In this piece, contributing writer Ernesto Chavezvaldivia takes readers throughout his day while chatting it up with longtime Riverside locals at one of the city’s most timeless and well-known restaurants. He goes to pick up on the best food recommendations in town. What he finds is a treasure trove of interesting personalities who he learns have created a community that treats itself more like a family. This is a day at The Sire. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
*The last names of all restaurant patrons have been omitted due to anonymity.
The watering hole. It’s a common and crucial locale in every town — where the old and the young (but mostly old) gather and soak up tales and lagers in comfort. When you ask any Riversider to name a classic and old-timey restaurant, The Sire is a top spot that comes to mind. I first heard about the low-key bar and grill when my grandfather, Larry Chavez, shared about his days frequenting the place after working late-night shifts at the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa.
It’s Saturday, and the time is 12:55 p.m. The first person I meet is Gary, an 88-year-old former interior designer. He’s wearing a bucket hat, dress shirt, and jeans, sitting tucked away in the corner of the dimly lit bar. I slide in next to him and introduce myself. Gary welcomes the introduction then proceeds to tell me that in the ‘50s (The Sire first opened in 1955) he was a traveling salesman whose area happened to cover Riverside. That’s when he first waltzed into The Sire and he hasn’t stopped coming since.
I ask Gary: What’s one dish you’d recommend to anyone who is new in town?
Gary: The prime rib here at The Sire. They just make it so good.
After chatting for a bit, Gary tells me that he has to walk home. Before heading out, he looks at me and points toward a couple sitting in the middle of the dining room and mouths, “talk to them.”
It’s 2:27 p.m. and I meet Scott and Nancy. Scott shares that they’re both avid fans of The Sire as he names several patrons seated a few feet away. The couple have lived in Riverside since the ‘70s, and both live a mile away near Magnolia Center.
After observation, I come to discover that the two have some type of celebrity status at The Sire as several patrons continually come up and pay their respects by kissing Nancy on the cheek and gripping Scott’s shoulder. In one memorable exchange a fellow named Arnie walks up and tells me Scott is the reason that he is alive. Not long ago, Arnie had eaten a steak too quickly when he suddenly started choking. He became desperate and his eyes darted around the bar until he locked eyes with Scott, the patriarch of The Sire himself. Scott gave him the Heimlich and The Sire has since gained a loyal fan.
Scott: It’s true. I saved his life.
Nancy then compares The Sire to the Bull and Finch Pub (now Cheers Beacon Hill), a real-life location in Boston, Massachusetts regularly seen in the classic ‘80s sitcom, “Cheers.”
Nancy: We’re all family here. This is like our “Cheers.” Everyone knows your name.
I ask Scott and Nancy: What food would you recommend to someone new to Riverside?
Nancy: I’d say the chicken fried steak from Arts Bar & Grill. It’s so good and not too greasy.
Scott: The Reuben right here at The Sire.
Scott is loyal to his bar.
It’s now 3:18 p.m. I notice a man walking in, saluting a few friends.
I introduce myself and meet Bill, a military veteran and certified public accountant on the verge of retirement. Despite growing up in Pennsylvania, he was eventually stationed at March Air Force Base. He said he never left the area. In fact, he married and raised five children here.
What’s your favorite meal in Riverside?
Bill, who said he likes to walk in, eat his meals quietly and slip out, thinks for a few seconds, before answering.
Bill: Probably the turkey sandwich from [Backstreet Riverside.] Whenever my kids visit, we always have to go there because it’s their favorite place to eat.
He pays his tab and slips out the backdoor.
Now it’s close to 5 p.m when I meet Larry and Diane, friends of Scott and Nancy. Larry, 79, who lives off of Victoria, said he was in the liquor business for 40 years. His wife Diane, 76, retired after selling her insurance agency. They both love coming to The Sire to meet up with the friends they’ve met over the years.
I ask them both: What food would you recommend to someone new to Riverside?
Larry: I’d say a hamburger from [The Sire.]
Diane: I would recommend Romano’s. Anything from there really.
It’s 6:12 p.m.and I meet another couple, Johnny, 67, and Anna, who chose not to reveal her age. She laughs and appreciates it when I tell her she doesn’t look a day over 37. Johnny tells me he comes from a long line of Riversiders who originally settled in the Eastside during the 1800s. Anna, who looks like she’s heard the story a million times, is gracious and patient as he names the powerful and local friends he’s made over the years as the owner of a property management company.
I ask them: Where would you recommend an out-of-towner go for a great meal?
Johnny: Well, let me tell you, the filet at Mario’s Place can’t be topped.
Anna nods approvingly.
Anna: I’m very particular, but the seafood at La Cruda Mariscos is good. It’s a spot that I would feel very comfortable ordering seafood from.
I go back to my seat after 8 p.m. A small TV is playing the final minutes of the NCAA Tournament Duke-UNC game, and everyone is transfixed. I look around and wonder who my grandfather had met here when he was a younger man. Maybe he was like Scott, ready to save someone at a moment’s notice from asphyxiation, or perhaps he preferred to sit, tucked away in a corner like Gary, enjoying his drinks and meals and surrounded by people who knew his name.