Friday, January 31, 2014

Annoying Overly Sensitive Leftists Since 1934

Al the Wop’s
13943 Main St.
Locke, CA

I’m a sucker for any place with a colorful history and scruffy charm.

Even more so if the name of the place includes an ethnic slur.

Apparently “wop” is a politically incorrect term for someone from Southern Italy.

I had no idea.

Can I be accused of insensitivity for reviewing a place with “wop” in the title, even if I didn’t know what “wop” meant?

Just wondering.

In California, the answer is probably “yes”.

That’s one good reason right there to buy the shirt, I guess.

Locke, California is a forgotten Chinese ghost town of ramshackle wooden buildings lined up either side of a dusty little street deep in the heart of the Sacramento River Delta.

Chinese immigrants came into the delta originally to help build the levees that contain the Sacramento River in its banks.

Later, more Chinese came here to work on the farmland that spills out across the fertile plains of the Delta.

Wanting a place of their own, in 1915, several Chinese workers laid out and built this one block town.

In its heyday, as many as 600 Chinese lived in the wooden shacks lining Main Street and patronized Locke’s infamous brothels and gambling dens.

Famous as the only town in America built by Chinese for Chinese, there’s not much left of Locke to look at.

Only ten of the remaining 70 residents are Chinese.

Strolling by the dilapidated buildings, a lady painting pictures on the hood of her car put down her paint brush and just stared at me.

Don’t worry. I’m used to this.

I knew what she was going to say before she even opened her mouth.

“You’re alwul overdressed for Locke! Nobody around here dresses like that,” she said.

Mistaking me for some big city lawyer or consultant, she began a ten minute description of how she has been victimized by the local corrupt town counsel.

“I paid $22,000 for one of these run down shacks and then three days after the deal closed the city told me I couldn’t buy because the original Chinese landowners must be given first right of refusal.

“So I can’t buy a building in America because I’m not Chinese?!?”

I sympathized as she told me the tiny town had spent $50,000 of its $60,000 budget suing her for “breach of contract” simply because she tried to purchase one of its run-down buildings.

While I felt sorry for her, immersing myself into the politics of a 70 person Chinese ghost town was a bit above my pay grade, so I excused myself as I strolled into Locke’s most famous establishment, Al the Wop’s.

In 1934, an Italian named Al Adami opened his saloon with money he earned from taking the rap and serving jail time for a bootlegging family member.

Al the Wop’s was the only non-Chinese place in town.

At 11:30am the bar stools were already filling up with a fun-loving crowd of local farmers and fishermen.

As usual, I was the only one in the place wearing a suit.

And the only one the bartender didn’t know.

And the only one not knocking back shots of Crown Royal on a Monday morning.

I ordered a water as I pulled up a rickety stool and tried unsuccessfully to position myself comfortably in the middle section of the bar that sloped downhill at a ten degree angle.

Apparently those Chinese in 1915 didn’t know how to use a level.

Farm paraphernalia and deer heads decorated the bar, along with a few hundred bucks worth of one dollar bills mysteriously stapled to the ceiling.

The juke box was blasting out one great cowboy tune after another as the lady behind the bar hummed along to “Tight Fittin’ Jeans.”

Conway Twitty. Dwight Yoakam. Townes Van Zant.

At least someone in the place had good taste in music I thought as I told my bartender I’d take the famous Al the Wop’s steak sandwich.

It is a sandwich only in the sense that the bartender served me meat and bread -- on two completely separate plates.

My steak came out cooked to a perfect pink, nice and juicy but devoid of any seasoning or smoky flavor.

A standard issue sirloin, Al’s isn’t going to threaten any of the top-notch steak houses further south in Santa Maria, that’s for sure.

On another plate came five thick-cut slices of Italian bread still warm and crisp from being griddled on the flat top.

To be honest, that bread was the highlight of the meal.

And a perfect delivery vehicle for Al the Wop’s other famous delicacy -- peanut butter.

Peanut butter?

Yeah, for decades, folks have been spreading peanut butter and marmalade on Al’s good Italian bread.

I was expecting some sort of homemade, hand-churned Al the Wop special peanut butter.


Just opened jars of Jif with spoons planted into the standard grocery store peanut butter scattered along the bar top.

Well, that was a letdown.

Young Suit757 was a picky eater. I literally had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every single day of my life for lunch from first grade through junior high. And probably every other day during high school and college.

And you know what?

I haven’t had a one since.

I got my lifetime’s supply of peanut butter in my first 22 years.

But being a good sport, I played along and slathered some Jif and marmalade onto my bread and took a bite.

Not bad. I’m not saying I’m turning in my suitly credentials and going back to the diet of an eight year old, but I can kind of remember the appeal now.

Then again, maybe it’s just that good bread.

I bet California tofu would taste decent on freshly griddled Italian bread.

Don’t worry. I’m not trying that anytime soon.

As I polished off my last bite of steak to the sweet sound of John Fogerty crooning about being “stuck in Lodi again,” I wondered whether I liked this place or not.

This is something that we world famous restaurant reviewers have to contemplate. We can’t just pay our bill and hit the I-5.

Some sort of deep philosophical analysis of Al the Wop’s was in order.

But how do you rate a century-old dive bar with ordinary food and a good juke box?

I mean, Al the Wop’s can’t be famous for its stovetop steaks.

Or it’s jars of Safeway-bought Jif.

There has to be something more that draws folks to this remote Delta dive.

I think that something is authenticity.

Like the overall-wearing locals knocking back Monday morning whiskeys…

…like Townes Van Zant crying on the juke box “for the sake of the song”…

…like the weathered signs dangling from the dilapidated porches on Main Street…

…like the politically incorrect name of this joint that has graced the front window for 80 years…

Al the Wop’s is a unique slice of authentic America that is getting harder and harder to find in our homogenized franchised world.

That’s still worth a few points in Suit757’s book.

Besides, how cool would it be to walk around Berkley sporting an Al the Wop t-shirt?

Yeah, I’m a sucker ever time.

Rating: Seriously Thought about Buying Shirt (just to annoy some overly sensitive leftists).

Al's Place - Al the Wop's on Urbanspoon


  1. The peanut butter was for the steak! :)

    1. That's just too weird...even for Suit757.