You’ll never drink alone at Steiners in Sonoma. It’s 7 a.m. on a Monday, the regular crowd shuffles in. There’s an old man sitting next to me, savoring a tonic and gin.
And next to him, there’s a fellow in younger man’s clothes, sipping an espresso.
OK, that’s not quite how the Billy Joel song goes, and my rhymes are tortured. But it’s a perfect snapshot of a typical morning at Steiners Tavern, an iconic spot on the Sonoma Plaza that’s been welcoming customers of all kinds since 1927.
By noon, the scene has changed. True, Ron DeArmit at the bar is a friend of mine, and while he doesn’t get me my drinks for free, he does suggest bargain price options — maybe a beer on tap ($5) or a cosmo ($6). Or perhaps, like the businesspeople at nearby tables, I’m just here for a quick, pleasing lunch of a perfect, over-stacked turkey-bacon club sandwich with fries ($12) and a diet cola.
At 9 p.m. on a Saturday, the regular crowd isn’t shuffling in — they’re streaming in. The hipsters order trendy craft cocktails, and the locals stick to their favorite old fashioneds or Negronis that the bartenders start mixing as soon as the regulars walk in the door. Here and there are tourists drinking everything and anything, delighted they found this old-school jewel in an increasingly glamorous Wine Country.
Indeed, depending on the time you visit — Steiners is open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week — you’ll see such a variety of people that it’s impossible to pigeonhole the place.
“Clientele is like six different entities,” said owner Paul Spadaro. “Through early morning, midmorning, early afternoon, midafternoon, evening and late night, we’ve always been the bar that’s open to anybody. Some people think, ‘Oh it’s a locals bar; you can’t go in there unless you’re one of them.’ And then they come in and realize, ‘Oh wow, this is pretty cool.’”
It’s true that the red neon Steiners sign is a beacon of friendliness and comfort, particularly after our recent tumultuous years. The walls are cluttered with historic black-and-white photos of Sonoma, including one of tavern founder John Steiner, who first opened the bar in his former Union Hotel at West Napa Street and Highway 12.
A few months ago, Chef Maria “Cha Chi” Vazquez came on board, dialing up things even more with rotating specials such as chilaquiles, huevos rancheros topped in avocado, tangy chicken enchiladas with rice and black beans, hearty pozole, fluffy chile cheese tamales and penne pasta in creamy chile poblano sauce with chicken.
On the everyday menu, breakfast tacos are particularly delicious, bringing two hefty delights loaded with eggs, bacon, country potatoes, ranchera salsa, cotija, avocado and sour cream on flour tortillas ($13). Try them with a bloody mary, zesty and delicious with mix made from scratch.
Regulars know Steiners is also a secret spot for good seafood, such as fish ‘n’ chips ($13), shrimp cocktail ($9) and silky lox for piling on bagels with capers, onions and cream cheese ($14).
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Story by: Carey Sweet who is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at email@example.com.
Published December 23, 2021 for the Press Democrat.
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