As owner of Hollister’s famous biker bar, Johnny’s Bar & Grill, for more than seventeen years I’ve always reveled in its history. When my bartender Jeana, who worked for the previous owner and outdates me, told me that her husband came across a July 1987 Free Lance newspaper he had saved with an article about the fortieth anniversary of the biker invasion I was tickled pink. When she asked if I’d like to see it, my reply was a resounding yes.
The article in the July 6, 1987 Freelance was titled, “Bikers make peaceful visit to town,” with the sub-title, “Return to where it all began.” Written by Free Lance reporter Greg Rudder the opening paragraph reads: With black shoulder length hair and a red headband with the Hells Angels “death head” insignia snugly tied on his forehead,” Rick Mar of Seaside revels with abandon with his friends outside Johnnies Bar Saturday. I changed the ie to a y when I bought Johnny’s, but that’s a tale for another day.
He goes on to say that, “the throaty roar of Harley Davidson motorcycles rushed by him and his mates on San Benito Street.” He reported that approximately 200 Hells Angels motorcycle club members and other bikers packed the main streets of Hollister that July Fourth weekend in 1987 for the same reason that they always have. Hollister has a place in history for bikers that revels all others. The 1947 biker “riots” set us apart and have always been commemorated in some way since that time. Rally or no rally, bikers who embrace history have made their way back to where it all began and this article as well as many others is a validation of that fact.
I got goose bumps reading the article as I stood at the end of my bar. Rudder reported that Hollister City Councilman Leonard Poletti, who was a sixteen year old spectator in 1947, along with fellow councilman Joe Paul Gonzales, and I quote, “Had a drink and a chat with some of the bikers at Johnnies on Saturday.” Poletti said, “It brought back old memories, it didn’t chill me.” He told the reporter that he even debated bringing his video camera downtown to photograph for historical purposes but changed his mind. Darn, I wish he hadn’t changed his mind. I’ve asked everyone I can think of for some old Johnny’s photos and no one has been able to provide me with any.
Poletti said the bikers were friendly people, relatively clean, and had nice looking women with them. According to the article the only damage reported was accidental breakage of a couple of glass fixtures at Johnny’s and the bikers who broke them helped to clean up the mess.
Rudder said that Johnny’s and Nino’s Pizza next door cashed in on the bikers visit and Nino’s co-owner Joe Felice said, “We’ de like to see them come back every weekend.” He also said that the bikers were even cleaner than the attendees at the preceding weekend’s Horse Show Parade.
It was reported in another article in the same paper that only one biker was arrested and it was for outstanding traffic violations. Drunken driving arrests were down from the previous year. There was one instead of two.
It’s hard to believe how much things have changed. The one thing that never changes is the attitude of the wonderful bikers. They are the nicest people whose camaraderie cannot be matched. I am honored to own a bar steeped in biker history. And I’m thrilled to be able to share some of the wonderful tales. After working for years on the project, I’ve finally finished my memoir about my life at Johnny’s. Between its pages, I share a lot of Johnny’s history while sharing my story.
Please join me Saturday April 20th at 4:00 p.m. at Johnny’s Bar & Grill, 526 San Benito St. for my book launch party and signing. I’ll have lots of appetizers and as always a good time is guaranteed.
Charisse Tyson is owner of Johnny’s Bar & Grill.