Written by Kathleen Hill for the Sonoma Index-Tribune.
Big 3 Diner fans flocked to the last lunch service on Sunday, April 24. It has closed permanently.
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, which owns Big 3, says on its website that the diner is, “the longest-running continuously operated restaurant in Sonoma Valley.”
Designated as sacred ground by Native Americans due its warm springs, over many years the entire property has gone through major economic ups and downs and developments.
During World War II, the Navy took over the building for “resting sailors and marines,” and later it served as the training hotel for Bay Area baseball teams such as the San Francisco Seals and the Oakland Oaks, according to Historic Hotels of America of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
When we moved here 40 years ago, the Big 3 was a wonderfully country, funky hangout with a U-shaped counter and lots of men perched on stools with too much flesh showing above the belt. V. Pratt eventually owned the Sonoma Mission Inn with a bevy of older gentlemen living in the smaller upstairs rooms of the original building.
Then the Big 3 was great for breakfast and lunch, at least that’s what I remember, with those heavy ceramic coffee cups, waitresses who had been there forever, ranchers and Springs locals meeting there weekly, sometimes daily. Lots of local news got hashed and re-hashed over the hash.
As a succession of new owners, including Edward Safdie who wanted to paint all buildings in SMI’s Springs neighborhood beige, upgraded the Sonoma Mission Inn and surrounding property into a more elegant resort, the Big 3 changed, too. The counter was removed, a gift shop was added, and luxurious booths were installed. Meals began to cost more, but Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn guests could dine there less expensively with FSMI quality without Santé prices.
Another new owner removed the popular gift shop hoping to turn that key entrance real estate into a wine sports bar.
Through all this, the Big 3 has been best known for its lemon pancakes, eggs Benedict, excellent bacon and specialty macaroni and cheese.
While the Big 3 closed Sunday, breakfast and dinner will be served in Santé restaurant in the hotel, and that breakfast will be the same as the Big 3’s menu. Lunch will be served either in the Water Tower Bar by the pool, weather permitting, or in Santé. Dinner will continue to be served in Santé. FSMI still offers free valet parking for diners. 100 Boyes Blvd., Boyes Hot Springs. 938-9000.