Last Friday, Byron's first saloon in 129 years began a new chapter in the town's history book as the doors re-opened to patrons in a wild way - beer flowed and the dance floor echoed the swoosh of the electric slide.
The bar closed in 1997 when it burnt down and was vandalized, and reopened briefly four years ago, offering just two days of drinking - call it a tease.
Open and ready for the next chapter, co-owners Bobby Botelho and Philip Weltin bought the landmark property in 1994, along with other buildings, soon-to-be restaurants, offices and more bars along Byron's Main Street.
Photos by Richard Wisdom
Wendy Schilling of Discovery Bay and Carlos Owens of Byron, left, cut a rug at the newly re-opened Wild Idol Saloon in downtown Byron.
The Western-style tavern sports the original long bar and juke box, all stained-wood walls, fireplace, couches, flat-screen TVs along with a 72" mounted above the bar, wall decorations from T.G.I. Friday's restaurant in Oakland, and side rooms with spittoons.
It's where 21st-century folk meet the Wild West, sans ghosts.
Certainly not planned, the 2007 opening marks the 30-year anniversary of the book called "Coincidence," written by Luckii Ludwig, which chronicled the three Oct. 5, 1970 murders that took place at the Wild Idol.
Ludwig was a police reporter for the Antioch Daily Ledger when her editors put the Wild Idol assignment on her desk. Her 61-page book, available at the Oakley Library, gives a factual account in dialog about a no-name town of "600 people, if you count the cows," where several people's lives intertwine, coincidentally, at Byron's only bar.
The bar was built in 1877 by German immigrant Henry Wilkening, according to a chapter about the saloon in "Footprints in the Sand" by far East County historian Kathy Leighton. The saloon was sold and renamed several times over the years, and in the late 1940s it was purchased by Louis and Pearl Crist. The Crists renamed it Wild Idol Inn, after one of Louis' favorite greyhound racing dogs.
After Louis' death, Pearl remarried and her new husband said he wouldn't interfere with her and her bar. She could run it as she pleased. According to Ludwig, Pearl "couldn't think of any reason to change the name."
The bar was her way of keeping busy. "Pearl liked the bar and the people who came in; she was the bar during the day," wrote Ludwig. "She always had a big smile and a funny story to tell. She could listen or pass on as much gossip as the next person."
Then came the murders. While working at the Wild Idol one fateful evening, Bob Tracy (Pearl's bartender, age 65), his wife Cecil, 58, and Mr. Young, a father of four children, were shot in the back of the head - while Pearl was on vacation.
Ludwig, who is considering revising her original work, pieced her book together based on police reports and firsthand interviews with two of the five perps involved in the crimes.
"It took me about six months to organize and thrash through all the info I had in my notes, then about six months to write it. It took several years to actually get it published," said Ludwig, who now lives in Davis.
Five men were convicted of crimes and two of them, Willis Jones and Virgil Gunther, serve life sentences in prison for the actual murders. And while the murders were heinous crimes, there's been no evidence of spiritual activity in the bar since.
"When I finally went into that bar (years later), I didn't get any vibes like I had gotten from other cases," said Ludwig. "But if I hadn't known the bar's history, I never would have guessed anything bad happened there."
Open for birthday parties, social events, wedding receptions (in their new park-like area), and to continue their fundraising events for such causes as Children's Hospital in Oakland, Neadle said the possibilities for the bar are endless.
"We'll have chili cook-offs, battle of the bands, bikini contests and bike runs," she said. "I'm on fire because there's so many things we can do with this place. It's not how much money we make; it's more about the memories!"
Located at 3918 Main St. in Byron, Wild Idol's hours are Friday and Saturday from noon to 2 a.m.; Sundays till 11 p.m. Call 240-9090.