Sonoma County staple Washoe House celebrates 160 years of food, drink with party

Patty PerLee glanced around the crowded bar area at the Washoe House and didn’t recognize anybody from her time working here 40 years ago. They might be the kids of her old customers, she joked.

On Sunday afternoon, PerLee was back at the iconic bar and restaurant west of Cotati with her former coworker and lifelong friend Linda Vaughn to celebrate its 160th anniversary. They reflected on the past.

A lot has changed since the women worked at Washoe House.

“When I started working here, draft beer was 75 cents, a well drink was 90 cents and a bottled beer was $1,” PerLee said.

Venison feeds were a staple. St. Patrick’s Day was always crazy, and PerLee had her first California date here after moving to the area from New Mexico.

“It was such a wonderful place to work,” she said. “It just seemed like time to check in, you know?”

Built in 1859, the Washoe House sits off Stony Point Road, nestled among rolling hills and eucalyptus windbreaks. The neat rows of a kitty-corner vineyard conveyed a sense of order to the raucous, two-story party that took place all day Sunday.

This is one of the oldest buildings in Sonoma County, built with redwood beams and square nails, according to the place’s website.

“I’ve been seasoned and aged by a thousand sunrises and sunsets,” the website offers in first person. “And I’ll come to know a thousand more. I’m known for my good food, drink and company.”

Business cards and $1 bills adorn the ceiling, concealing the occasional new-age security camera around the first-floor bar.

The multicolored bills act almost as tree rings, signifying the age of the place.

The older ornaments feature a familiar, jaundiced hue courtesy of more than a century of tobacco smoke that has soaked this iconic haunt while servers sling American fare and cold drinks.

“It’s a white ceiling, you know,” said Linda Vaughn, a guest this day but a longtime bartender at Washoe House from 1978 to 1987. “The fire department had to come in and spray fire retardant on (the ceiling) as a safety factor.”

Manager Julie Brown has been at it for three years. And during Sunday’s particularly hectic lunch rush, she said the place opened at 6 a.m. and would be going strong until at least midnight.

“Today’s been great, and we’re just getting started,” she said.

The party featured live music, a raffle and other games, as well as special prizes.

Merry voices filled the bar area, while music thumped overhead Sunday afternoon. Kids played games on hay bales outside. Bicycle riders stopped to gander at the scene. Gold balloons spelled out the occasion. There was a 1, a 6, and a 0, that - wind permitting - showed it was indeed the bar’s 160th anniversary.

“Today has been wonderful,” Brown said. “We’ve got a lot of our regulars, a lot of people that haven’t been here in a long time.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at On Twitter ?@tylersilvy.

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