Sacramento Delta: If two heads are better than one, 300 must really be something

Road Journals Blog—It’s not impolite to stare. Not at Foster’s Big Horn, a landmark bar and restaurant in Rio Vista, where first-time visitors can’t help gawking, and the crowd around the bar gawks right back.

A black wolf. A grizzly bear. A hippo. A lion. Hundreds of heads peer down from the walls of the cozy, dark-wood-paneled space, subjecting all who enter to their wide-eyed gaze.

Patrons are guaranteed to meet cougars at the bar at Foster's Big Horn. | Orin Zebest/Flickr

Don’t be embarrassed to return the gesture. That’s what Bill Foster wanted when he opened this establishment in the 1950s and used it as a showcase for his favorite memorabilia—items he collected during decades of travel around the globe.

Foster was a hunter and a taxidermist, and by the time he gave up his twin pastimes he’d bagged and mounted more than 300 exotic trophies, including the head of an enormous African elephant (the trunk is 13 feet long and each tusk weights 110 pounds) that hangs from the back wall of Foster’s dining room.

Ever dine under an elephant? | Ray Weitzenberg/Flickr

At the time the moose above the bar (antler spread of 76 inches) was mounted more than 50 years ago, it was believed to be the largest specimen of its kind in the world.

Foster, who died in 1963, grew up in Hayward, and in his youth worked as an apprentice for a hunter who made black-and-white movies of the wildlife he pursued. As the years went by, Foster delved into bootlegging and moved to the delta, before eventually embarking on his international adventures.

As his trophy collection grew, Foster came to see himself as a kind of environmental steward, preserving for the public evidence of a vanishing world. Whether or not you see that as a grimly ironic (or, at the very least, a strange form of conservationism), the trophies Foster left behind make for a striking sight.

So go ahead: no one will begrudge you your urge to stare.

Josh Sens's articles about the Sacramento Delta will appear on in June. 

This blog post was first published in June 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.