The smell — or actually the lack of it — greets you as soon as you walk in the door at the new 2am Club. Mill Valley's oldest bar, which has withstood generational and demographic changes in town for more than 75 years, reopened earlier this month after a forced suspension due to Alcohol Beverage Control violations.
In the meantime, longtime owners Dirk Payne and Steve Powers, who ran the bar for 19 years, sold the business to two of their bartenders, Dave Marshall and Amanda Solloway.
"We jumped at the opportunity to keep this place alive," said Marshall, a resident of Novato. "The torch is still burning."
The new owners used the downtime to give the club a much-needed makeover but without losing the venerated dive bar character of the place. Marshall, whose background is in construction, gave the place a new coat of paint, put in new floors and lighting, added a few flat-panel TVs, rebuilt the pool tables and installed new refrigeration equipment and lines for soda and beer. They even put an electric insert into the fireplace that had been used to burn car tires and pallets over the years.
And yes, the bathrooms were given a much-needed once-over, if not a complete remodel.
"This place hadn't seen extensive love for more than two decades," Marshall said. "It smells better now for sure. But it still feels like the 2am Club. We haven't changed the look and feel of the old Deuce. The old Deuce heads will still feel at home."
One of those longtime patrons, 53-year-old Tony McGee of Muir Beach, said the transition has been seamless. McGee grew up with Payne and Powers and said he knew Marshall and Solloway would make sure the bar's character stayed intact.
"I knew they would probably keep it pretty much the same, and they have — minus the dust," he said. "I've always had a good time here. I've never been in a fight here and I've been coming here since I was 21."
Marshall and Solloway have kept the bar's traditionally low drink prices the same and plan to host live music at least once a month and eventually establish an open-mic night.
"The closing of the Sweetwater left a large hole in the canopy in terms of open mic nights, so we'd like to have one," Marshall said.
The 2am Club has long been known as the reunion venue of choice for Tam High grads on "Black Wednesday," the night before Thanksgiving. The bar's history goes as far back as 1933, when Joe Hornsby opened the Brown Jug at Miller and Montford avenues because it sat just outside the Mill Valley city limits and therefore could have a 2am curfew as opposed to a midnight closure inside the city.
The bar was made famous in 1983, when Mill Valley native Huey Lewis picked it as the cover photo of Huey Lewis and the News' platinum album "Sports."