FORT BRAGG, 4/11/23 — A chef-artist is working to open a new kind of eatery and wine and beer bar in the old Caspar Inn, the Mendocino’s Coast fabled roadhouse bar. The opening is planned for Thursday with full opening by summer, as the coast’s hospitality business remakes itself. Unlike many of the corporate buying of inns from Fort Bragg to Albion, the former Caspar Inn once again promises to be the eclectic creation of individuals. The Caspar Inn is one of the last of am American cultural institution- The Roadhouse. Roadhouses offered upstairs rooms, dancing, music and food downstairs. They were important to many American musical and cultural traditions.
In this case, the inn is seeking its roots as a novel venue for the nearly famous. Peter Lit, now 79, oversaw the inn’s heyday in the ‘80s and ‘90s. “It’s not like we ever had the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. But we had some very well known musicians either coming up or going down who played there,” Lit said in a recent interview. He owned the Inn for two decades.
The Inn has a long, speckled history, dating to the late 19th century or early 20th century. The inn included 10 housing units upstairs, which have ranged from a reputed brothel in the earliest days (although that may have been an earlier hotel) to a crash pad for drunks to rental units, the last now so badly needed on the coast. County files show work is also underway on the housing units.
This Thursday, the Inn will be relaunched as The Caspar Hub/Good Bones Kitchen with a return of live music, featuring Gillian Grogan, Tomo Nakayama and Bryan Appleby. Doors open at 5 p.m.
In a break in the rain recently, the new owners were working on fixing it up as an eatery, wine and beer bar and music venue. The upstairs is also being remodeled. The application for the new beer and wine license shows that Little Bear Kitchens is the owner.
County records show Thomas A. Rosskopf purchased the property from trusts of Richard R. Green and Dorothy Keller for $950,000 in February 2022. The Caspar Inn had become the Caspar Pub House several years ago, operated by local teacher Danny Ramirez and his family, but the English pub-themed operation was just taking off when the pandemic hit and closed.
Business owner Miles McCreary plans to bring his unique flare to the inn’s rejuvenation. A former Bay Area chief and artist, his kitchen-themed art has been featured at the Mendocino Art Center.
Inn a Live Music Hotspot for Decades
The Coast’s culture has changed dramatically since Peter Lit, now 79, bought the Caspar Inn in 1979. Famous people like John Lee Hooker, Etta James, George Winston and Bonnie Raitt played Caspar Inn. “It became a fun spot for musicians who often talked about it,” Lit said. When someone like J.J Cale came to support his friends, Lit did not publicize his name and that brought dividends. Lit’s Caspar Inn built a reputation that he said often carried more weight than money when it came to a venue that could fit a maximum of about 200. “What the place is doesn’t matter so much after a while. What matters is it’s obviously OK, look who else has been there,” he explained.
He worked himself into burnout but still thinks it was more than worth it, recalling performances that transported him into another dimension. One was Otis Clay and the Chicago Fire, another was Chris Duarte. “When you are a bar owner and work every night until late, it takes a lot to transport you, but there were those nights.”
“On any given night, I was the MC, the sound man, the bouncer, the backup bartender, the backup doorman and the janitor,” he remembered.
Lit donated many of the old Caspar Inn’s music posters and other memorabilia to the Kelley House Museum in Mendocino. Lit kept his calendar of performers, which often featured as many as three top acts a week. Many of the posters of famous performers were illustrated by the likes of John Chamberlain, Bob Avery, and Bob Ross. The calendar included the likes of bluesmen Taj Mahal, Chambers Bros., Chambers Bros., Willie Dixon, John Hammond and J.J. Cale. Another favorite was Odetta, an African American civil rights activist and singer and guitarist who created powerful folk music that combined blues, jazz and opera.
The Caspar Inn became a popular reggae venue, after Lit helped save a Jamaican band, Ras Michael & The Sons of Negus, abandoned at an airport by their “manager.” There were bands that came to Caspar from Africa, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, often presenting music rarely heard in the USA. Bands also came from South America and Europe.
Lit was sometimes controversial for his flamboyant style and the Inn’s wild times. He offered art and culture nights and drew some big names there. “I remember Lawrence Ferlinghetti holding a glass of wine, wearing a turtleneck and sportcoat and reading poetry to a crowd of mostly elderly women. When people would talk to those women about the Caspar Inn being a place for wild hippies, those women would say, `Oh, no, it’s not like that.’”
Lit also featured music that wasn’t welcome elsewhere. He remembers a great night provided by the Fabulous Dyketones. It was touchy in those days booking gay and lesbian acts, he said.
When Lit bought the Caspar Inn there were bullet holes in the front door, and brawls were common in local bars. People traveled from all over Northern California to drink in Fort Bragg’s numerous bars and partake in rowdy times. “There was blood and glass on many Friday nights in Fort Bragg in those days. And when people were 86ed from bars in Fort Bragg, they often came by Caspar,” Lit said.
“I needed to change that for my venue. I wanted a place where women could come and feel safe,” he said.
He remembered a night where there was a prizefight in Fort Bragg, and fans got worked up about the result. A logging crew broke up two bars in Fort Bragg, and Lit heard they were on the way to Caspar.
“This was a real rowdy bunch, they had broken furniture, punched innocent bystanders, broken glass and closed those bars down.”
When they came, he insisted they be arrested and charges pressed. “They were wild. They were punching women,” he said. When he sought to get other bars on board for pressing charges in cases like this the answer would be: “The other bars refused to go along because they said they were good customers.”
Lit worked hard to establish a good relationship with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, not being demanding about pressing charges or making them take drunks over the hill to Ukiah. Soon they were working together to solve the problems of repeat troublemakers. The Caspar Inn was also famous for its annual Halloween Party. After Lit sold in the late 1990s, the property went through several managers before closing about 2013, then reopening just before the pandemic as the Caspar Pub House.
Disputes about the inn’s origins
Some online sources say the inn opened in 1906, such as the LoopNet listing for the property. Others say the 19th century. Lit doesn’t think the building is that old and places its beginnings between 1911 and 1913.
“When I opened I had a lot of people come in and tell me about the origins. Somebody would say my uncle built this and somebody else would tell me another part. I listened to them all and came up with the early 20th century. I didn’t hear the19th century as the beginning back then.”
He said there was a more traditional hotel on a different part of the property in the 19th century, which may have created confusion.
Lit is happy the new owners are bringing back live music. He hopes for more music venues where musicians can play. “The Caspar Inn was my baby. It would be wonderful if someone could bring it back to life,” Lit said.