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Longtime bar owners to open Mystic Saloon

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Passersby on Highway 4 have probably noticed some activity at the old Avery Saloon in recent weeks.

Black skulls border the front door, and a new sign out front reads: “The Howard’s Mystic Saloon.”

Earlier this year, Curt and Tana Howard leased the property and relocated from Oakland to Dorrington. In recent weeks, they have been busy getting ready to open in August.

All the usual barroom accoutrements can be found inside—pool tables, shuffleboard, darts, a jukebox, arcade games—but the decor is a little more unique.

Skeletons and skull chandeliers hang from the rafters, and a taxidermy mountain goat named “Avery” has a place of honor above the bar. Pictures of famous musicians cover one wall, and assorted paintings, mostly by the couple’s friends and family members, are mixed with old family photos on another.

“A lot of it’s stuff from our house when we moved up here,” Curt said. “It’s almost like you’re coming into our living room. … That’s the kind of vibe we were going for.”

Tana described the furnishings as “Halloween and music in equal parts.”

“We love haunted places and mystical things, and we think everyone kind of loves that stuff, especially up here in Gold Country,” she said. “There’s a lot of mystery and mystique around this area.”

Locals have been stopping by to see what’s going on, with one voicing concern when they saw a ouija board on the wall.

“I laughed and said, ‘I got that ouija board at Ross during Halloween,’” Tana said. “There’s nothing nefarious going on here—we actually just really love that turn-of-the-century mysticism.”

Tana said that the community has been friendly and welcoming.

“They’ve embraced us—it’s been incredible,” she said. “We already have friends up here. It’s been really beautiful.”

While the couple are new to being full-time residents, Curt started spending time in the area at a young age.

“Back in the ’70s, my dad built a house here in Dorrington,” he said. “I’ve been coming up my whole life.”

Skateboards and snowboards can also be found inside, with an old SIMS snowboard—the first model that the company produced with metal bindings—repurposed as a pool table light.

“That snowboard actually rode on Mount Reba the very first year that Mount Reba opened for snowboarding,” Curt said.

A short trip to the mountains last winter led the couple to move into their cabin full time.

“We came to the family cabin for just a vacation from Oakland, because Oakland was on lockdown,” Curt said. “We were driving to the Avery dump, and Tana saw a sign in the window on this building that said, ‘For lease.’ So, we thought, ‘Let’s call it and see what happens.’ … We both love the area, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity.”

While the liquor license for the Avery Saloon had expired, after some delay the couple were able to transfer a license previously used by Rossetti’s in Wallace.

“It was a long process, but it was well worth it, because we’re super happy to be here,” Curt said. “I just went out and glanced over to the right and saw the Avery Hotel and the forest behind it, and it’s one of those things where you just smile—it’s nice to be here.”

Curt got his first job bartending at age 21, and has now been in the business for 29 years. In 2007, he bought The Avenue, a bar on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland known for having a similarly colorful atmosphere. The couple still own the bar, but have hired a general manager.

After Curt purchased The Avenue, he began doing more office work and less bartending. When the pandemic hit last year, he found himself short-staffed and back behind the bar.

“I kind of fell back in love with bartending,” he said. “The paperwork and the office work, that’s not why you do this. The fun part is being behind the bar and talking to people and meeting people.”

Both Curt and Tana plan on spending plenty of time serving up drinks. While Tana worked a corporate job until recently, she previously studied English literature at Pepperdine University in Malibu and worked as a writer and a bartender when she was in her 20s. She has worked in the service industry on and off throughout her life, even lending a hand at The Avenue while also working her day job.

“Me and Tana are going to be working the long shifts for a while,” Curt said. “We’re going to definitely be bartending, saying, ‘hi’ to people, introducing ourselves. I think that’s an important thing. Up here it seems very community-oriented, and we want to be part of the community.”

The Howards are planning on hosting live music at the bar, but said that the activities and events that they will offer will depend on what the community wants to see.

“We definitely want to open up and get our feet wet first,” Tana said. “People are going to tell us what they want, and they’re going to tell us what they’re looking for in terms of games, in terms of what they want to do here.”

“We want to be customer-driven,” Curt said. “We want to make sure that we’re entertaining this community, whatever they want to do.”

Over the past year and a half, the Howards were both especially busy with work and had limited time to spend together.

“We get to start this whole thing together, which is going to be amazing,” Curt said. “I get to go through this journey with the person that I love the most.”

While the exact date is yet to be determined, the Howards plan on opening sometime in August.

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Noah Berner has lived in Calaveras County most of his life, and graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in history.

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