Petaluma Around the Clock: End of the day on American Alley
Midnight in Petaluma is still 43-minutes away.
But down on American Alley - in the heart of the downtown area’s increasingly popular nightlife hub - you would hardly know that most of the population of the city is already fast asleep at home.
The short, narrow strip of pavement that runs north to south from Washington Street to Western Avenue is anything but empty at the moment, with folks ambling up and down as Saturday night prepares to step aside for Sunday morning to make its entrance. The brick-and-plaster walls of the alley, ornamented with murals and splashes of graffiti, are pleasantly awash in swirls of mysterious, neon-dominated light. The ground itself is randomly striped with patches of shadowy darkness, every square foot of it currently bathed in a cascading wave of sound - especially where the alley adjoins Putnam Park and the cement steps leading up and away to Kentucky Street.
Near the top of those steps, a lone musician crouches over his electric guitar, playing a catchy series of reggae-riffs for the benefit of anyone passing by. From the bottom of the stairs, just behind where he perches, a steady parade of late-night bar-hoppers, most in their 20s and 30s, pass by, adding a chorus of happy chatter to the upbeat melody of the guitar. Every so often, a group of pedestrians breaks from the stream of people and scampers down the steps toward American Alley, where they will find themselves pulled in any of several directions, each augmented by its own unique soundscape.
From the back deck of Kentucky Street’s Hideaway bar, the percussive thump of dance music (Guns ’n Roses’ “Sweet Child ’o Mine”) pours out and over the heads of a handful of patrons, enjoying the open air of the patio, many leaning against the railing looking down on the alley. A black-clad bouncer stands sternly at the top of the wooden stairs that lead from the alley to the Hideaway bar.
Directly beneath that bustling nightspot is The Big Easy, from which can be heard the sound of high energy Celtic rock, the unmistakable squawk of a bagpipe blending with the sweet fluting of a pennywhistle and the electric crunch of a trio of guitars.
It’s a warm night, a comfortable 70 degrees, which certainly attributes to why so many folks are out and about. Across from The Big Easy, its sister-venue, the popular restaurant The Big Easy - one of the few eateries in town that remains open till 2 a.m. - is packed with patrons inside and out. Around the corner, Wicked Slush has closed up for the night (11 p.m. on weekends) but has not technically shut its doors, as employees are still hard at work cleaning up, making routine forays out to the alley to deposit things in one of the dozens of dumpsters that stand here and there up and down the narrow ways’ length.
“It’s been super busy tonight, in a really good way,” says manager Alexis Pokorny, as her sister Miranda nods vigorously in the background while lifting a metal tub full of … whatever might be in a metal tub at the end of a long day making slushes for long lines of people.
It’s now about 11:32 a.m.
“Fridays and Saturdays are usually pretty busy because there are a lot of people downtown,” Pokorny says, going on to tell of a somewhat inebriated couple that poked their heads in last weekend, ten minutes after closing, inquiring whether “Closed” really meant “closed.” For the record, it almost always does, but Pokorny admits she made an exception in that case. “The woman really, really wanted a slush, and it wasn’t too late to make one, so I said, ‘You know what? We’ll help you out this once.’”
Pokorny says that it usually takes her crew until about 1 a.m. to finish cleaning up, and that’s keeping into account that it’s a relatively large group of workers, most of them college students, all dodging about in a relatively small space.
Outside, the whole alley is alive at this time, and tends to stay that way until after the bars close at 2 a.m.
“It’s fun to step out there around midnight,” Pokorny says. “Usually, the first thing I hear is karaoke from the Hideaway, and then if I have to take something up the stairs I’ll hear all of the music from whatever drummers or musicians are playing there. Sometimes we’ll pass someone from one of the restaurants that back out onto the alley, either cleaning up or taking a break at the back door. It’s kind of a nice time.”
Fifteen minutes later, at The Big Easy, a handful of people are straggling out, even as the music inside plays on. Tonight’s headliners, Lucky ‘ol Bones, based in Santa Rosa, show no sign of quitting, and though scheduled to end at 11:30 p.m., will stretch their set and several subsequent encores until just after midnight. But eventually, all things must end, including this set of music, which moves onto an audience engaged rendition of “Donald, Where’s Your Trousers?”
“Well, that’s all for us! Good night, Petaluma!” shouts lead singer Sven Kinkaid.
It’s 12:07 a.m.
Out in the alley, the accompaniment of an additional two or three musicians can be heard from the nearby stairs, the new players having just joined the original solo guitarist. The sounds of voices from people moving about on Kentucky are, if anything, even louder than they were an hour ago.
It will, in fact, be at least two more hours until the noise of life in downtown Petaluma, and all along American Alley, will finally fade.
Even then, it won’t be entirely silent here.
Not at all.
Once the music has ended and an array of vans and cars and taxis have collected the piles of music equipment and the final tipsy revelers themeselves, other noises take over, the hums and whooshes and mechanical purrs of the buildings up and down the street. They are the soft, soothing voices of whatever machinery has been tasked with keeping the night alive through the five or six hours of darkness that remain until the people return to open up their shops and restaurants and bars and businesses. Until then, these machines make the only music that will be heard on American Alley.
It won’t ever be quiet, here, exactly.
Just as quiet as it ever gets.