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Bringing Back the Buckhorn

Covelo’s Buckhorn Bar has been the community watering hole for generations. A dive bar smack dab in the middle of Indian Country, the Buckhorn’s Old West saloon reputation is coupled with the generations of Round Valley residents who called it their second home.

There is new life coming to the Buckhorn bar. The community institution is under new ownership purchased by Marcus Smith and his fiancée Lyndsay Boccaleoni who is partnering with him in the new endeavor. The couple reopened the Buckhorn bar on May 24th, 2022 after it had been closed last September in the wake of a murder that happened outside its doors.

The Buckhorn’s history–even its recent history–impacts the Covelo community today. 

For instance, In May of 1987, a “virtual riot” broke out two hours after the Buckhorn closed. Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office deputies reported 45 locals were fighting in the center of downtown Covelo. That night, 25-year-old Michael Pina would be arrested which would lead to a lawsuit against MCSO alleging undue use of force. The case would settle, he would get a pay out, and Pina would become one of Round Valley’s most enduring cold cases after he was found murdered on a rural road outside Covelo on September 25, 2014, nearly thirty years after the Covelo riot.

More recently, a tragedy that rocked the Covelo community occurred on the street outside the Buckhorn. On September 14, 2022, Dino Michael Blackbear allegedly shot and killed Kenneth Whipple, Jr. outside of the Buckhorn just before midnight. The alleged murder would result in a manhunt after Blackbear fled. He would be taken into custody four days later having made his way to Fort Bragg. Blackbear has pled not guilty to all charges and is scheduled to stand trial for murder in October of this year. 

Antonia Whipple, Kenneth’s little sister, told us “He was my best friend.” Since his death, Antonia said her family “has suffered tremendously.” She described Kenneth as a “hard working man that was loved by many throughout the community.” He left behind a son, his little sister, and a broken-hearted family.

Antonia said she has seen the renovations at the Buckhorn but can never shake the bar’s connection with the death of her beloved brother. “I am still very bitter towards the Buckhorn, not the owners, but just the thought of a very violent place having the chance to strike again.” She hopes the new owners are working on “safety precautions to protect our community” such as crowd control and monitoring the amount of drinks customers consume. 

Boccaleoni recognized the Buckhorn’s connection to some of the community’s past traumas. She and Smith have made it their mission to transform the bar into a family-friend, community space. The Buckhorn Bar has been a part of the Covelo community since the 1930s and Boccaleoni wants to reclaim the Buckhorn for herself and Round Valley at large.

Knowing well the Buckhorn’s importance and complex past, the pair have begun renovations to reclaim the bar as a warm and welcoming space for locals to grab a drink and catch up. 

Golden Brands, a northern California beer distributor, is scheduled to give the Buckhorn a makeover. Boccaleoni told us they will provide new wallpaper and neon signs.

Since reopening, the doors of the Buckhorn, Boccaleoni has only received positive feedback and support from the small businesses in the community. Boccaleoni told us that their renovations are designed to honor the historical bar and “maintain a good, safe environment. So people will have somewhere to come and enjoy a drink…where old-timers will want to come back.

Patrons of the Buckhorn certainly will not go hungry. Boccaleoni is collaborating with taco trucks El Fagon and Delgados, and Italian restaurant Covelo Cave, who will all deliver to the Buckhorn Bar. Primos Tacos is planning on staging outside the Buckhorn for late-night tacos. 

Boccaleoni told us the former owner of the Buckhorn, Allan Bar, had several interested buyers but had two realistic potentials in mind. She remembers taking Covelo students on a field trip (because she is the valley’s one bus driver) when her fiance contacted her with news that the Buckhorn was looking for new ownership. Talk of partnering with the other potential buying party arose, ultimately, Boccaleoni and Smith turned down the partnership and took on the challenge independently.

Marcus Smith, a 20-year Covelo resident, has worked at another Round Valley institution for the last eleven years, Keith’s Market IGA. Smith’s father managed the grocery store, Round Valley’s one and only, and has learned how to run a business. Smith and Boccaleoni also bring their wisdom as business owners of Written in Stone, a headstone business where Boccaleoni has worked for 17 years. 

Since opening, the Buckhorn has hosted DJs, made a special drink menu for Father’s Day, and started a Facebook page to keep the community updated. 

Ultimately, Smith and Boccaleoni hope to honor the past while looking toward the future. Under their ownership, they will work to restore the Buckhorn as a center of the Covelo community seeing the potential of a family-friendly space. Dreaming big, Boccaleoni told us that someday she wants all the fun and games you can have at Dave and Busters and welcome Round Valley residents of all ages.

(pictures by Lyndsay Boccaleoni – courtesy, MendoFever.com)

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