The Windjammer Lounge in Aptos recently posted a sign stating, “Effective 8/17/15, The Windjammer Lounge will be closed indefinitely,” thus ending another chapter in the book of Aptos’ longest running establishments.
The Jammer (as it’s known by it’s loyal patrons) had been serving up drinks and entertainment for the past 46 years. It was part of the original “Aptos Triangle,” which is cleverly based on the locations of the other two bars included in the Aptos Pub Crawl… The Mediterranean and The Aptos Club. I know there are other bars in Aptos that can wet your whistle but of the original three, The Mediterranean is the last to go.
The story of The Windjammer actually begins with the construction of Rancho Del Mar.
In June 1961, James Fenton’s dream of building a shopping center in Aptos had come to fruition. After two years of planning, permits, and construction, Rancho Del Mar finally opened for business. Back then Rancho Del Mar was not nearly the size it is today. In fact, it was built in four separate stages (1961, 1964, 1968, and 1971). The building that houses The Windjammer was built during the first stage of construction.
The Windjammer, however, was not one of the original occupants of Rancho Del Mar. In fact, it was County Bank of Santa Cruz that occupied the building first. The bank’s space also included the location where Rancho Del Mar Café, operated from 1985 to 2011.
As Rancho Del Mar continued to grow, County Bank decided to relocate within the center. In December 1968, the bank moved to its new location … where Comerica Bank operates today.
It didn’t take long to fill the empty space once occupied by the bank; a restaurant named The Matador, owned by Glen Hubbard opened for business in April 1969. Known for its large portions of steak, seafood, and authentic Spanish cuisine, it appeared The Matador was poised for success and for reasons unknown, it lasted less than a year.
An article in the October 31, 1969, Santa Cruz Sentinel read, “If you haven’t been to the Matador in the Rio Del Mar Shopping Center (Rancho Del Mar) in the past week you are in for a big surprise. It is now The Windjammer.”
The official grand opening of The Windjammer was November 14, 1969, with the restaurant up front, where the Rancho Del Mar Café later operated, and the lounge in the back, where the current day Windjammer was open to all. The lounge was decorated with marine décor, which included an ancient dinghy from a windjammer mounted above the bar. Also behind the bar was a model of a windjammer built to scale.
The entire first week of opening, artist Ralph Gray was on hand to sketch Windjammer patrons. These sketches were coated in resin and hung on the walls of the cocktail lounge and dining rooms. The idea was to have their patrons preserved for posterity. Who knows how long they lasted but I would love to see one if any of these sketches still exist!
The Windjammer employed the talented Chef Rich Denton, whose father was the well-known chef at the Shadowbrook Restaurant. Rich became well known for his banana fritters topped with sherry eggnog sauce — an original recipe of the Windjammer.
The owners and operators of The Windjammer were Joe and Barbra Dolan, whose motto was “to serve the finest quality food and drink obtainable, prepared in the most appetizing way at reasonable prices, in a casual friendly atmosphere.” And from the reviews I’ve read, it sounds like they certainly succeeded. They had a very strict policy of “Never on Sunday,” but were open every other day of the week.
The Windjammer became well known for its lively musical entertainment and cleverly themed parties. Two of the bigger annual events were “Taxpayers Night,” which of course occurred every April 15, and St. Patrick’s Day. Joe and Barbara were able to successfully develop their restaurant into an official supper club.
The Dolans were very well liked and treated their employees fairly. In fact, to celebrate The Windjammer’s first anniversary, they organized an outdoor barbecue in the parking lot of Rancho Del Mar and used the proceeds to shut down the bar and take their employees on a three-day, all expenses paid vacation to Lake Tahoe!
Joe and Barbara continued to operate The Windjammer Lounge until the end of their days. Barbara passed away in 1983 and Joe passed in 1985 at the age of 55.
In May 1984, prior to Joe’s passing, The Windjammer was downsized from a full supper club to just the bar that we know today. Filling the vacant spot would be The Rancho del Mar Café, which relocated from a different location in Rancho Del Mar. Although it operated as a separate business, patrons of The Windjammer could continue to order food from the café and have it delivered right to the bar.
The Windjammer changed ownership a number of times over the years and was most recently owned by Gailen Webb, who ran The Windjammer in a manner that would make Joe and Barbara Dolan proud! In fact, The Windjammer was well known for its holiday spirit and huge inflatable decorations that graced the roof of the bar! Gailen passed away in 2012 and ownership of the bar transferred to his two sisters who decided to close the doors indefinitely. All that remains today are empty barstools and lots of memories.