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The Bird will fly from Santa Rosa Avenue to where Roberto’s was in Rincon Valley

The Bird is flying the hallowed coop.

Come Monday, the lights will be out and the doors locked, perhaps for eternity, at the proudly blue-collar Santa Rosa restaurant-bar known to most as Willie Bird’s.

The landmark watering hole and diner on Santa Rosa Avenue was sold following the death of storied proprietor and turkey rancher Willie Benedetti to a friend of his, Joe Castro.

Castro made some changes that included a new name: The Bird.

Once he owned the business, Castro tried to purchase the 60-year-old building and the ground beneath it, but a sale wasn’t in the cards.

So this weekend, Castro is hosting at The Bird a farewell bash with live music in a tent in the parking lot. He is set to move the restaurant-bar to Sonoma Highway in Rincon Valley and to the space that was home most recently to Basilico Cucina and, for decades before that, to two popular Italian restaurants owned by Roberto Catania.

“It’s the end, but a new beginning,” Castro said. “I think The Bird can live again, I really do.”

Robust and unfancy eating and drinking has gone on at the spot across from Santa Rosa Avenue’s auto row since the 1960s. The joint was originally the Stein Haus Hof Brau.

A former patron walking in for the first time in 60 years might take in the hand-carved mahogany bar, and the stein room, paneled in red oak, and declare that nothing had changed.

The menu switched to turkey-centric fare — eggs and turkey sausage, turkey sandwiches, turkey fried steak, turkey parmigiana, grilled turkey burgers, turkey Stroganoff — when Petaluma native Aloha Ann (Corda) Benedetti bought the restaurant in 1980 with her son Willie, the up-and-coming turkey rancher.

Aloha Benedetti later moved on to other pursuits and Willie Benedetti took over Willie Bird’s. He died in the fall of 2018 at 69, and about a year later his family sold the restaurant business to Castro, a building contractor. It became The Bird.

“I’m not in the restaurant business to make money,” he said Saturday beneath the dining tent and above the music of the Sonoma Shakers dance band.

“Willie was a friend of mine. I wanted to keep Willie’s going.”

Castro hadn’t owned the place long when the pandemic struck. He had a tent erected out back, complete with a heating duct, and installed a to-go window.

But The Bird drew complaints that Castro was flouting the regulations against indoor service. Last October, code enforcers with the city issued him a warning against allowing patrons to drink and eat inside.

An enforcement report from the city reflects also that just before the end of 2020, The Bird received a $1,000 citation for continuing to operate and to serve indoors at a time when restaurants were allowed to sell only to-go meals.

Castro said Saturday he received no fine and that he complied with the regulations after the city served him with a warning.

On Saturday, day one of The Bird’s farewell to Santa Rosa Avenue, there were patrons at the bar and indoor tables, but most customers sat out back, where the band was. Some wore masks and some didn’t.

“All my friends are here,” said a masked and liberally sequined Shelley Diane, who chose the The Bird’s farewell festivities as the backdrop to her 65th birthday party.

“There’s so much to a good gathering place,” Diane said. One reason she loves The Bird: “It’s really low-key.”

Also loving the music and the scene Saturday were Connie and Steve Carey. “We’re so excited to learn that they might move to Rincon Valley,” Connie Carey said.

Owner Castro said the mahogany bar that dates to the Stein Haus Hof Brau and much of the other interior effects will be trucked to the place on Sonoma Highway.

“We’re going to try to recreate the same feeling,” he said.

It will take some time to transform what was once Roberto’s into the second iteration of The Bird. Castro has a target for opening day.

“I’m shooting for Mother’s Day.”

You can contact Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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