petaluma: animal heads


If you’re at a bar in Petaluma and there are no animal heads on the walls, then you’re in the wrong bar. Every last good bar in Petaluma dates from an era when bar owners posted their hunting trophies on the wall. Gale’s Central Club isn’t at the peak of the pile when it comes to hunting trophies, but it was the only one of the three greats that was open late on a Monday night. My favorite trophy bar in Petaluma is Volpi’s, a small bar located in the back of a deli. During the Prohibition era Volpi’s was a speakeasy and it still has a kind of underground quality to it. The ceiling is covered with good-luck dollar bills and business cards (many of them ancient), the walls are covered with animal heads (there’s even a stuffed fox), and the paint has acquired the most lovely green-gold patina. Often the owners, who are brother and sister, will be performing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” — and other classic standards — on accordion and piano. In fact, there’s usually an afterparty here on the last day of the Cotati Accordion Festival, that’s probably the most chaotic mix of beer-drinking and accordion-wailing that you’ll ever walk into. Another favorite bar is Andreson’s, which has a bevy of animal heads mounted on the wall (including a buffalo head), along with the guns that killed them. They also have a grisly photo next to the cash register of the last public hanging in Petaluma. Lots of Western towns, it seems, like to cash in on this kind of “Wild West” image — including Placerville, where I was born, which has a famous bar that’s advertised by the life-sized figure of a hanged man, dangling perpetually above the entrance.

In any case, Greg, who doesn’t have an animal head, but who was the third member of the University of California at Berkeley Official Whiskey Tasting Cleanup Crew, suggested that we shoot some pool down at Gale’s. This turned out to be a brilliant idea because it turns out that the pool tables at Gale’s are free on Monday nights. It also turns out that Dimitri Katzoff, the drummer of the great, but now way defunct, Petaluma ska band The Conspiracy, works at Gale’s from time to time. Of course, there is life after The Conspiracy, and Dimitri now plays with Furious Minds, who I haven’t had the opportunity of seeing. My friend Brooke, however, loves them. I don’t think she would have loved the way that Greg and I were playing pool, but standing around the green felt was a good excuse to fire up the jukebox and glance with mixed emotions at the strangely attractive, yet equally repulsive, jar of pickled eggs that sits behind the bar at Gale’s.

“That there’s a four-point buck!” The nice thing about Gale’s is that they have an off-sale license, which means that you can take a bottle home with you if you haven’t had your fill by closing time.

The topless velvet painting at Gale’s is a fine specimen of this “timeless folk art,” as Theodor Adorno is rumored to have called the genre. In fact, the life-sized reclining nude at The Hideaway (on black velvet, naturally) was vastly superior, but unfortunately it was tossed when they remodeled the place back in the 90s. Apparently “Purple Hooters” are only $2.00 on Tuesdays. Line ’em up folks.

While the bars in Petaluma may have a monopoly on hunting trophy decor, apparently it’s the antique stores that have all the dinosaur heads. Petaluma has an alarmingly disproportionate share of antique stores, but this is the first one I’ve ever seen selling a dino.


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