Sonoma County dive bars are the places we go for a solid gin and tonic served up without the distraction of atmosphere. They’re no-frills, no-judgement spots to forget your troubles, drink well tequila and maybe get a bit of advice from a guy with two teeth and smile a mile wide. He seems pretty happy, after all.
What we know from our years of of tippling at spots without cover charges, rap on the jukebox or bartenders willing to make any drink with more than two ingredients? Anyone’s welcome as long as you don’t act like a jerk.
With that said, here are some of our favorite Sonoma County dive bars at varying ends of the pool — some you gotta dive a lot deeper to find, others are on the beaten path.
The Buckhorn, Petaluma: Deer and elk heads hang from the wall behind the bar of this 1938 tavern which has become a top destination for Petaluma’s karaoke scene. Who knew? and located at 615 Petaluma Blvd. South, Petaluma.
Ernie’s Tin Barn, Petaluma: Lots of Sonoma folks drop in on their way to or from Petaluma and points south. Once a kind of rough can-of-beer joint, it has been yupped up a bit with outdoor seating, flowers, new tin siding since a truck plowed through the west end of the building, and excellent barbecue. Pints $1.75 on up. 5100 Lakeville Hwy, Petaluma.
-Kathleen Hill, Sonoma Index-Tribune
Willowbrook Ale House, Petaluma: A former Wells Fargo stagecoach stop, this simple two-story building has served up tasty drinks and pub grub for more than 50 years. A full cocktail bar plus pool tables, live music, a solid menu and lots of friendly folks. 3600 Petaluma Blvd., Petaluma.
Gale’s Central Pub, Petaluma: The Gale family has operated the bar in this particular location since 1971, having run drinking establishments under the name of Gale’s in locations on Kentucky and Petaluma Blvd., beginning in the early 1960s. One of our favorite spots to end the evening right. 106 Petaluma Blvd N, Petaluma.
– David Templeton, Petaluma Argus-Courier
Friar Tuck’s Pub, Cotati: These folks love to party, making it one of the most lively, spirited, friendly spots in town. Plus, you can get deep fried raviolis at 1:30a.m. Of course its THE place to be for St. Paddy’s. 8201 Old Redwood Hwy, Cotati.
Eight Ball, Cotati: Probably the best neon sign of any dive bar in Sonoma County. Heavy sports, bar atmosphere, but solid drinking. 8 Charles St., Cotati.
Spancky’s Bar, Cotati: I kid you not, I went to a Roller Derby team bake sale at this Cotati dive a few years ago. That kind of sums up the vibe. Live music, cold beer, good times. 8201 Old Redwood Hwy, Cotati.
Quincy’s Pub and Cafe, Rohnert Park: Around since 1982, this little Rohnert Park pub and cafe starts serving cocktails at 11 a.m., has 26 flat screen televisions and a decent menu. Charming stained glass lamps and neon beer signs casts a warm glow on the regulars. 6590 Commerce Blvd, Rohnert Park, 707-585-1079.
Steiner’s Tavern, Sonoma: Several years ago Steiners moved up the street from where Harvest Moon Café is now located to a bank building, and thankfully took its original swinging doors along. Steiners is the ultimate local dive bar that attracts a crowd that has been going there every day for decades – plus young almost hipsters, wedding parties, motorcyclists and general noise makers. Lots of deep fried foods, burgers, and even a good shrimp Louie salad on the menu all the time. 465 1st St W #100, Sonoma-KH
John and Zeke’s, Healdsburg: After closing the original location on the Healdsburg plaza, owners took over another downtown dive just blocks away. Still where the locals go to escape the tourists. 420 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg.
Final Edition, Santa Rosa: This Larkfield spot has been a local gathering spot for years, with breakfast, lunch and dinner, pool tables and free happy hour appetizers. 412 Larkfield Ctr, Santa Rosa.
The Zoo, Santa Rosa: A friend once told me this dive bar was once a Hell’s Angels hangout, naturally proving its dive bar cred. You may or may not see any motorcycle gang members hanging around, but expect a no-nonsense crowd at this notoriously colorful dive. 527 Barham Ave., Santa Rosa.
The Wagon Wheel, Santa Rosa: Years ago, they offered one of the best deals in town that you never wanted to accept — a “Get Out of Jail” coupon. If you were booked at the nearby Sonoma County Jail in Santa Rosa, upon your release you could walk three blocks to the Wagon Wheel and flash your papers for a free drink. Unfortunately these days, that’s the stuff of legend, since the new owners have stopped the practice, but it’s still the best bar to hit when you’re sprung from the joint. 3320 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.
The Tipsy Triangle, Santa Rosa: Gary’s At the Belvedere (727 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa), 440 Club (435 College Ave.,Santa Rosa), Round Robin (616 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa). If you think about the intersection of College and Mendocino Aves., you may notice that three of the four corners (okay, it’s an obtuse triangle) have bars. Hence the name Tipsy Triangle, referring to Gary’s at the Belvedere, the 440 Club and The Round Robin. These old-timers pre-date most of the people going to them by at least 20 years. Sometimes much more. There are lots of cool old touches in each, if you look closely (fire pit, secret upstairs rooms), but not too closely. Nearby Joey’s Pizza is the after-party fuel-up spot.
Fiorino’s Lounge, Santa Rosa: One of the few spots this deep into Rincon Valley, and you’ll still have to hunt it down inside the Montecito shopping center. The younger crowd has discovered its old-school charm, but you’ll still find some decent grub and cocktails inside. 585 Montecito Ctr., Santa Rosa.
Kozy Kar, Santa Rosa: 70s and early 80s-themed nightclub, complete with waterbeds, shag rugs, bad lighting, pinball machines, 8-tracks and Penthouse pinup “wallpaper” from that freewheeling, all-natural era. Tastelessly divey. 404 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.
Casino Bar and Grill, Bodega: I really hate telling people about this place, because it’s one of the last dive bars that hasn’t been “discovered” by 20-year-olds or tourists. Fortunately, the regulars will stare you down pretty good if they think you don’t belong, especially during the week. What’s amazing is that one of Sonoma County’s best chefs serves up wildly creative dinners at this outpost for very local-friendly prices. 17000 Bodega Hwy., Bodega.
Harold’s Dante Hotel & Bar, Cloverdale: Constructed of local redwood in 1888, the Dante was originally known as the New Toscano. Today, it is operated strictly as a bar by Cort Amelung and his wife, Marilynn. In addition to attracting a lot of locals, the Dante is on the “must see” list for out of town visitors. It is also the one place where those who’ve grown up here want to go when they come home to visit. After 125 years, the Dante still looks pretty much the same, and according to the Amelungs, there are no plans to make any changes any time soon. 133 Railroad Ave, Cloverdale.– Mary Joe Winter, Cloverdale Towns Correspondent.