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Crogan's Bar And Grill: An Institution In Downtown Walnut Creek

The popular sports bar has evolved over the years as the city and its clientele have changed

Crogan's Bar and Grill in downtown Walnut Creek
Crogan's Bar and Grill in downtown Walnut Creek
It might be hard for some folks to believe, but Crogan's Sports Bar and Grill in downtown Walnut Creek started out as an upscale restaurant.

The year was 1978. Wayne Wilkinson and his business partner, Bob Gattis, were looking for a place to open a new restaurant.

There were only a few bars in downtown Walnut Creek then and Wilkinson liked a building that was available on Locust Street.

"They determined that Walnut Creek had good growth potential," said Patsy Wilkinson, the founder's widow who now runs the restaurant.

The facility they chose had once been Hull's Mortuary as well as a hair salon and dance studio.

Wilkinson and Gattis opened a higher-end restaurant there with white tablecloths in what is now the dance area of Crogan's. The bar area was used by people who were waiting for a table.

They chose the name from an old Irish poem, "The Party at Crogan's."

Wilkinson eventually bought out Gattis, who continued to operate Crogan's sea food restaurant in Montclair.

Wilkinson died in 1994 and Patsy Wilkinson took over the Walnut Creek establishment.

In 1998, Wilkinson said she noticed a change happening inside her restaurant. More and more people were hanging out in the bar area and fewer were making reservations in the dining area.

"Everybody would jam into the bar and nobody was going into the other room," she said.

Competition in the restaurant industry had also become tougher.

"There were, like, 200 restaurants in Walnut Creek," said Wilkinson, "and we were the old guys in town by that time."

So, Wilkinson scrapped the white tablecloths and turned the dining area into a dance floor. The bar became the primary hang-out place.

The change seems to have worked.

Fifteen years later, Crogan's is still going strong despite the addition of other bars downtown.

Wilkinson said the clientele during the day is a mixed bag of ages. In the evening, it is primarily people between 21 and 35 years old. Many of them are single, giving Crogan's its reputation as a prime pick-up location.

Wilkinson said she has remained flexible over the years and she's listened to her clients to keep attuned to what they want.

On Monday nights, Crogan's offers $2 beers. There is karaoke on Tuesday evenings. On Wednesday night, there is a poker table set up. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, there is a disc jockey and dancing. On Sunday, a guitarist is brought in.

All in the room where the white linens used to cover the tables.

There are challenges Crogan's and the other drinking establishments are now having to overcome.

The most prominent is the city's crackdown on businesses that serve alcohol. There are more police patrols in response to a number of fights near the bars the past two years.

Some bars have had their alcohol serving hours cut back. Some can't serve drinks after 11:30 p.m.

The bars affected by the rules were opened after 2003. Crogan's is among those grandfathered in, so it can still serve alcohol until 2 a.m.

In the midst of the crackdown, the downtown bar owners banded together to not only defend themselves but to set up a support system.

Wilkinson said they try to help each other, but they also keep tabs on each other. If there is fighting or other problems at one bar, that gives all the taverns a bad name.

Crogan's used to have one security guard who sat at the door and checked identification. They now have seven security personnel on weekend evenings.

"We have to watch our p's and q's," said Wilkinson.

The city has also changed its parking rules. The council approved a plan in November that doubles the hourly rate at downtown meters to $2. It also extends meter hours to 8 p.m. and makes the meters active on Sundays.

Wilkinson said the new procedures will make it tougher on businesses like Crogan's.

"It'll discourage people," she said. "Parking is hard enough to find. Right now, when you start to pull out of a space, there's somebody there waiting to take it."

Nonetheless, Wilkinson said she still enjoys running the sports bar and she believes there are enough people coming to downtown Walnut Creek to provide sufficient customers for most establishments.

"Walnut Creek has become a destination place and not just for shopping," she said.

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