Week of March 14th-20, 1972
Smitty's - Sausalito's Neighborhood Bar
By Swede Pedersen
In tracing the history of Smitty's Bar, as it has been known since 1938, some backtracking had to be done.
Originally, the property belonged to Joe Bettencourt, who had a beer and soda pop bottling plant. In 1916, Joe Bettencourt had his beer bottling plant in a barn on what is now 2000 Bridgeway, next to the old Pembrook Hotel (The Pembrook Hotel in its day housed many bars of which the latest is the Blue Fin. In the 1960's, the upper floors were destroyed by fire).
During this time, Joe Bettencourt received his lager beer in 50 gallon kegs shipped from the Santa Rosa Brewery. Here, Joe would fill his beer bottles from the kegs, the bottles standing in water vats. The bottled beer would then be steamed at 140 degrees and then capped. This process took several hours to accomplish.
Bettencourt decided to move closer to the main drag so he purchased the big barn by Buena Vista Part Site next to where Smitty's now stands, 214 Caledonia. Before Bridgeway was constructed as the main thoroughfare, Caledonia Street used to be the main roadway of Sausalito, coming off of the Water Street and San Carlos intersection. He continued with his beer bottling operation adding soda pop to the plant's efforts during Prohibition.
In 1925, Bettencourt, whose barn set back off of Caledonia Street, added a bar and saloon to further his endeavors in an already flourishing business with soda pop and beer bottling. Jack Witsch and Hans Strittmatter took over after the bootlegging days, incorporating a card room with a "drinking palace." Jack Witch, a good railroad man and Hans Strittmatter, a speculator, had a good business. As the good money spending times faded, the building was vacated for a time and placed in the hands of the bank.
In 1938, railroad man Frank "Smitty" W. Smith, leased the bottling works and saloon, turning it into a bar and Chinese restaurant. In 1941, Smitty was fortunate to win a good sum of money on the Pressman's lottery. With this money, he converted the bottling plant behind the bar and restaurant to three bachelor apartments and a family home as it stands today.
Smitty continued working at his establishment until 1948. (Danny Burns took over the place for a short time during the early part of the war years and then Smitty resumed ownership again.) In 1948, Smitty's daughter and her husband Bill Maahs, purchased the business. (Bill was a retired Navy Chief.) Bill and Susie successfully ran this business until June 1958, when Bill died. Susie, who had strong determination, continued to work behind the plank along with her bartenders.
During the time Susie ran Smitty's, she was awarded many plaques and commendations for her help at Vallejo Naval Hospital and also contributed generously to the Sausalito Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, sending them to camp. She also contributed to the vacation fund of the Spanish classes at Martin Luther King School, allowing the students to visit Mexico. Due to illness, Susie sold her license to her long-standing bartender, George Salata, in December 1968. George, his wife Virginia and son Danny continue making the bar a "family affair" with all pitching in behind the bar with the help of bartenders George Hospador and Jake Anfibilo.
Smitty's sign still hangs in front of the bar for sentimental reasons and George and Virginia are seeing that the "last neighborhood bar" continues with this surprise feeds on days such as Thanksgiving, St. Patrick's Day and other special days -- giving those customers without families a chance to sit down and eat with others, being a part of the neighborhood.
Smitty's is the last bar in Sausalito that has retained its original construction. Here everyone knows each other by first names and can be challenged to a game of shuffleboard or pool or can just relax and watch football or baseball --- it's almost like home.