City Beat: Fate of Pre-Flite Lounge uncertain

Should the construction of an arena at Downtown Plaza unearth a burial ground of the Miwok Indian tribe, those relics will be preserved. Same goes for fossils or artifacts from an early city settlement.

Should the Pre-Flite Lounge – which has the misfortune of sitting directly where the new arena is planned – also be spared?

It’s a relic to its regulars, but it’s just a bar. Or is it also something more?

This drinking spot buried beneath L Street is a remnant of Sacramento before craft brews and farm-to-fork. Here you find $2 beef jerky, a baby grand piano, safe conversation and, yes, cheap drinks. The Pre-Flite is uniquely Sacramento, just as the arena’s designers insist their facility will be.

“This was a place where the guy got out of his plumber’s job and came over in his grubbies, and he sat down next to the guy who came over from the courthouse in a suit and tie,” Larry Hannan said recently.

Hannan first showed up at Pre-Flite the day after it opened in 1972. At the time, the airlines had offices in the mall, and the Pre-Flite was a haven for travelers waiting for shuttles to the airport.

The airline offices are long gone. But the Pre-Flite endures, tucked behind large oak doors in the belly of a Downtown Plaza facing the wrecking ball.

Hannan already talks about his bar in the past tense. He and other regulars are resigned to the inevitable. They’ll have a goodbye bash April 26, then spend a few days packing up.

They want to preserve all they can, but there are things they can’t take, things like the old red carpeting and the damp, stale air that collects in a windowless bar beneath the sidewalk.

They can take their memories. They’ve had dozens of weddings and even a few wakes at the Pre-Flite. A regular named Dave Conklin had both there.

They’ve forged friendships with Parking Lot Bobby, who worked in the mall garage, and Telephone Bobby, who worked at AT&T. Bobby Jones – who was neither – once tussled with a guy named Jim in one of the Pre-Flite’s few brawls.

Jason Yee, who at 39 is younger than the bar he’s owned for three years, wants to move the Pre-Flite somewhere nearby. He’s a Kings season ticket holder and hopes the team finds a place for the Pre-Flite in its entertainment district plans.

“I’m dreaming of an arena that’s built around the Pre-Flite,” said another regular, Mike Rodriguez.

Kings President Chris Granger called the bar a “beloved Sacramento institution” and said the team will work with Yee on his plans. But it’s unlikely you’ll see a Pre-Flite inside the arena, and the project won’t be moved to save what’s a relic to a select few.

Ray Graves, another loyal customer, said there’s room for it all.

“The arena can’t all be brand-new,” he said. “You have to keep a little piece of Sacramento.”

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