Tahoe’s legendary Bacchi’s Inn is quietly closing after 90 years

Bacchi’s Inn, a favorite for generations of Tahoe families, including mine, no longer.

With a final service before a packed house of mostly locals to pay their respects, the restaurant – which had just celebrated its 90th anniversary – quietly closed on September 11 for good.

Set back from a small cove in a neighborhood called Lake Forest, the legendary Italian restaurant sprang to life on the north shore of the lake, beginning as a summertime haunt during the basin’s rise to prominence as a destination.

Over the years, Bacchi’s many clients, as well as the family itself, have given Tahoe some of its most memorable sightings and stories.

Al Pacino and Diane Keaton, a recurring Hollywood couple, were spotted having dinner several times in 1973 while filming “The Godfather Part II” on the West Coast, with the crew of that film. Rumor has it that Michael Corleone’s dark study, juxtaposed against the shimmering blue lake in the backdropwas, in part, inspired by Bacchi’s dark, rustic interiors.

Al Pacino in “The Godfather II”.

Paramount Home Entertainment

More recently, the restaurant made headlines following a bear encounter in 2010 when its owner shot and killed a 500 pound black bear who made Bacchi’s dining room his winter residence.

For Tahoe residents, Bacchi’s was the place to go to mark our most important events: birthdays, graduations, celebrations. My own family were among the restaurant regulars – my earliest memory of being dressed and itching for a fancy restaurant dinner was at Bacchi’s Inn.

The restaurant was instantly dark as a movie theater as we slipped into the long Tahoe summer afternoon. Once we crossed the threshold, we were transported to dine among generations of Tahoe’s finest, past and present. But everything, even the long Italian dinners, eventually comes to an end.

“We’re done,” William “Pops” Hunter, the maternal grandson of founders George and Josephine Bacchi, who opened the restaurant in 1932, told SFGATE. year. I’ve been doing it for 65 years. It was just time.

Prior to closing, Hunter’s son Everett, the fourth-generation co-owner, split his time between waiting tables, front door, cash register and bar and another full-time job while his father ran the kitchen. “It was too hard for all of us,” Hunter said. “No one here you can hire to work. We refused 50, 60 people per night. We couldn’t seat them.

The restaurant began when the Bacchis—immigrants from Sicily who arrived on Ellis Island in 1905 and lived in Sacramento—cooked big Italian meals for workers, families, and friends by the lake.

Josephine’s dishes caught the eye of heiress and philanthropist Lora J. Knight, best known for funding Charles Lindbergh’s record-breaking transatlantic flight. Knight was also the woman behind Vikingsholm Castle in Emerald Bay, and the Bacchis were her go-to caterer. Over time, she encouraged the family to open their own business.

The Bacchis bought a plot, built half a dozen cabins and a small truck stop topped by an apartment, then painted it fire engine red. As nearby lots began to see more development, the couple fed construction workers three meals a day. Once the neighborhood took shape, they stayed open for family-style Italian dining during the summer months.

The restaurant gained a reputation as a destination before Interstate 28 circled the lake or Interstate 80 brought visitors there. For decades, it was the “only show in town,” according to Hunter.

Highway 28 would eventually hide Bacchi from view, beginning in the 1950s. Yet the restaurant has become a Tahoe icon – not just for its mountain version of the traditional Italian meal, but for its refusal to be anything other than the accessible, inhabited joint that had opened at the height of the Depression.

The dim lighting, the woodwork, the dark ceiling beams, the comfy red leather chair in the corner of the bar that a child could get lost in…it was all mixed with big band sounds or Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett to kick off the upcoming special evening.

Growing up, while waiting for a table at the bar, an adult handed me a Shirley Temple. The bartender was mixing drinks and talking about the state of the lake that day with my dad and grandpa. I stood between them, on tiptoe, to catch a glimpse of the game on TV or the various black-and-white photos displayed behind the bar.

True to Italian tradition, the incredibly languorous meal to follow would take still (at least two hours). Bacchi’s signature was cena, a traditional Italian dinner served family-style on red and white gingham tablecloths: platters on platters of healthy servings of salami, beets, chickpeas and pepperoncini, olives, pickles and celery. Then came the minestrone, presented in a giant silver stainless steel bowl with a ladle sticking out of it.

Historic photos from Bacchi's Inn's glory days, including feeding the Italian Olympic team during the 1960 Games held nearby in what is now Palisades Tahoe.

Historic photos from Bacchi’s Inn’s glory days, including feeding the Italian Olympic team during the 1960 Games held nearby in what is now Palisades Tahoe.

Photo courtesy of William Hunter and the Gatekeeper’s Museum

In addition to the soup, there were frequent baskets of fresh bread exchanged, the heat increasing after being torn apart. All of this was before the spaghetti or the ravioli, the salad or even the starter: steak, veal, chicken parmesan or cacciatore. Plate after plate, dishes piled on top of each other carried away by waiters in red coats (and later red aprons) before they brought out something bigger, more delicious than the previous thing.

I had never eaten so much – or had so many Shirley Temples. I had never felt the sensation of the lights going out, the voices rising, and the air becoming thick and warm with the hum of service in a packed house like this. Nothing since has ever felt so grand or lives in memory as a greater occasion.

“You know, we always had, until the last day, a lot of great people,” Hunter says. “You always have the weird asshole, but 90%, 95% of the customers had fun. I have seen children turn to grandfathers bringing their grandchildren. It’s a bit sad. I will miss many of these people. But it’s like that. Tahoe is no place to be now.

Despite steady business from its most loyal customers, attitudes, habits and demographics have changed over the past decade, Hunter says, noting that the restaurant has “seen its time come and go.”

“It’s no longer viable as a restaurant,” he explains. “The [summer and winter] the seasons are so short now. And basically, you know, the 20- to 40-year-old individual doesn’t really dine out. It’s “let’s go have a burger and a beer, and let’s party somewhere”. They don’t have dinner.

“Sixty years ago, you didn’t go out to dinner without a coat and tie,” he continued. “Now you have a hard time sitting people down with wife-beaters. It’s a sad thing.

Beyond changes in eating habits, the day-to-day also wasn’t planned for Bacchi’s, says Hunter. A major aspect is how Tahoe’s severe housing crisis has affected its small businesses.

After four generations of family ownership in the Lake Forest neighborhood just east of Tahoe City, Bacchi's Inn, which served family-style Italian meals to generations of Tahoe residents and visitors, is no more.

After four generations of family ownership in the Lake Forest neighborhood just east of Tahoe City, Bacchi’s Inn, which served family-style Italian meals to generations of Tahoe residents and visitors, is no more.

Photo courtesy of William Hunter and the Gatekeeper’s Museum

“There is no accommodation,” he said. “Basically housing workers were renting, they are turning it into Airbnb. There is no place to live, no housing.

As for Bacchi’s fate, Hunter, who lives in the apartment above the restaurant, says he is preparing the restaurant for an estate sale. Then he will put it on the market.

Even after a lifetime of work there, he too can no longer afford to stay in Tahoe.

“That’s where all my retirement money is; I can probably buy something else, but I can’t afford to live,” Hunter says of the building, noting that many photos and historical artifacts of the restaurant have already been sent to the Gatekeeper’s Museum and Watson Cabin in Tahoe City. “It’s unfortunate, but I hope some of our [family] the legacy remains there. We’re going to be put on a screen, and that’s it.

“It’s just a changing of the guard,” Susan Winter, director of the Gatekeeper’s Museum, told SFGATE. “New tech money is here, labor is hard to get and keep, and all the nostalgic old restaurants in Tahoe can’t survive.

“We recently lost the Pfeifer and Blue Agave house, but that of Bacchi is the oldest of them. Ninety years is quite a story there.

As Bacchi’s closes, his memories remain. In the early 2000s, my father moved his office to Lake Forest. It wasn’t for convenience. It was because the location was closest to where he loved the most in Tahoe.

On Friday nights he would go down to Bacchi’s, have a little chat at the bar, and sneak into an early supper. When I joined it was clear the place had been in decline since its 20th century heyday, but even then it still felt nice, heavy – and permanent.

But time does not stop for anyone. When my father was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in the spring of 2013 and was forced to move “down the hill” for treatment, his main request was to have dinner at Bacchi’s one last time. We were doing.

That night, I didn’t want it to end.

Comments are closed.