I knew the ghost sign on the building at 1035 Heinz, but it really all started with a song by Michael McNevin about a Berkeley bar that closed in the late 1990s. It became a story about everything. Berkeley. Life. Friendship. Family. Hustle and loyalty, community and work. Trusting your crazy ideas. The sentiment that it don’t get any better than this. Everything.
The lyrics of the song:
On the west side of town there was a twist of fate,
Heinz 57 closed their factory gates.
I guess the ketchup was slow, they had to relocate.
Left in the shadow was Sam’s 58.
Open Monday through Friday, 8 to 8,
Closed on the weekends but the business is great.
The locals are freindly, they’re good for a shot.
It’s a blue collar bar, it’s the top of the pops.
It’s a hole in the wall, some people think it’s a shack.
But, hey it’s the nineties gotta wear your own hat.
So you pull up a stool, there’s only one more left.
Wells are a buck, you can drink till you’re wet.
Bruno and George, bartenders at large.
They call ‘em “The Bookends”, can’t tell ‘em apart.
It’s been twenty five years they been behind that bar,
chances are good that they know who you are
Heinz 57 left ‘em high and dry
but there’s some things that heaven never meant to die.
Open Monday through Friday, eight to eight,
closed on the weekends, Sam’s 58.
Now Sam is the owner, he works in the day.
He’s seventy five, maybe eighty, and hey,
put a quarter in the juke, if it’s a polka he’ll play
the spoons on the bottle, he was good in his day.
Like the pictures of boxers that hang on the wall,
he’s a walking reminder you get up when you fall.
Now there’s something everybody oughta know about Sam;
he’s a bonafide, died in the wool Mickey Mouse fan.
He’s got the Mickey memorabilia, watches and dolls,
gadgets, you name it buddy, he’s got it all.
From a six foot mousetrap to Goofy the dog,
and he says, “Shit House mouse” all day long.
So it’s Sam on the day-shift and I’m on a stool.
I give him a five to enter the weekly pool.
He answers the phone, he talks for a spell.
I ask him, “Who was it?” but he never tells.
He says, “Wrong number,” as he heads for the john,
while the player piano is playing his song.
Now Bruno and George are up to something again.
They got Spanky and Charlie sittin down at the end.
They’re pullin some legs, spinnin some yarn,
now there’s a bragger on the ropes who got his story all wrong.
But it’s all in good fun, we all get the joke,
and just got a liar a rum and a coke.
Well, there’s a day in the life and there’s a life in the day,
there’s life in the cracks I don’t care what you say.
You gotta live in the crannies, live in the nooks,
just throw in your ante and keep your eye on the crooks.
But one thing is certain, bet every chip;
Sam’s 58 – it don’t get better than this.
Open Monday through Friday, eight to eight,
closed on the weekends, Sam’s 58
Open Monday through Friday, eight to eight,
closed on the weekends, Sam’s 58
Located at a corner near you. Don’t be late.
You may have seen the building on Heinz just above 10th.
Knowing the song and having an abiding curiosity about what was inside, I put on my Quirky Berkeley cub reporter hat and set out to get inside. This is what I was pretty sure that I would see:
What were the chances of that? They were pretty good, if we accept that there is a fifth dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity, the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.
Assuming that this is what I would see, I set out to see what there was to see.
The Sam’s 58 Club building is now owned by Meyer Sound Laboratories. I called and asked if it would be possible to see the inside of the building. Graciously – yes!
Gary Robinson is the Facilities Director for Meyer Sound. He met us and took us inside the old Sam’s.
It turns out that Gary had been a regular at Sam’s for 20 years.
Young Gary is on the left in this photo. His bar name was G. Lee. Sam gave everybody bar names, usually but not always associated with their employer. Joe the Cleaner. Bill the Printer. Jimmy Consolidated. Dick Heinz. And so on.
We went in the back door. I get a very still feeling when I walk into a Maybeck house or a great cathedral or an old library. I had that feeling when I walked into Sam’s. I think of John Sayles’ movie Brother from Another Planet and how when the Brother walks into Ellis Island after his spacecraft crashes he can hear the voices of the immigrants who passed through a hundred years ago. Point being -I may not have been in the middle ground between light and shadow but it was impossible not to hear the music and voices and sounds of the past.
The bar itself remains.
An oil paint portrait of Sam Pedone – the Sam of Sam’s 58 Club – stands against the mirror. Sam didn’t care for the portrait. Neither did his family. When they cleaned out the bar 20 years ago, it remained.
The sign on the mirror reading “Shit House Sam Pedone” is an evoking of Sam’s nickname, Shit House Mouse.
Which explains the sign on the outside.
The wall dog (slang – sign painter) who painted the cartoon character bearing a strong resemblance to Mighty Mouse shows him bearing on his shirt the initials “SHM” – Shit House Mouse, Sam’s nickname.
There are other vestiges of Sam’s 20 years after it closed.
Cartomancy is fortune-telling or divination using a deck of cards. Unfortunately, there is no single reference work assigning meaning to any given card. In less than a minute I found sources that told me that the five of diamonds signifies
(1) Freedom in values; satisfaction in personal freedom, travel, adventure and living by their own rules, by which those who draw the card seek fulfillment in their lives while resisting settling down long enough to create stability;
(2) An indication of a change in your financial condition, either up or down, money coming in or going out.
(3) Reconciliation and positive relationships and a good omen of a solution to a problem. or, on the other hand, material worries and anxiety.
(4) Business success. Contented family.
Lacking any consensus on the meaning of the card, let’s move on.
Was there anything else to do but to find out about Sam’s? Gary tells many stories about a blue collar, working class bar filled with bigger-than-life personalities and joy and humor. He sent me a timeline from The Heinz Street Journal: The Unofficial Newsletter of Sam’s 58 Club” –
Well, that’s a start.
Salvatore (Sam) Cosimo Pedone and his wife Mary built what became Sam’s 58 Club in 1926 as a grocery store/ restaurant. It was first named the San Carlos Restaurant, and then Sam and Mary’s.
The original Sam died in 1926, and for the next 21 years his widow ran the place with help from relatives. She eventually sold the business to her son, Sam Jr.
Sam Jr., who was born on June 11, 1926, was too young to enlist in the Navy when he did. He used his father’s photo and social security number to enlist, claiming to be 44.
This man does not look 44, does he?
Sam in the center and Navy buddies display dolls. Because?
Sam, on the right of the front row – at work in the Navy.
Sam getting it going with the drums in the Navy. He had rhythm which he would display after the war with spoons at the bar.
After the war, Sam went to work for the family business in Boston. The job would have been described at the time as “bag man.” He picked up payments for this and that and brought them to a central location.
He did well. He bought a nice car, a 1948 Chrysler Traveler. A business dispute left a bullet hole or two in the car, still visible today. Much later in life, Sam met the man who fired the shots that left the holes. They embraced like old friends.
The Chrysler is in son Steve’s garage, still immaculate and going strong after 70 years. Here are just a few details of the car:
An automatic cigarette-rolling machine.
A boss roof rack.
In 1947, Sam left Boston, driving across the country in the Chrysler with his wife Winnie, his mother Mary, and his young son Steve. In Arizona, Mary got out of the car and took the bus the rest of the way back to California because she couldn’t stand another minute with her daughter-in-law.
Back in California, Sam took over the bar.
Here Winne, Sam, young Steve, and Peanuts the dog stand in front of the bar.
Sam Sr.’s original plan had been to name the building the 57 Club after the Heinz Catsup factory across the street. The plant produced 28 of its 57 varieties, and seasonally employed between 200 and 1,000 workers. During tomato season, the smell of cooking tomatoes filled the air. The plant closed in 1956 when the canning operations moved to Tracy.
Heinz threatened to sue the club, claiming that it had trademarked the number 57. Since 1896, the company has used its “57 Varieties” slogan; it was inspired by a sign advertising 21 styles of shoes, and Henry Heinz chose the number 57 even though the company manufactured more than 60 products at the time. Who cares? The bar ditched the 57 idea and instead was named Sam’s 58 Club. One better!
The exterior was nothing fancy. Here it is over the years:
The next two are from 1999, the year that the bar closed.
Sam’s mailbox remains high on a utility pole. The joke – it was for airmail.
The house next door remains. Uncle Clarence lived on the main floor. Wingnut lived in the basement.
Sam’s family grew.
Daughter Elise and son Steve.
Here Sam celebrates son Steve’s baptism.
Sam ran the bar for 50 years, with help from a big family. To me, these next several photos are fantastic images from a different time in Berkeley.
The word “wise guy” comes to mind. Sam is in the foreground.
In this photo, you can see a 20-30 foot string of motel keys behind the bar, started when Sam got out of the Navy. Each motel key was a trophy of an alleged third-rate romance, low-rent rendezvous.
Sam was closely connected to Oakland’s boxing scene.
Here Sam serves as trainer to Joe Miceli. As one of the stars during the “Friday Night Fights” era on television, Miceli met 12 champions in the ring but never fought for a title. He fought the great ones – Ike Williams, Kid Gavilan, Gene Fullmer, Johnny Brattan, Joey Giardello, Gil Turner, Wallace Bud Smith, Bobby Dykes and Curtis Cokes.
Wow! Young son Steve poses with boxers at the Oakland gym where they trained. Rocky Graciano is towards the right of the middle row. Graciano held the middleweight title from 1947 until 1948. He was ranked 23rd on The Ring magazine list of the greatest punchers of all time. Giacobbe “Jake” LaMotta, briefly world middleweight champion and portrayed by Robert DeNiro in 1990 in Raging Bull, is second from the left in the back row.
When the Friday Night Fights came to Oakland, Sam was front and center.
In this photo, fight managers meet at Sam’s Club. Sam’s cousin Johno Canazaro is in the black shirt on the right. He ran a junkyard on San Pablo Avenue, and sold refurbished used cars at Sam’s. Young Steve detailed the cars. Johno offered a curbside warranty. When the car crossed the curbside leaving parking the lot, the warranty expired.
Anyway – in this photo the managers are meeting to discuss the outcome of the upcoming Friday night fights.
Lest you judge them harshly for fixing fights, remember the times. Remember the 1950-1951 basketball point-shaving scandal involving CCNY.
Remember Herb Stempel taking a dive so Charles Van Doren could win the quiz show. Remember Sonny Liston failing to answer the bell for the seventh round of his fight against Cassius Clay on February 15, 1964, the first time since 1919 that a World Heavyweight Champion had quit sitting on his stool. And remember Ali’s phantom punch that took Liston down less than two minutes into the first round of their May 25, 1965 fight. Everybody did it.
And – the photo with the trainers at Sam’s almost certainly is the coolest photo that has appeared in Quirky Berkeley’s more than 500 posts. A bold statement!
We’ve got a ways to go brothers and sisters, so I announce a break.
Next time we will pick up Sam’s in later decades with color photographs (!) and a vivid working class neighborhood bar culture developing.
I showed this post to my friend.
“My dad wasn’t much of a drinker but a few days a week he’d stop off at the Two-Way Inn on his way home.
“It’s supposed to be the oldest bar in Detroit, but I don’t think that mattered to him. Maybe he’d have a beer,maybe just a Ginger Ale and a hard-boiled egg and a couple songs on the juke box. There was something about dive bars that appealed to him
“He loved the Friday night fights, my dad did. You might not know this but your friend Joe was a big Friday night fights guy. He is all about boxing lingo. He gets in trouble when he talks about ‘queer street.’ People don’t know it’s old-time boxing lingo. Have you ever noticed that tune that Joe whistles when he’s working through a problem in his head? It’s “Look Sharp – Be Sharp,” the Gillette theme.”
I needed to cut this digression off. “Great stories my friend. What about Sam’s and this post?