New life at Little Switzerland
Little Switzerland as it appeared just before closing last year.
The lingering questions of what will happen to the Little Switzerland building in El Verano were put to rest on Thursday, Dec. 20, when escrow closed on the historic roadhouse.
The new owner, Max Young, spends most of his time in San Francisco, but maintains a home in Sonoma, just a few blocks from the historic dance hall. His wife, Karen Zambonin, has deep roots in Sonoma Valley and her family, the Bruscheras, have been here for decades. Young currently owns three bars and restaurants in San Francisco, the Hi Fi, Bamboo Hut and Mr. Smiths, along with one of the most historic bars in Oakland, McNally’s Irish Pub.
“It (McNally’s) opened the day prohibition was lifted,” Young laughed. “I’m no stranger to iconic bars.”
Young is sensitive to the history of the Little Switzerland building and wants to preserve its character, both by including old photos of the dance hall and preserving its Sonoma essence. “Just walking into the place, you can feel the vibe of the years of things that have meant something to someone in that room.” Young continued, “Almost everyone I know has a story about how someone met someone there years ago or how their grandparents danced there in the ’30s. I want to restore the building to its former glory.”
Little Switzerland was seized by the bank last fall and has sat vacant for more than a year. Daniel Cassabone announced the sale, but the selling price was not disclosed.
“I didn’t really expect them to take my offer,” Young joked.
He admitted he didn’t know exactly what was going into his newest venue, but food and music are part of the plan. “I want to talk to the locals and see what kind of place they want to see in their neighborhood,” said Young, who added, “I don’t want any thing that will put pressure on the neighborhood; I’d like to make a place with a neighborhood bar sort of feel.”
Sunday brunch and even weekday lunch service were presented as possibilities. But first he has to get the building back into fighting form.
“The floors are warped, to say the least. The plaster is falling down, it needs some work. It needs some love,” he said. “That’s what we’ll be focused on for the first three or four months.”
Young is not in a hurry to make things happen, saying, “I want to do this right, not fast.” He is also looking for just the right person to partner with the run the day-to-day, along with suggestions from friends and neighbors about how the space would be best utilized.
“I’m trying to get a feel for what we need on that side of town,” he said. “It’s a local institution and you just don’t want to mess with it too much. But we won’t let it die on the vine, I promise.”
Young is open to suggestions at email@example.com.