Despite their only recent introduction to the world of bar management, young couple Mark Bolger and Jessica Berdechowski have already been immortalized on a plaque nailed to the aged brick and timber saloon they purchased last year.
After months of painstaking permitting efforts and renovations, the Cinco de Mayo soft opening of Gooney’s Bar and Grill in San Andreas revealed a shiny new hangout that was casual yet sophisticated, with old bones that remember wilder days on an oft-forgotten Mother Lode main street.
But for many who streamed through the doors to greet old friends and maybe make some more, the most important addition to the remodel wasn’t new at all – it was a restoration of a name as old as the walls themselves, embodied by the omniscient statue of Gooney, returned to his rightful perch above the bar.
“Several people basically told me I didn’t have a choice,” Bolger said with a smile when asked how he and his fiancee arrived at the decision to bring the original name back.
Bolger won’t divulge exactly who applied the pressure, but only months after they purchased the saloon, the Mutuca Chapter of E Clampus Vitus gathered outside to commemorate its history and solidify the name change in stone.
“The building is significant in that it was one of the first buildings constructed after the fire of 1858 and has been used almost exclusively as a saloon and restaurant,” the plaque reads. “In March of 1863, Gooner Everson acquired the property for $18.60 in back taxes and was operating it as a saloon. For a time, the name was changed from Gooney’s Saloon to the Red Brick Saloon, but longtime residents almost always referred to it by its traditional name, and in 2018 it was sold and the name changed back to Gooney’s Bar and Grill.”
For some, namely 68-year-old Christopher Burke “Cowboy” Anderson, the name Gooney’s conjures fond memories of karaoke nights in the ’90s, hopping from bar to bar along Main Street. With all three establishments – the Black Bart Inn bar, the Metropolitan and Gooney’s ‒ open once again, Anderson has high hopes for the future.
“I’m a happy camper,” Anderson said. “It’s exploded, and it’s gonna work.”
Lou Galli, community leader and former bartender at the Red Brick Saloon, also gave his stamp of approval.
“It looks attractive – looks great,” Galli said. “The changing image will bring new kinds of people. I think it’s going to be good for Main Street and the town.”
“San Andreas sort of has a nightlife again that people can be excited about,” Bolger said. “We don’t have to drive to Murphys to have a good time.”
During their renovations, Mountain Ranch residents and former cannabis entrepreneurs Bolger and Berdechowski went to great lengths to reflect Calaveras County’s colorful history in every inch of their bar. They enlisted the help of the Calaveras County Historical Society to develop prints that paid homage to each local industry, from ranching to mining to logging.
Arguing about the location each picture was taken has already become a popular pastime among patrons, Bolger said.
The couple also incorporated aspects of more recent events, utilizing a cedar timber burned in the Butte Fire as their new bartop and beetle-kill wood on the front siding, all with the help of John Allen Construction.
“We lived through the Butte Fire. I think it was a pivotal point for a lot of Calaveras County residents,” Bolger told the Enterprise. “So much of that wood is going to waste. I think it would be a shame if we did this remodeling and didn’t use it.”
Although Bolger and Berdechowski have embraced their roles as conservators of history, there is no mistaking that they’re here to make a splash.
For those who used to frequent the Red Brick Saloon or even the original Gooney’s back in its day, there is little to be recognized from those old digs besides a few familiar faces – and the couple agrees it’s for the best.
“I think it definitely just has a sense of class now,” Berdechowski said. “It’s not a dive bar.”
That statement is perhaps best demonstrated by the daring introduction of a bakery to the bar. In addition to the feel-good pub grub crafted in the brand new kitchen by chef Steve Law, artisan confectioner Jennifer Jordan has moved in with Calaveras Cakes, creating custom desserts and tasty cocktail-inspired treats to enjoy with friends.
Locals have taken notice of the glam-up. According to Bolger, the soft opening, grand opening, and everyday in between have drawn a steady flow of regulars and newcomers alike.
“(People are) just thrilled to death to see this place back in action,” Bolger said. “We definitely want everyone to feel comfortable here. We’ve had everyone from early-to mid-20s, to people up in their 80s having a good time.”
Patrons have already described the new bar as “far more welcoming.”
“Mark and Jessica are a great couple. The more we know, the more we’re willing to support them,” said Tristan Behm, 40, who attended the soft opening with her 39-year-old husband, Nick.
Behm also praised the “eclectic” decor: “It’s going to draw more of a variety of a crowd.”
“It’s a good setting for what will be coming,” said Nick Behm, who has lived in San Andreas for many years. “Main Street is waking up again.”