“There will be a $5 charge for lying, complaining, and just plain bellyaching.”
Those words, painted on a sign hanging over the bar at the Penngrove Pub, issues its folksy warning with same sense of homespun style and humor that inspired someone to hang yet another sign — stating simply, “Insane Asylum” — on the opposite wall.
Such caveats aside, it’s a quiet Thursday night at the Penngrove Pub, on Main Street in Downtown Penngrove, where bartender Jim Huff — known for his amiable banter and dry sense of humor — is in fine form. His customers at the moment are two regulars, a tiny dog named Itty, a guy who grew up in the house that now houses the Montessori school down the block and hasn’t been inside the pub for thirty years, and a journalist asking a lot of questions.
For example, how long has Huff been a bartender here?
“Me? I’ve been here since five o’clock,” Huff replies, a well-practiced deadpan expression locked onto his face. With a faint fraction of a smile, he answers the question, “I’ve been here a little over two years. I was down the road at the Twin Oaks for about fifteen years. Now I’m here.”
And how old, exactly, is the Pengrove Pub?
“I’m not exactly sure,” he says, the deadpan look back in place. “But our T-shirts say it’s been around since 1907, so I think I have to go with that. Mathematically speaking, that makes us a ‘really old bar.’ The Washoe House is the oldest in the area, I’m pretty sure, since it was around during the Civil War. But we’re definitely one of the oldest bars in the area after that.”
Huff points to another part of the opposite wall, where a framed newspaper article hangs among a motley assortment of other historical, bar-related bric-a-brac. The article — presumed to have been cut from an old Press Democrat — tells the story of how previous owner John Herpick came to own the Penngrove Pub.
“It may not be the bar where everybody know your name, but it’s not too far off,” reads the faded clipping. “John Herpick first wandered into the Penngrove Pub by mistake. As it turns out, some of his friends were there, so he decided to stay for a drink, and couldn’t help liking the unpretentious pub with the unpolished floors and downhome atmosphere. With a jukebox playing, people laughing and talking, playing pool and shuffleboard, it’s the kind of place that just draws a person in, even if it’s not where they meant to go. He liked it, and when time came for the owners to sell, John knew the pub was for him.”
Such seems to be the case with the Penngrove Pub, allows Huff. Once people find it, they tend to make the place their home. The current owners are John Personeni and Marty Coyne who, according to Huff, purchased the place from Herpick about a dozen years ago.
“I think it was 2005, something like that,” says Huff, who tends bar a few nights a week, and also books the Pub’s weekend music, an ever-changing line-up that is advertised mainly through though low-tech dry-erase board over the door.
“People tell me I should use a smart phone or something to do all of my music booking,” acknowledges Huff. “Here’s my smart phone.” He reaches behind the bar to produce an archaic, but still evidently functional, flip phone. “This is enough for me, and that board up there is enough for our regulars. Our regulars can a board read just fine.”