On a recent Monday morning, Cody Brown removed the dollar bills from the ceiling of his bar, The Dirty, and counted them one by one.
“It comes to about $2,300,” he tells me. “Enough to pay the insurance and keep the place open.”
The bar, which is one of the oldest in Santa Rosa, has a storied past.
“It was the first speakeasy in the city during the prohibition against alcohol, and it was also the first gay bar around here,” Cody explains.
He named it The Dirty soon after he bought it in November 2019.
With the coming of Covid-19, it was shuttered. As of June 1 it reopened, partially.
“I call it ‘fine parking-lot dining,’” Cody says.
The Dirty offers outdoor barbecue chicken, rice bowls, mac salad and booze, including mixed drinks from veteran bartenders. The pandemic hit Cody especially hard.
“I lost $87,000 and I’m $40,00 in debt,” he says. “Plus, I’m three months behind on the rent and on the cusp of being homeless. I feel like my grandfather, who used to say, ‘I’m floating on the wings of a butterfly.’”
Cody has followed the protests in Sonoma County and around the country with more than casual interest. From behind the bar, he sings a line from a Rage Against the Machine song—“Those that work forces are the same that burn crosses”—which links cops and the KKK.
“There needs to be a teardown of the whole police system,” he tells me.
When he first opened The Dirty, there was big-time crime in the neighborhood and the bar itself was, as he explains, “really fucked up.” Cody cleaned it up, attracted a crowd of locals, bohemians and folks who like karaoke, live music and strong drink.
“Crime dropped 26 percent after we opened,” he says.
Maybe instead of beefing up police departments, cities like Santa Rosa need guys like Cody Brown and establishments like The Dirty, where the color of your skin doesn’t matter and everyone who bellies up to the bar is on an equal footing.