Sam’s Rendezvous: Petaluma’s hangout of the past

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For decades, Sam’s Rendezvous was the place to see and be seen.

For a time, the back of the building held one of the city’s only bars that offered hard liquor. It was where mostly men gathered to drink, smoke and play poker. The basement held the city’s only bowling alley for a time. The front section was an old-fashioned soda fountain with ice cream and penny candy, making it popular with families out shopping or teenagers sharing a milkshake on a date.

While some references say Sam Simoni started the bar business in the 1930s, in a 1968 Argus-Courier article, Petaluman Joe Ricci recalled the façade of Sam’s Rendezvous falling into the street during the 1906 earthquake. But the 1950s was its heyday, when the business was a regular hangout for all ages of townsfolk.

“For years various groups of fellows would stand out front of the Rendezvous, night after night, to talk over the events of the day,” longtime Argus-Courier columnist Bill Soberanes wrote in 1968. “Some folks called this Chatterbox Corner, and the title fit the spot very well.”

The business long sat on the southeast corner of Petaluma Boulevard North and Washington Street, until plans were made to build a new, four-lane bridge over the Petaluma River in the mid-1960s. The new build replaced an aging draw bridge that was then sold to a builder in South America, according to the Sonoma County Library files. The new bridge demanded the demolition of the original Sam’s, which made plans to move the bar business across the street, although the soda fountain would close for good.

“On Friday, Dec. 31, 1965, the fountain at the Rendezvous opened for the last time, and Petaluma’s only combination ice cream fountain and hard liquor establishment became a straight tavern, with the ice cream and milkshakes gone forever,” a 1966 article lamented. “The closing of this fountain was sad news to many Petalumans who for years made this their favorite hangout. Clarence Paula put it this way: ‘Most of us will have to find a new hangout, and we don’t know where to look because this spot was our second home.’”

The tavern lasted a few years longer, but Hank Simoni, the son of Sam who ran the business in the 1960s, eventually closed the operation when he switched to a clock repair business.

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