California Wine Country: You Have To Put Your Phone Away At Ernie’s Tin Bar

“I want to be a wine baron,” Jake stated as we sat at Buena Vista’s bar illuminated by the glowing picture of Count Agoston Haraszthy.

“Who doesn’t” I replied.

The evening before, our flight landed in San Francisco, thus beginning our road trip weaving east to Tahoe and then up to Portland.

Napa Valley Wine Country is a one to two hour drive from San Francisco, depending on traffic. We braced for the worse at rush hour and found it wasn’t that bad.

Winging dinner after skipping lunch was the worst idea of the day. Hangry and tired, we bickered about where to stop. After a failed detour to a closed restaurant in an industrial part of San Rafael, we bee-lined it to Sonoma.

The scenery changed from dense city to vineyards and rolling hills of grazing cattle.

Then we saw Ernie’s. The bar was a sight for sore eyes.


This tidy little shack is tucked into the quiet intersection of Lakeview Highway and 116 in Petaluma. We noticed several cards parked out front and so we stopped. Frankly, there could have been no cars out front and we would have still stopped.

“No cell phone use,” the sign out front said. I tucked mine away in my purse.

The inside felt cheery and bright. We chose seats as the woman running the bar greeted us. The menu listed a wide variety of local craft beers, and, despite being in wine country, no wine. We found this refreshing.

This is a bar, bar. Food is limited to bags of potato chips, pork rinds, and jerky. Choose one from one of the big bowls set around the bar, and the bartender will simply add it to your tab. The bartender noticed how hungry we were and slid us over a bowl of roasted peanuts.

When you’re in a small bar where cell phone use is prohibited, you chat with your neighbors and eat lots and lots of peanuts. 

We enjoyed the cool Sonoma breeze coming through the open windows. The humid, hot Missouri nights felt a million miles away.

We did end up finding dinner. After checking in to our Airbnb, we followed our hostess’s suggestion to visit El Molina Central located just up the road. At 8:30 pm, the restaurant was preparing to close so we enjoyed our meal on our Airbnb hostess’s patio.

El Molita Central Enchiladas

Gooey, cheesy swiss chard enchiladas and tacos filled with sweet and smokey bits of al pastor meat hit the spot after a long day.

Coming-up next: Pretending like we know how to taste wine at Buena Vista Winery.


  1. Katy

    What a fun, quaint place!

  2. Beth Ann Chiles

    I love it! I am glad you found some food though—you can’t live on beer and pretzels forever.

  3. josh

    I’ve only been to one place that didn’t allow cell phone use, but I like the idea.

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