Features & Columns
Almaden Feed & Fuel
Preserves its Barroom Mural
Thanks to a Holy Trinity characterizing San Jose for decades—real estate greed, political indifference and suburban apathy—the Almaden Feed & Fuel is no longer with us.
Formerly a stagecoach stop, a gas station, a saloon, a restaurant, a biker bar and more recently, a unique neighborhood tavern with live music, the Feed & Fuel went through several reincarnations in its century-long history. I first remember seeing the place back when Almaden Expressway didn't veer left at the Almaden Crossroads like it does now. It used to just go straight through, becoming Almaden Road, and then ease on down into New Almaden. That geography was seemingly part of everyone's high school drinking landscape.
Now the building has been destroyed, essentially euthanized, in favor of lifelessly uniform housing. Nothing new, of course. It's a familiar story: history, culture, character and uniqueness have given way to Anysuburb, USA. A small band of heroes not content with living in Anysuburb fought hard to save the building, but developers and suburban politicians were too powerful for them. Now there will be 13 more houses that look like 100,000 other houses anywhere south of Blossom Hill.
Thankfully, there's some positive news here too. Inside Almaden Feed & Fuel, there existed an old mural, if you consider 1985 as "old," which most developers in San Jose do. At that time, then-owner Blondie Barnd hired trompe-l'oeil artist John Pugh to paint a wall mural depicting bar regulars. As the building was about to get euthanized several weeks ago, it took an Englishman—someone with an intrinsic un-San Jose awareness of culture—to assume the task of saving the mural.
Roger Springall, the proprietor of Caffe Frascati in downtown San Jose, already had a connection to Feed & Fuel, since he lives nearby and had rifled through the remains of the business when it closed for good in 2006. Right now, as one walks into Frascati, the three tables to the right, as well as the three tables on the mezzanine looking down from above, originally came from Almaden Feed & Fuel, as did the bar along the left wall. Springall says when he walked into the defunct building in 2006, in order to purchase those pieces from the owner, the place looked like a deserted movie set.
"It was like they had closed the door and walked out," Springall recalled. "There were still bottles of beer sitting on the counter, just like someone had walked out, closed the door and that was it. It was frozen in time. There were still newspapers on the tables."
But just a few months ago, after the band of heroes failed to legally save the building, Springall was allowed back, in order to salvage what he could from the inside. The guts of the place had not changed in the seven years it sat unoccupied.
"It was exactly the same as I saw it several years earlier," Springall said. "Nobody had touched anything. And the only thing I saw, what I thought we really needed to hang onto, was the mural."
Pugh's mural depicts a bygone era at Feed & Fuel. In the image, we see a female bartender and a regular standing at the opposite end of the bar. On the wall next to the bartender, we see a BART map, depicting the rapid transit system coming all the way to San Jose. But on the wall near the regular customer, we see decor from decades earlier and other accoutrements suggesting he exists years before. The wood on the bar is also much newer at his end. Thus, we're looking back in time to a regular customer left over from a previous era. Springall says Pugh recently told him this "regular" in the mural was a real person who consistently drank at Feed & Fuel and was also the same guy who went down in history as the first person in Almaden Valley arrested for being drunk on a horse. Removing the mural required chainsawing the wall out from the structure. Springall says Barnd is currently in possession of the mural and trying to find a permanent home for it.