There’s a novel waiting to be written and the subject of its contents sits just east of the main intersection at 401 E. F St., Oakdale.
The old brick building which occupies one city block has been home to the H-B Saloon since 1952. On Friday, Feb. 22 the Bacigalupi family will celebrate 80 years of slinging drinks to the community of Oakdale, as well as tourists spanning the globe who have made a stop at the local establishment.
Currently owned by Mike Bacigalupi, it was his grandfather David Bacigalupi who first began the family legacy in 1939 when he opened “The Club” at the corner of South Third and F Street.
“They moved here the year I was born,” Mike said of the current location. “He had a partner named Frank Hendrick and they were partners until ’58. When they parted ways the name was already established, so he just left it H-B (Hendrick and Bacigalupi).
“His brother-in-law’s dad built the building in 1915. The Rodden Brothers, their son Vernon and my grandpa married sisters, so they were brother-in-laws. The place that was here before was called Hinky Dinks. They moved out in ’52 and that’s when Vernon called my grandpa and said, why don’t you move down here. It’s a bigger building, you’re on the way to Sonora now instead of being off to the wrong side of the traffic.”
It was a move that would not only prove to be beneficial to the family business, but to travelers as well. According to Mike, the location sees its fair share of regulars by way of vacation home owners stopping by on their way up the hill, as well as tourists stopping in to check out the old saloon.
“It’s part of Oakdale, I think,” Mike shared. “It’s been in magazines. In Cowboys and Indians it was ranked one of the top Cowboy Bars in the country. It’s not really a cowboy bar, it’s more of a ranching bar, but I rodeoed, my boys rodeoed. Everybody feels like they’re family, when they’re in here and that’s what we want it to be. When my granddaughters are here, they run around like they own it.”
Yet it didn’t start out that way. According to the grandson of the bar founder, early on there were certain rules in place, not adhered to today. Rules which might upset the modern lady, yet were well understood in their day.
“In the ‘50s, women weren’t allowed in here unescorted,” Mike explained. “That was my grandpa’s rule. All the guys would get off work and they all would come in here for a drink and if there was a single woman in here, it could cause a family problem.”
Raised in the family business just as his two boys were and now his granddaughters, H-B is home to Mike. A 1970 Oakdale High School alum, Mike ventured into the Air Force Reserve for two years post-graduation. In 1972 he started driving for Diamond Lumber. By the age of 26 he became a part owner of the H-B Saloon.
According to Mike his grandfather had shared with his dad Glenn (a longtime employee of A.L. Gilbert) that if someone didn’t take over he’d sell. Happy to keep the family business going, Mike stepped in. After a short handful of years, Mike bought his partner out and ran the business with the help of his mother, Bernie.
“My mom and I own the building now,” he said of the iconic brick building that is a well-known downtown staple. “My mom’s 89 and she still comes down here three days a week. She goes in and does the books, does some of my banking.”
Over the past 80 years of business the saloon has seen many trends, as well as transitions. From pool tables, to dance floors, café counters to dine in options – the bar still remains.
“In the ‘80s because of Urban Cowboy, this place was bombing,” Mike said of the western boom, noting there were nights they were so busy, people couldn’t get in the door.
Rodeo Week in Oakdale nowadays sees the same issue, with a line waiting to get in.
There has also been some expansion over the years.
“When we first opened we had the Basque family style,” Mike shared of the adjoining Bachi’s Restaurant. “It just got to be so costly. My boys want to go back to doing it once a month.”
Mike’s sons Bo and Tony, both grew up in the family business. Bo still tends bar on occasion and Tony enjoys coming down for an early cup of coffee with his son and a few of the regulars prior to opening hours.
“It’s awesome,” Tony said of his upbringing. “That’s why I haven’t moved. I love it here.
“It’s hard to explain,” he continued. “I didn’t know any different. It’s just something you get used to. It’s no different being a bar owner, than a rancher really … and really you’re part of the ranching family too ‘cause they’re all here. It’s where they have their business meetings.”
Business meetings which, according to both men, have been a long time tradition of the H-B. Often referred to by the ranchers as “the office” back in the day, as they would utilize the bar telephone booth to take calls and make deals.
“The history, you could probably ask families around the area that talk about their grandparents being here, making business deals,” Tony said. “Buying cattle and all the stuff that’s come through. All the money that’s exchanged hands, it’s like a second home for a lot of people.”
He also vividly remembers the ‘office’ phone.
“That thing never stopped ringing,” Tony recalled from his younger days of the old wooden booth which once held a landline telephone. “A lot of people made business deals right in that phone booth. That booth has history. The funny thing about that phone booth is it’s still used. People step in there and close the door to use their cell phones. It’s sound proof.”
Rodeo Weekend, the second weekend in April continues to be the largest draw for the Bacigalupi family business. Mike noted rodeo is equally part of their lives as each of the three men have seen some time on to rodeo circuit.
The second busiest time of the year proves as tribute to the local connection and the feeling of “home” built by the family and shared by the community.
“Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the second biggest day,” Tony said. “Kids are coming home, they’re turning 21. It’s like a family night though. From like about 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. you’ve got parents with their kids, having their first drink, because they’ve been away at college. Then afterwards the kids kind of get back and have little reunions.”
A literal lifetime of memories shared by generations both within the Bacigalupi family, as well as a large number of community members and their families.
“I’d probably have to attribute a lot of it to, my grandpa had an old saying and we’ve kind of kept it up,” Mike said of the bar’s longevity and connection to the community. “It’s a lot easier to give than it is to receive.
“He always donated and we do the same. It’s just something that was always instilled in us.”
“A lot of people just come in because they’ve heard about the place and they just look at pictures,” Tony shared. “And yeah sometimes it looks a little different, but it looks like home. You feel at home. It’s not too fancy, it’s just home. Come have a drink with a buddy and relax.”