Larry Peter buying Washoe House

The historic restaurant and watering hole is being bought by the owner of Petaluma Creamery.|

The historic Washoe House on Stony Point Road is changing hands.

Covered in a layer of road dust, the red Old West building with white trim has stood along the country-road thoroughfare between Petaluma and Santa Rosa since 1859, first as a stagecoach stop then as a watering hole.

With a pending sale expected to go through next week, the longtime owners are planning to hand the keys over to Larry Peter, owner of the Petaluma Creamery and maker of Springhill Jersey Cheese.

“It’s bittersweet, but it is time to let it go, let it prosper and grow because it’s got a lot of potential,” Patti Tobin of Petaluma said.

Tobin and Cheryl Jensen are the daughters of longtime Washoe House proprietors Bill and Edith Drew, who bought the roadhouse in 1972.

For more than three decades, Bill Drew was usually behind the bar, greeting people as they arrived, handing tokens to children coming with their families to eat, Tobin said.

Jensen took over the restaurant when their father died in 2006. Tobin took the helm about two years ago after she retired from four decades with State Farm Insurance.

The sisters said they were not prepared to undertake the repairs and updates the historic building deserved, and they decided it was time to move on. Jensen is now a production manager with Petaluma’s The Secret Kitchen.

Peter, through a spokesman, declined to discuss his vision for the restaurant bar until the sale is final. Tobin said she will continue managing the restaurant after the sale goes through to help the new owners make the transition.

Diane Starkey, Peter’s partner of 17 years, stood outside the building Wednesday afternoon as some repairs were being done. Starkey said that Peter had already done extensive research on the Washoe House, as he did when he took over the historic 1913 Petaluma Creamery about a decade ago.

“We want to keep the historic charm, except better,” Starkey said. “A lot of things need to be done.”

Piece of Wild West

With a classic Wild West exterior, the two-story building has garnered myth and attention over the years. Built by Robert Ayres as a stagecoach stop, the building housed a butcher shop and post office before it settled into its roadhouse days.

The Washoe House became a major stop at the country crossroads of Stony Point and Roblar roads, a pit stop for people going to the dump, coming back from the coast and anyone avoiding the highway. It was featured in Clint Eastwood’s 1999 film “True Crime.”

A debunked but nonetheless enticing rumor has it that former President Ulysses S. Grant gave a speech from the second story balcony out front, naked and drunk.

And there is the Battle of Washoe House of 1865. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln spurred a Petaluma militia to set out for Santa Rosa with the intent to cause trouble for Confederate sympathizers there. But they never made it past the Washoe House. Local historian Chuck Lucas has said that the next morning the men’s wives retrieved their hungover husbands.

Add some vineyards and speeding pickups, the current-day view of the Washoe House is not unlike a pencil drawing of the house surrounded by pastures at “Washoe Corners” in an 1878 Atlas at the county records office.

At about noon Wednesday, the large cracked parking lot was about half full.

Jesse Dewyer, 44, of Napa pulled up in a pickup, parked and headed in for a buffalo burger on his way home from a fishing trip out of Bodega Bay. The vineyard manager, a self-described “hole in the wall bar” type of guy, stopped outside to greet longtime Washoe hostess Addie Clementino, 77, who estimates she’s been working at the restaurant for 37 years, as she exited her car.

“Did you catch any fish?” Clementino asked.

“I have 50 pounds of fillet in my truck,” Dewyer said.

Neighborhood restaurant

Walk through the front door below the neon sign depicting a cocktail glass and the year 1859, and inside you might find a 60-year-old Sebastopol man named Chuck. He was seated Wednesday at the well-worn dark-wood bar and said with a wink that he’s “wanted by the law” and that he comes back to make sure the $20 he pinned to the ceiling is still there.

The layers of dollar bills, photographs, business cards and other yellowed ephemera pinned to the ceiling over decades create a cave-like comfort.

At a two-top table by the window, Linda and Paul McQuaid said it’s their neighborhood restaurant because of the “old time feeling” and friends they’re bound to see there. Paul McQuaid said he remembers as a boy heading up the hill behind the Washoe House with his friends and .22-caliber rifles to hunt for rabbits.

It’s old wallpaper, old carpet, old paintings and old timers at the Washoe.

For more than 40 years, Dennis Hachmyer, 67, of Sebastopol has been coming for the “Half Louie” shrimp sandwich and a drink. Hachmyer said he’s loyal, but only to a point.

“If prices go up they wont see me,” Hachmyer said from the bar.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.