Al the Wop’s
13943 Main St.
I’m a sucker for any place with a colorful history and scruffy charm.
Even more so if the name of the place includes an ethnic slur.
Apparently “wop” is a politically incorrect term for someone from Southern Italy.
I had no idea.
Can I be accused of being racist for reviewing a place with “wop” in the title, even if I didn’t know what “wop” meant?
In California, the answer is probably “yes”.
That’s a good reason right there to buy the shirt!
Locke, California is a forgotten Chinese ghost town of ramshackle wooden buildings lined up either side of a dusty little street deep in the heart of the Sacramento River Delta.
Chinese immigrants came into the Delta originally to help build the levees that contain the Sacramento River in its banks.
Later, more Chinese came here to work on the farmland that spills out across the fertile plains of the Delta.
Wanting a place of their own, in 1915, several Chinese workers laid out and built this one block town.
In its heyday, as many as 600 Chinese lived in the wooden shacks lining Main Street and patronized Locke’s infamous brothels and gambling dens.
Famous as the only town in America built by the Chinese for the Chinese, there’s not much left of Locke to look at.
Only ten of the remaining 70 residents are Chinese.
Strolling by the dilapidated buildings, a lady painting pictures on the hood of her car put down her paint brush and just stared at me.
Don’t worry. I’m used to this.
I knew what she was going to say before she even opened her mouth.
“You’re awfully overdressed for Locke! Nobody around here dresses like that,” she said.
Mistaking me for some big city lawyer or consultant, she began a ten minute description of how she’s been victimized by the local corrupt town counsel.
“I paid $22,000 for one of these run down shacks and then three days after the deal closed the city told me I couldn’t buy because the original Chinese landowners must be given first right of refusal.”
“So I can’t buy a building in America because I’m not Chinese?!?”
I sympathized as she told me the tiny town had spent $50,000 of its $60,000 budget suing her for “breach of contract” simply because she tried to purchase one of its run-down buildings.
While I felt sorry for her, immersing myself into the politics of a 70 person Chinese ghost town was a bit above my pay grade, so I excused myself as I strolled into Locke’s most famous establishment, Al the Wop’s.
In 1934, an Italian named Al Adami opened his saloon with money he earned for taking the rap and serving jail time for a bootlegging family member.
Al the Wop’s was the only non-Chinese place in town.
At 11:30am, the barstools were already filling up with a fun-loving crowd of local farmers and fishermen.
As usual, I was the only one in the place wearing a suit.
And the only one the bartender didn’t know.
And the only one not knocking back shots of Crown Royal on a Monday morning.
I ordered a water as I pulled up a rickety stool and tried unsuccessfully to position myself comfortably in the middle section of the bar that sloped down at a ten degree angle.