Al the Wop's, on the mean streets of Locke, Calif.
Sacramento Delta: The down-home restaurant with the un-PC name
Road Journals Blog—To the politically correct, it’s known as Al’s Place Restaurant, a saloon and eatery in downtown Locke, Calif. But locals refer to it as Al the Wop’s. Even says so on the sign out front.
Before you take offense, consider the back story. The restaurant gets its name from Al Adami, a former San Francisco bootlegger who drifted up the Sacramento River in 1934, looking to launch a second career.
Family connections (Adami’s brothers were fishermen who had dealings with restaurant owners up and down the delta) landed him in Locke.
When he opened it, Al’s restaurant was the only non-Chinese-owned business in town. (Locke was founded in 1915 by Chinese immigrants displaced by a fire in adjacent Walnut Grove.) When Al, a good-humored, self-deprecating fellow, arrived, he slapped the wop moniker on himself in playful recognition of his outsider status.
Locke residents frequently say that if the name didn’t bother Al, it shouldn’t bother us.
At any rate, it seems that Al was an equal opportunity jokester. He made a habit of stirring ladies’ drinks with his finger, and if a patron dropped by wearing tie, Al would snip off the offending accessory with scissors.
Ties, it seems, were too formal for his taste.
Al died in 1961, and in the half-century since, little about his establishment has changed. The atmosphere retains its rugged saloon trappings, with an old wood bar and a cowboy mural above the dining room, painted decades ago as payment by a patron who couldn’t otherwise afford his bill.
Al’s new owner is a delta native named Richard Wall who started out at Al’s in the 1980s as a dishwasher. Like Adami, Wall has a nickname; everyone in town knows him as Bubba.
The way Bubba sees it, Al’s time-capsule quality is part of its appeal. Since taking over, he has expanded slightly on the menu (nowadays you can get chicken or a burger in addition to a steak) but otherwise he’s left the aesthetic unchanged.
In other words: It’s still not the sort of place where you show up in a tie.
Josh Sens's articles about the Sacramento Delta will appear on AAA.com/via in June.
Photography by Jitze Couperus/Flickr
This blog post was first published in June 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.