’ then close the door and walk away.”

Finally, in 1983, the only commercial establishment in Bonny Doon changed hands again. And this time, the Lost Weekend didn’t survive. Santa Cruz winemaker Randall Grahm bought the bar and converted it into the tasting room for his Bonny Doon Vineyards. The Beauregards took up residence in 2008.

The business at 10 Pine Flat Road has now been a winery tasting room longer than it was the Lost Weekend bar. The tasting room, under both Bonny Doon Vineyards and Beauregard Vineyards, has, to a degree, continued to function as a kind of community center and meeting place for residents of Bonny Doon. But a winery isn’t a bar. The once familiar, thoroughly unpretentious vibe of the Lost Weekend is lost.

It was the kind of place, said Tiffin, that worked as the only social outlet for people living a long way from anywhere. “If you were sitting at home and feeling lonesome, you could always go there and strike up a conversation with somebody.”

 

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