Rio Nido Roadhouse to reopen three months after destructive Russian River flood

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The water had receded but layers of slippery mud still coated everything in sight when Brad and Raena Metzger first walked together onto the grounds of the Rio Nido Roadhouse to try to measure what the flood this February had taken from them.

The gritty stew of brown water that Brad Metzger had watched swallow up their business two days earlier had infiltrated every corner and crevice of the establishment. It wrecked a kitchen full of commercial appliances and all of the electrical equipment. Heavy picnic tables and chairs were floated into a pile resting against the fence. The high-water mark outside the bar is still clearly visible — at 6 feet 4 inches above the ground.

Raena Metzger, heavily pregnant with a baby girl born a month ago, said she and her husband had no idea where to start or what to do as they gazed around the business in which they had invested 12 years of their lives.

“It was completely overwhelming,” she recalled Friday. “We were just kicking things around and kind of sliding in the mud.”

She wondered, “Do we just go home?”

Then people just started showing up. One would turn a chair right-side-up, squeegee a window or pick up debris, another would start hosing down the concrete or bring by a power washer. They were friends, neighbors and regular customers of the destination eatery and pub, with an alluring outdoor patio and a pool. They started working when the Metzgers were still too overcome to act.

“That’s how it started,” Raena Metzger said.

In the 10 weeks since, a small army of volunteers has labored continuously alongside the Metzgers and a few paid contractors to restore the roadhouse. More helpers came out for the final push in the past few days.

They included staff members — manager Kate Robenolt and bartender Melissa Damasauskas — plus regular customers and retired contractors Doug Misner and Steve Bailey, and “Friend of the Bar” Scott Ades, a skilled carpenter.

“This is the heart of Rio Nido, and we want to see it open again,” Misner said as he prepared to hang a door Friday.

The result is the roadhouse will reopen Saturday with a barbecue, fundraiser and live music event.

It’s going to be a soft opening, with limited hours and a short menu for at least the next week.

But the Metzgers expect to be back to their regular hours May 18 — seven days, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., breakfast 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays — and will be “in full battle rattle” for the season by Memorial Day.

”You hear a lot about how the community really came together, and the community this and the community that,” said Brad Metzger, 49. “Well, the community saved this business. I could not have done this without the volunteer help from these folks. The community saved this business.”

The roadhouse is a longtime fixture in the redwood canyon off the north shore of the Russian River, part of what was once a lively playground for San Franciscans in need of a break from city life.

During its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s, visitors would flock to Rio Nido to enjoy the river by day and big band greats by night at the now-closed Rio Nido Lodge, according to local histories. Later, the Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead headlined village shows.

While many of the commercial buildings of a century ago are no longer standing, the roadhouse has continued to grow, mainly since 2007, when the Metzgers bought what was basically a small bar with a swimming pool and snack stand dating from the 1940s. They added a kitchen and covered the patio to create a restaurant that’s open year-round including Christmas and Thanksgiving.

But when the most destructive flood in nearly a quarter century hit the lower Russian River in February, it looked as if the roadhouse was done for good.

The floodwater turned the lawn and pool area into a broad lake that rose to the awning at the front entrance.

Still, when the water subsided, county inspectors who surveyed the business declared it fixable, providing the impetus and the hope the couple needed to move forward.

The sheetrock, insulation, the wooden bar, furnishings and most everything but the framing and concrete floor pads would need to go, Metzger said.

Raena, “the ultimate optimist,” according to her husband, “was on the phone with the insurance company while she was in labor, three hours before she had the baby,” Metzger said. “If it wasn’t for Raena, I would not have done this. I would not have been able to do this.”

It wasn’t until two weeks ago that they saw any money from their insurance, and the costs of restoring the roadhouse have exceeded what they’ll get in reimbursement. Plus, they’ve had no income for three months, Metzger said.

But the community was behind them from the beginning, raising more than $32,000 toward the recovery effort and donating labor.

“We love the guys and love the place and want to see it come together,” said electrician David Tippey, who combined a paid gig with a labor of love.

Kurt Yates, another die-hard customer who is retired started in March, helped tearing out sodden wallboard. On Friday he was still at work.

“We want our roadhouse back,” he said.

It was a major push to get the final tasks completed, with new kitchen equipment just arriving Thursday and the stainless steel surfaces going in Friday.

A building inspector arrived Friday morning before a glass repairman replaced a window and before a kitchen door had been hung, so it was touch-and-go for several hours as to whether the Saturday event would be permitted to go on.

But building and health inspectors signed off by day’s end, after several frantic hours of effort by regulars and those who could spare just an hour or two for the final crunch.

“This is the community center,” said Marsee Henon, a neighbor and onetime board member of Friends of Rio Nido. “Definitely the whole community is feeling the loss that there’s no roadhouse. The minute this place was under water, everyone wanted to know what to do.”

Turning to the Metzgers, she said, “There was literally no chance that you guys were not going to reopen.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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