Thanksgiving at Smiley’s Saloon

My favorite Thanksgiving in Bolinas was in 1995, a year when I was living back in town and working part-time at Smiley’s Saloon while working full-time at the Pacific Sun. I was going through my first divorce and had moved to let my mind heal and to get my arms around whatever I was going to do with the rest of my life. Being a bar-keep was not on that list but the social interaction kept me from isolating, the money was good and there was no lack of material for my column in the Sun.

What I am about to write would have been good material for the column but it has never been written about until now. Smiley’s owner Don Deane is no curmudgeon but he had created a list of town folks that had been “86’d”- code for banished – from the saloon. It is awfully difficult to get 86’d from Smiley’s, an old-fashioned whiskey & beer bar that has been around since 1851, where pretty much anything goes. Smiley’s is the oldest continuously operating saloon in the state of California – remaining open as a speakeasy even through prohibition. On the 86’d list in 1995 were the likes of Janice Thompson, Rick Klaes, Gary Burnham, and a handful of other street people.

The bartender that was scheduled on duty that Thanksgiving Day had asked the owner if he could let some of the street people in even just for a little while, saying that he had the idea of supplying cold cuts and coffee for anyone with nowhere to go. The answer from Deane was an unequivocal no. The bartender mulled over the bosses decision with Wim and Danielle, two other bartenders, and all three concurred that they could probably pull off Thanksgiving at Smiley’s without the bar owner ever finding out. The logic was that Don would most likely be at his house having dinner with his foster kids, and that inviting everyone on the 86’d list into the bar for the holiday could go off without a hitch. The discussion of cold cuts and coffee quickly turned into having an actual turkey and all of the fixing’s.

The bartenders and assorted others went to work on the covert operation. On Thanksgiving, the bartender came on duty at noon and said good morning to Deane, who was there to do shift change. When he was through, the owner left for his house. Shortly after, Wim and Danielle arrived with a fully-cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce – the works – at least as much as they could do on short notice and drive from their houses to the bar.

The feast was set up on one side of the bar, paper plates and silverware supplied for anyone that was there. Someone went down the street and found Janice, Rick, Gary, Tree House John – everyone – and brought them back to the bar. Soon, everyone was eating. There were well-dressed tourists chatting with Rick Klaes, tree house was gnawing on a drumstick near some of the regulars.

At the piano was Janice – performing a classical arrangement with the utmost perfection. The afternoon Thanksgiving feast was magical – until about 3 pm when Deane arrived back at the bar. He looked around at the collection of vagabonds – none of whom had been allowed alcoholic beverages – and then walked over to the bartender, who was imagining that this might be their last shift. “Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” the bartender said. “No, no. This is okay,” Deane said. “It’s different than I imagined it would be.”

Soon Deane was in engaged in conversations with some of the revelers. Janice continued playing the piano. Someone bought a round of drinks for the bar. A couple of sheriff deputies on patrol stopped in for some coffee and pie. There wasn’t a sign of animosity or acrimony anywhere in sight. After a while, the crowd of about 30 began to thin, and soon the people on the 86’d list began to make their way back to the street, to where they were more accustomed.

From the experience, the thing that remains the clearest in my mind is the sound of Janice Thompson – a person with the proclivity to be crazy and belligerent – playing classical music.

To this day, the entire event was part of the most soothing, relaxing Thanksgiving dinners that I have ever had.

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