The Old Ironsides bar and restaurant is celebrating its 84th anniversary this year. The family owned and operated establishment opened in 1934 as the very first business to obtain a liquor license in Sacramento after Prohibition. Now, 84 years later, the Old Ironsides is the oldest bar in Sacramento and is best known for its nightly live music, deeeelicious lunches, friendly staff and cheap drinks. It was recently named by Yahoo! as the best dive bar in Sacramento.
The Old Ironsides was established in 1934 with William “Bill” Bordisso obtaining the first liquor license issued in Sacramento after Prohibition. Bill operated the bar with the help of his brother, Lou Bordisso, and their wives, Lena and Sunny. In 1949, the Old Ironsides bottle shop and game room opened. The bottle shop was operated by the wives and was located in the back where the restrooms are today. Back then bottle shops were the only places to purchase liquor from before the big box warehouses and grocery stores started selling alcohol. A big part of the business for Old I back then was filling gift orders for lobbyists and politicians, and business owners for their clients. The game room housed a fireplace and piano player as well as shuffleboard, pinball and claw machines that were popular at night and also helped keep business steady. In addition to being a bar and a bottle shop, lunch was also offered Monday through Friday at the Old Ironsides. Much different than the menu today, lunch in the thirties, forties and fifties consisted of a single special every day, like spaghetti and meatballs or beef short ribs that would be repeated weekly. In the 1960’s, Billee Jean (daughter of Bill and Lena Bordisso) and her husband Sam Kanelos joined the family business. Sam and Billee heralded in the glory years of “the cocktail hour.” Not the typical “happy hour” as we know today, these were two or three martini lunches frequented by local politicians, judges and state workers. The couple also continued to operate the Old Ironsides Bottle Shop. Fast forward to the nineties. The next generation of the Kanelos family stepped in and convinced their parents, Sam and Billee Jean, to turn Old Ironsides into a nightclub. Daughter Kim started by booking shows and a dance club called “The Voodoo Hut,” which brought in the younger crowd, while her sister Marla later joined her by booking the touring acts. What proved to be a great business decision, Old I continually hosts the best in local, national and international touring acts. Over the years it has hosted The Moe Betterman Show, similar to the “Tonight Show,” where famous comics such as Jay Mohr, Aisha Tyler, and Johnny Steele have appeared as regular guests. Famous bands that have played at Old I include Cake, Sublime, Oleander, Death Cab for Cutie, and Everclear, to name a few. These days Old Ironsides hosts a weekly Guest Chef night (Mondays), Karaoke (Tuesdays), and the beloved open-mic night (Wednesdays). Shaun Slaughter and Roger Carpio’s Indie/rock dance club LIPSTICK has also been a staple at Old I for the last 16 years (every 1st and third Saturday). The bottle shop closed in 1993 when Old I was remodeled to accommodate a stage and its growing nightclub business. Some eighty three years later, lunch is still served at the Old Ironsides. Monday through Friday from 11am – 2pm. Old I features home-style lunches with a Greek/Italian influence. Daughter Kim currently runs the the restaurant as well as in the 80’s until she started the club in the 90’s, daughter Janell ran the restaurant in the 90’s, while son Sam Jr. has been the general manager for the last 33 years. Next generation granddaughter Summer Mackis waits tables and grandson Matt Kanelos (aka Matt K. Shrugg) does the graphic design. Much of the staff at Old Ironsides is also like family, as they have worked here for ten plus years. Familiar faces behind the bar include Art Rodriguez (34 years), bartender and promoter Mark “Gonzo” Gonzales (17 years), and dishwasher Kevin Kobayashi (17 years). Please come on in and say hi. Check out our Facebook page here for more information or give us call at (916) 443-9751.