San Jose Mercury News (CA)
April 6, 1990
Section: Local
Edition: Morning Final
Page: 1B

THOMAS FARRAGHER, Mercury News Staff Writer

The room was too bright. The walls a little too perpendicular. The waitresses altogether too polite.

But the crowd -- from judges to ditch diggers, cops to newspaper reporters -- was just right. The cellar dwellers were back.
For a few hours Thursday night, nearly 300 regulars of Manny's Cellar -- the venerable downtown eatery that closed last week to make room for an historic preservation project -- toasted the place and the people that had made them feel at home for more than 26 years.

''Manny's Cellar was always the place people would go for good conversation and for good food," said Kelli Harrison, who helped organize the reunion at which owner Manny Pereira and longtime employees were honored. "The waitresses were just exceptional, as long as you don't mind being called honey or getting yelled at for having your feet in the aisle."

Manny's -- with its folksy service, linen tablecloths, nicotine-stained walls, eclectic clientele, and sign over the bar that proudly proclaimed: "Yes, we have no Bud" -- slipped into city history last week in the face of a top-to-bottom renovation of the 130-year-old building on West St. John Street, once the home of early San Jose Mayor Thomas Fallon.

Nearly three years ago, the city began to express interest in the property and last year it won a $1 million state grant to refurbish the Fallon House. Pereira announced last fall that he would not fight the move, nor take the city up on an offer to relocate his business. He said he was too tired.

That decision upset a daily routine for Manny's customers, who had become fixtures at the popular watering hole and restaurant.

''It started as a hotel or restaurant in 1894 . . . and it has been some sort of a restaurant in one form or the other for 96 years," observed Manny's regular Harry Farrell, a former Mercury News political writer. "If you're going to memorialize a building as a landmark, maybe you should recognize that it was a restaurant for practically a century after it was Fallon's house."

Pereira said Thursday he'd rather focus on the friendships forged at Manny's than the reasons for its demise. "I never had a bad customer. It was just like family in there," said Pereira, the center of attention at the Lou's Village restaurant gala. "We never had a fight in the place, and that's something to be proud of."

The $35-a-ticket event yielded enough money to pay for generous travel vouchers for Manny's longtime employees, Jean Cunningham, Jonie Gomez, Norma DeLange and Russ Burgoon. Some of them talked of Hawaiian vacations.

''I've been going there since 1963. It's just so sad," said Joan Justi, another reunion organizer. "I think both Henry's Hi-Life and Manny's are institutions in downtown San Jose. From attorneys to blue-collar workers -- everyone went there."

Last May, the redevelopment agency filed condemnation proceedings to acquire the property. Last fall, the city began negotiations with Pereira to buy out the business.

''Manny is a special person and his restaurant was a special place," said Councilwoman Judy Stabile before the event. "And he had a community feeling that was quite uncommon in a city that is looking for community feelings."

Among the ticket holders to Thursday night's event was Ron Levine, a county deputy sheriff, who claims to have purchased the last bottle of beer ever served at Manny's -- a Stroh's that he plans to have mounted on a plaque.

''It's a real shame," said Levine. "It was a real sad day for all of us."


PHOTO: Cheryl Nuss -- Mercury News

Manny Pereira got a kiss from niece, Sheri Pereira, at dinner Thursday night

PHOTO: Mercury News File Photograph

HISTORIC HANGOUT CLOSES - Manny's Cellar no longer sports an 'open' sign.

(This photo ran in the Afternoon Editions only.)

Copyright (c) 1990 San Jose Mercury News