By Eric Torney
Juanita Musson was a restaurateur and social icon of the mid to late 1960's who existed on the Northern periphery of the Sausalito houseboat community. She had several restaurants, not all of them in Sausalito.
The following lightly edited excerpt is from Eric Torney’s video history: “Sausalito After the Bridge”:
Juanita was one of the most colorful entrepreneurs to ever open a restaurant in Sausalito. The other woman, also a restaurateur, who approaches and perhaps who may prevail over Juanita as the most famous, was Sally Stanford and her Valhalla. Sally and Juanita knew each other. Juanita would say “There is a Madam on one end of town and a drunk on the other.” Sally actually was the more proper of the two. But they did not necessarily get along. At one time there was an uneasy truce between them. In Juanita's words: “Sally sent me a fox. But, wait a minute, maybe she meant him to bite me. “
Her most famous restaurant was Juanita's Galley, a restaurant established on the decommissioned ferry Charles Van Damme, which was beached on the mudflats north of town. Besides a restaurant it was a night club. The floor was quite uneven. Patrons typically did not notice such unevenness as a warped floor, their own state of mind often being more warped than the floor. Access was by a flimsy ramp. Parking was on a dirt lot. You came before dark because there was no lighting outside.
There were numerous fund raisers (Save the Galley Rallies), attended by a host of luminaries. Sterling Hayden, Glen Yarborough, and Vince Guaraldi to name a few, all of whom had enjoyed the one woman side show and wanted the fun to continue.
Juanita's Galley was the most appropriately named restaurant she ever opened. In 1963 the place was closed down by the IRS for unpaid taxes and the contents sold for a measly $540. Not to be deterred, she soon opened another Juanita’s in Fetters Hot Springs, near Sonoma. Regrettably, that restaurant burned to the ground.
She was a large woman who typically wore a Hawaiian muumuu. Live chickens regularly roamed her establishment, as well as an occasional monkey, pig, or goat (Juanita loved animals). Patrons never knew what to expect. One thing patrons could count on was good food. Juanita knew how to cook. Service was the same as the food. Juanita had the inclination to hire cute waitresses, who were as much of a draw as the food. Regardless of the food quality and the service, the entertainment value of the place was unsurpassable and guaranteed.
If you complained about something you might end up getting physically thrown out (personally, by Juanita herself), or having your plate of food thrown onto your lap, whether you paid your bill or not. Juanita was not to be offended. If you stayed cool and got into the scene, your experience was guaranteed to be fine.
Juanita was not easy to work for. Her drinking interfered with good judgment. One cook's helper was fired one night. The next day,knowing Juanita well, he showed up for work as usual. It was as if nothing had happened the night before.
Juanita's generosity was as legendary as her disdain for those who she felt did not deserve it. Juanita was as welcoming and supportive of individuals in genuine need as she was intolerant of those not deserving of it. In Juanita's words, “If she is wearing Patchouli perfume, out she goes.”
The evictions were not always only verbal. One of Juanita's favorite stories concerned a woman patron at her Glen Ellen restaurant about a dispute over some issue long ago forgotten. As Juanita would have told the story, “We battled head over heels through the dining room, through the bar, onto the porch and into the parking lot. And then she ripped my dress off.”
Juanita is now serving happily at the big restaurant in the sky. She passed away in February of 2011. Residents of Sausalito, both Hill and Boat people alike, held a raucous wake in her honor.
“Sausalito After the Bridge” is available at the Ice House on DVD, or may be checked out from the Sausalito Library.