It’s Wednesday at 6pm. From the jukebox, Stevie Wonder charms the patrons, who are sparsely perched on black leather barstools. It’s dim, but the atmosphere is light-hearted. A couple is kissing—not sloppily—at the end of the bar; an old man and his wiener dog pace the room; two women gossip about the weekend over glasses of red wine; a small clique of the bar’s intimate acquaintances reminisce about the past and present of “the Scrounge.” Over several rounds, Woody Sjostrom (owner), Deryl Northcote (entertainment liaison), and some other locals spilled the best, the worst, and the weirdest of the Towne Lounge’s impressive history:
But first, what is the Towne Lounge? It’s not just a bar; what is it?
“This bar is old school for the old school,” says Deryl. “Forty-six years of 6am to 2am. Here, you can order an ‘Old Fashioned’ or a ‘Manhattan’ and the bartenders know what it is; they’re not pretending to know what it is. There are waitresses, cabbies, nurses, retirees, and people I can’t even describe. It’s a melting pot, really.”
“It’s always been one of those places that people can count on no matter what,” adds Woody. “When the power goes out, we light the candles, and we don’t rely on technology to do business. It’s a community bar that’s ready whenever the patrons are ready.”
Tell me about the bar’s beginning. Who were the key characters in that scene? (“Do You Love Me?” by the Contours jumps from jukebox, which prompts Deryl):
“Can you imagine this song being played for the first time here in 1966? People danced and socialized to this. Think about the longevity of that attitude.”
“And that bar is still the same bar from that time,” Woody explains. “The story goes, when Charlie used to rent the Fong’s building, where Duffy’s is now, he got in an argument with Henry Fong in the middle of the night, and took the bar out, and then drug it over here and started tending bar. And that’s the first owner of the Towne Lounge.”
What about Randy?
“Oh, of course, Randy Ransom. He was here longer than anyone. Longer than Rev even. He’s the personality most people would know from back in the day–morning, noon, and night. And, man, he was strict. He didn’t like vulgarity, and I remember one time he threw this guy out of the bar for saying ‘fuck’ too much. He was the sheriff.”
Talk about Rev (Jim Chadwick).
“Oh, Jimmy!” exclaims Deryl. “The reason Jimmy became Reverend Jimmy is because every Sunday the ladies required their husbands to go to church; and some of the fellas didn’t have ladies but they felt required to go to church anyway…. and Jimmy was an ordained minister, so he used to have sermons right here in the bar.”
As it turned out, on more than one occasion, having a minister on hand made for some other unique memories. Such as this from Chicoan Jora Meeds:
My husband and I had our first date at the Lounge on September 20th of 2010 and frequented the bar through our courtship. He proposed to me and then we started looking for a small place to have our wedding. We were out one night at the Town Lounge and I had had a few drinks and was frustrated about finding a place and asked the bartender jokingly if she knew anyone who could marry us. She informed us that the owner and another employee were ordained ministers and told us to come back the next day. So we did, and on April 26th, 2011, we were the first couple to be wed at the bar. It’s silly to say, but that bar has been a part of our lives, and it’s so sad to see it go.
What’s remained consistent about this bar?
“This is the bar where people come to hide in public” says Woody, in a dapper vest and tie. “It’s where you go on a date with someone you’re not supposed to be on a date with. It’s like a hideout. This is a place where business deals are made; I’ve seen deals go down here that the people in City Council don’t even know about. This is where people have congregated, and still congregate, to talk about things that considerably affect this town. This city was literally built on bars like this one. But now—and this hasn’t been consistent—but everyone’s welcome here; this bar promotes sociability. It’s unfortunate to lose the sociability of a bar like this.”
Indeed it is. And in the spirit of sociability, the gathering of stories went on:
“The Towne Lounge is the best bar in town… it has local color. People who come here know what that means.”
“Back in 2003, we raged ‘til the sun came up. At 6am some of us still wanted to party so we got a cab to the Lounge and all the cab drivers who had just gotten off of work were there. Since we were responsible for their night of money making, the cabbies bought us round after round of shots and drinks. Those stories could not have happened if it weren’t for the Lounge. P.S. People with their shirts off slide down Shuffleboard tables REALLY well!”
“I took five Korean exchange students there once; they were all 21, but none of them had an ID and they all seemed confused about the American bar scene. The barkeep let them in, made them feel welcome, and even bought a round of Olympias, which they didn’t finish. It was weird, but the weirdness and hospitality are what the Lounge is all about.”
“I remember one time some guy started something with Deryl, and this old man at the bar came to his rescue. He said, ‘he may be a fag, but he’s our fag, so you better leave him alone.’ And he did, and that’s as good as it gets. That can only happen at the Towne Lounge. Other bars are concerned with being this bar or that bar or the sports bar or the cowboy bar or the stoner bar, or whatever; the Towne Lounge is everybody’s bar. Everybody might not know it, but it’s everybody’s bar.”
“I just want to thank the patrons for their support, not only for supporting me but for supporting a community here in Chico. The ripples of the Towne Lounge continue to affect people who’ve passed through these doors at one time or another. I’m glad to have been a part of it.”
By Jeremy Gerrard