Stand up and eat
Iconic Willows bar and grill is a roadside attraction
“That’s one tough broad,” Colette said. She took a bite of burger and a swallow of Pale Ale.
Of course ma dear soeur didn’t grow up talking like that—not in chez Bourride—but after five bleu-collar husbands and one concrete contractor from Atlantic City, she’d learned her way around a déjeuner break.
We’d just stopped for lunch at the Last Stand Bar & Grill in Willows on the way home from an impulse trip to see Beach Blanket Babylon in San Francisco. “You owe me this much,” she’d said, parking between a muddy truck with a slobbering black dog in the back and a Jeep flying two American flags the size of my Ikea duvet.
And the tough broad? The bartendress, who had no qualms with F-bombs and was debating something about a “bad call” in a sports game on one of the big-screen televisions—with five or six of her customers, all dressed like plants, in big pants and coats with green and brown splotches on them.
I proudly buttoned my blazer as we made our way to the bar.
Now, Colette was loving her Brad Burger, a 1/3-lb. hamburger patty, with another 1/3-lb. linguica patty ($8.50), named for one of the Last Stand’s chefs. And I had to admit my deep-fried cod sandwich ($6.75) was tasty, despite the fish having spent some time between sea and sandwich frozen in a large waxed box.
Claiming to be “the last outdoor standup bar and grill in the state of California,” the Last Stand is an open-air bar with a foot railing but no bar stools, literally a stand-up bar, with a couple of high yellow Formica tables on the patio, each appointed with an ashtray. Attached is an indoor dining room with six pink and teal tables, five booths, two counters with stools, a gumball machine, and a pool table. The cinderblock walls are decorated with the schedules of sports teams, street signs (“Raiders Blvd.”), and photos of local 4H kids showing their pre-slaughter hogs.
Naturellement, they serve Sunday brunch.
“We had to,” the bartendress said when I asked her about it. “Dudes were lined up here every Sunday morning at 10 to start drinking anyway.”
Naturellement, we had to try it.
And so we found ourselves once again at the Last Stand, this time on a Sunday morning and in the dining room at a table underneath a “One Nation Under Beer” sign. We’d arrived right at 10 and were the only ones there. I’d planned ahead and worn my Randy Jones (Henri’s second favorite Village Person) cowboy hat.
The waitress brought the regular menus—burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches ($4.25-$8.50); chili, soups, and salads ($3.25-$7.75); and fried potatoes, fish and chicken strips ($3.25-$7.25)—then seemed surprised when we asked for the Sunday brunch menu.
“Champagne to start?” she asked.
But of course. “And two coffees,” I added. “Oh, and what kind of champagne is it?” I asked as she walked away.
She turned, looked puzzled, and shrugged.
She returned a few minutes later with menus, the champagne in red-wine goblets, and coffee in paper cups.
“I think I see some bubbles,” I said, holding my glass up against a Budweiser lamp on the wall.
Colette scowled at me. “This isn’t the Ritz,” she said. “Besides, it’s $4. Enjoy it. Oh, and take that hat off!”
And truth be told, we did enjoy the brunch. Colette had the two-egg breakfast ($6.50), with bacon, potatoes and wheat toast, but I think I made the better decision. My breakfast sandwich ($5.75—two scrambled eggs with cheese and bacon on sourdough toast) was very tasty.
By the time we were done, a dozen or so more customers had arrived, their attention divided between the sports on television and the buckets of bottled beer on ice beside them at the bar.
“I was tempted to try the Texas french toast,” I said, as Colette pulled out of the parking lot.
“Really?” she asked. “I wonder what that even is.”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “But I bet it was Jean Wayne’s favorite.”