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Begin Again

Legendary Cotati club revived

By Bruce Robinson

Return with us now to the days of yesteryear, when records were vinyl, rap was conversation, and music poured out into the street from a cozy, convivial club in downtown Cotati known as the Inn of the Beginning.

Once a thriving, essential part of the Bay Area music scene, the old Inn closed its doors in the mid-'70s. But the Inn has been purchased and revived by a trio of Occidental partners who hope to recapture the magic of the club's legendary past.

"We don't want to be just another club," says Lisa Lawrence, who has joined forces with Gerard Nebesky, owner/chef at the popular Bohemian Cafe in Occidental, and Bill Perasso, the maker of Sweet William's BBQ Sauce, to reinvent the Inn. While live music will remain a mainstay on the weekend evening, the bar and the kitchen will be in full swing seven days a week.

The menu of salads, specialty pizzas, and BBQ ribs and oysters echoes Nebesky's bohemian fare, with such unusual items as a barbecue sauce-based pizza; another with pesto, smoked gouda, walnuts, and onions; and the Bo-hunk, which features pepperoni, ham, olives, artichoke hearts, and, ulp, jalapeños. Salads range from a basic Caesar to a Warmed Sesame Goat Cheese Salad and a Strawberry Spinach Walnut mixture. Patio and sidewalk dining will be available as the weather permits. And the 22 microbrews on tap at the bar may well be an attraction in their own right.

"We're trying to get away from the reputation it had in the [recent] past--punk-rock bands, kids hanging around, graffiti," Lawrence says.

Veteran DJ and blues promoter Bill Bowker is handling the live music bookings, and the first month alone features a promising mix of established local and Bay Area roots, blues, and semi-acoustic acts (Sundogs, Tommy Castro, Dan Hicks, Solid Air), with noteworthy national performers such as Alejandro Escovedo and Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys.

Live broadcasts and special surprise shows by Bay Area stars will be phased over time, and Bowker expects the Inn to regain some of its historic cachet among touring artists.

While the stage remains centrally located in the spacious room, the surrounding decor has undergone some major changes. A new hardwood floor has been installed, flanked at the corners by striking full-size carved totem poles, the handiwork of Perasso's father. The bookstore is gone, supplanted by an imposing new pool table and the box office and main entrance. And a new, compact, high-tech audio system will ensure that the sound is firmly grounded in the '90s, even if the overall vibe is not.

For instance, the club's old name remains emblazoned on the carved sign atop the quasi-Spanish exterior. "There's so much history," Lisa reflects. "It just seemed like it would be a shame to change the name."

Since signing a 10-year lease in January, the new owners have merged a hands-on determination to do things just right with an keen eye on the costs. "The amazing thing is, we're barely over budget," marvels Perasso.

"Off and on over my life, I've wanted to do this, but it never felt right," he adds. But now, "it just kinda fell into place."


The Inn of the Beginning opens April 25 with Makka. 8201 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati 9 p.m. $5. 664-1100.

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From the April 25-May 1, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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