Growing up in Montana, Jerry Wolfe remembers hearing 1970s country music, eating peanuts and seeing the glow of red lights as he went from bar to bar while his dad ran Keno games. His newest bar on Sacramento Street is modeled after those small-town country bars.
“I’ve embraced everything country, and this reminds me of the country bars when I’d follow my dad after school,” Wolfe said.
The Whisky Barrel Saloon opened up in January and will have its official, catered grand opening at 3 p.m. on Jan. 21.
The bar used to be Last Call, but Wolfe has completely changed the decor, atmosphere and the music playing on the jukebox. He is appealing to the older crowd, and country music has replaced the R&B that used to blare.
“I want to have a bar I would come to with my friends, and Last Call never felt that way,” he said.
People are now greeted with Christmas lights draped from beam to beam and wooden barrels overflowing with peanuts. Discarded shells litter the floor and are swept up about every three weeks.
Off to the side is a piano player and a small sitting area, where a woman worked on a computer Wednesday using the bar’s free wireless.
The building has been a bar for the last 103 years, and the exposed brick gives it a vintage feel. Some of the decorations, including a flickering Miller Lite sign that says “If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer,” date back to the ’70s and are from some of those bars in Montana.
All of the tables are made out of whiskey barrels with the bar’s name written across the top, handcrafted by Wolfe’s mom and her boyfriend. All of the drinks will be served in Mason jars or small glass boots.
The bar specializes in whiskey drinks with more than 35 whiskeys available, including bourbons, ryes and whiskeys from Scotland and Ireland.
“There isn’t a country bar in Lodi, and I felt like I was competing with all of the Downtown bars. I wanted to set myself apart,” Wolfe said.
The top drinks will likely be the Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and then margaritas. The bar got the recipe from Revolucion 1910, a now-closed Lodi restaurant.
Head bartender Mark Stephens worked at both Mojo’s and Last Call before the Whisky Barrel Saloon.
He crafts drinks like the Southern Belle with Crown Royal and pineapple, orange and cherry juice. He also created the Huge Texas Tea, which is an upgraded Long Island with added tequila.
Starting after the grand opening on Jan. 21, the bar will fire up a grill in the back on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays to provide hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad and baked beans to people who purchase a certain shot between 6 and 10 p.m.
When the bar was still Last Call, they started a trivia night on Wednesdays that still packs the bar four months later. The topics vary each week, and the regular participants alternate who prepares the questions.
While sitting at the bar drinking a beer, Lodi resident Dave Contreras said he loves playing trivia at the bar every Wednesday. It was his turn to come up with the trivia, and he was planning to include questions where people sculpt the clues.
“It’s just a great environment. I’ve never been a bar person, but I don’t know what it is about this place. I think it’s the friendliness,” he said.
Stockton resident Kelly Dixon also comes to the bar for the trivia.
“People know they can come and have a good time but they aren’t going to get away with drama. And where else in Lodi can you ride a saddle?” she said while pointing at a barrel with a saddle strapped on top.
Later this month, there will also be winetasting on Mondays with Van Ruiten Winery and Abundance Vineyards. On Thursdays, there will be karaoke.
After Jan. 21, starting at 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, Ronny G, a local instructor, will be at the bar teaching line dancing.
Wolfe got his start bartending locally at Garlic Brothers restaurant in Stockton. When he decided to switch Last Call to a country bar, he wanted to keep it on Sacramento Street because it fits more in Lodi.
“I didn’t think something like this would fly in Stockton,” Wolfe said. “The people are friendly here, there is not much crime, and I feel like it’s a small country town and reminds me of where I’m from.”
Stephens said the new bar will fit with Lodi’s farming community, and he is already recognizing regulars.
“The vibe is what I’m most excited about. It is what this Lodi bar should’ve been in the first place: A place that feels like home,” Stephens said.