The partners looked at locations all over San Francisco but license moratorium, landlord issue, and a questionable political climate sent the lads north. Brian is well-known among locals from his time in Marin at such institutions as the Station House Café and rediscovered the charisma of Petaluma while bartending at McNear’s Saloon. Although attracted by Petaluma’s downtown layout and architecture, Kelton says, “We were blown away by the sense of community. We have received a warm welcome from all the restaurant and bar owners we’ve met so far.” Instead of trying to ride the coattails of a successful bar that might be up for sale, and possibly ruin a Petaluma institution, destroying good will in the process, the partners asked around, “which bar does everyone hate?” What better way to charm the locals and show that you want to be part of the community than to replace a bad bar that doesn’t care, with a good one that does?
Since day one, this sense of community has permeated all aspects of Roaring Donkey. Inconspicuous to some, but a “Petaluma stamp of approval” to many, was a sign in the window during constructions, which read, “MAD Architecture.” Mary Dooley’s firm is adept at what I call “local camouflage architecture.” Dooley’s work blends in so well that it appeals to the eye even though we may not consciously notice it. Dooley has been designing and rehabbing great spaces in Petaluma for years and is responsible for local civic projects such as the Petaluma Art Center, the Downtown Façade Restoration, and the rusty steel accented Water Street Promenade. Having her fingerprints on the Roaring Donkey lent local credibility to this new venture. Additionally, Dooley’s expertise in the permitting process and local zoning ordinances meant the bar’s inspections went smoothly and there were no delays in opening. Hiring Dooley was also the first of many clues that the owners of Roaring Donkey “get it”…as in “get Petaluma.”
The Roaring Donkey shares a penchant for community involvement that infuses most Petaluma businesses and residence, and regularly hosts charity events. They rarely charge a cover for music but when they do it is somewhere in the $2-$3 range and goes to whatever charity they are currently supporting. Moreover, they do not simply pick the most popular or well-known charities; they do their homework to make sure it is a worthy cause that spends donations wisely. For Breast Cancer Awareness Month Roaring Donkey featured local wines, beers, and distilled liquor from female vintners, brewers, and distillers and donated a portion of their sales to Gateway for Cancer, a charity which pledges that $0.99 out of every $1 donated goes to cancer research.