Dogs "86’d" From Smiley’s Saloon

The final nail in the coffin of the Good Old Days has been hammered in with news out of Smiley’s Saloon that dogs are no longer allowed on the premises. An unannounced visit by the Marin County Health Department in January resulted in a foreboding handmade sign taped to the front door of the Bolinas tavern alerting regulars that their canines are no longer allowed. In other words, check your dog at the door.

Smiley’s is an old-fashioned whiskey and beer bar where locals have been bringing their dogs for decades of not for more than a century. The saloon carries the reputation of being the old continuously-operating bar in the state, established in 1851 and remaining open even during prohibition. Dogs have been part of the interior of the saloon for decades and possibly generations.

I know for a fact that there are customers who could say that their parents and grandparents used to sidle up to the bar at the end of long day and have their canine sitting or laying on the floor near their feet. Just think how many centuries that would be in dog years!

It’s a good thing that the health department didn’t come into Smiley’s when I was tending bar in 1994, and used to feed a very sweet dog named Betty some maraschino cherries as she waited patiently across the bar, perched on a stool.

I also fed “Nacho,” who some in town called “Barfy,” who was basically roaming free after the death of his Master, and who many in town took under our wings for years. Barfy (as I knew him) was an over-friendly, stocky Golden Lab – a beautiful creature – who would sleep off long afternoons of chasing sticks on the beach on the floor behind the bar on some of my shifts. Once, I hid Barfy from the Humane Society, who had come into the saloon looking for him. And more than once, I hid him from Don Deane, the saloon’s owner, who had made one of his occasional pronouncements at a Smiley’s staff meeting (an informal event as one might imagine). Immediately after the meeting, the saloon owner’s instructions were forgotten.

Jackson was a dog that all of the bartenders loved – and we used to feed beef sticks and hot dogs. How could you not when it made him so happy?

And of course there have been the legions of dogs from virtually every regular, which would keep track on their master’s drinking from the floor near their feet.These are just a few of my own stories. It’s a foregone conclusion that any regular of Smiley’s would have five or six of their own – and with or without alcoholic impairment, the stories would all be different, and, I think, true.

Dogs are part of the Bolinas sub-culture, with most of the people I know talking about their animals as though they were people and telling colorful stories of canine encounters in their neighborhoods. My favorite is the story of the lady that lived on the Little Mesa, the upper echelon of homes in the town. The woman did not have a dog, nor did she have any farm animals – but she nonetheless arrived home one afternoon to find a goat standing on her living room table with six strays lying on the floor around it that were all sound asleep.

Saloon owner Don Deane, who had become the worst perpetrator of dogs in the bar with three of his own canines taking up partial residence, downplayed the matter as being just a layer of red tape that the county officials had to wrap him in. He said that the animals had been 86’d – bar code for banished – because the saloon also serves food for hungry patrons.

“It’s really all about that we serve pre-cooked food out of the convection oven and the microwave. We have delicious hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, muffins, cookies, potato chips, etc.,” Deane said. “Even if we were a snack store the health dept. would say no dogs. I’ve managed to recondition my mutts by providing them with snacks upstairs. Annie, Matilda and Cassie were in the bar all the time and couldn’t understand the change until I bribed them. It’s sad you can’t drink with your dog or parrot or at least have their company.”

Deane said that the new rules have led to a kinder, gentler saloon: “The good news is (there have been) no dog scuffles or beefs, no dogs or snakes getting stepped on and we haven’t had a bear drag a customer out onto the street for weeks!