Foster's Bighorn - 300 Heads
Rio Vista, California
California's central Delta offers meager enticements for Roadsiders to pull off the freeway. You can see the crashed UFO without slowing down, and the King of the Windmills has spun off the mortal coil. But Foster's Bighorn is worth a stop, especially if your traveling companions are vegetarians.
Foster's Bighorn Bar and Restaurant was established in 1931 by Bill Foster, designed as a trophy haven where the public could view the animals of the world. Foster passed on in 1963, his wife in 1975, but current management maintains the exhibits and atmosphere.
This famous collection of wild game trophies shows off 300 wild animals, birds, and fish. Just their heads, natch. High-ceilinged, yet gloomy, claustrophobic -- the vague musty flakings of big game kill still in the air. Moose and snarling wild boar heads stare down bar patrons.
Every head is accompanied by a helpful identifying label. Black and white photos, tightly arranged near the bar, chronicle African vacations where Foster cheerily posed with a variety of carcasses.
In the rear dining room, layers of heads reach the ceiling -- water buffalo, lions, a rare giraffe. And the centerpiece of Foster's: the mounted head of a full grown African elephant -- 13 feet from base to trunk tip, with five-foot long tusks! It is supposedly the largest mammal trophy in any collection in existence. Families ask to be seated under the elephant, which is posed, trunk extended, as if roaring in anger and mortal pain. Three Coronas and an order of Jalapeno Poppers, please...
Between our occasional visits, nothing seemed to change in Rio Vista, but that may be ending. Silicon Valley and the boom time Bay Area housing crunch could transform Rio Vista into a place where Main Street rents force a Foster's out. We hope not.
Note: Humphrey the Humpbacked Whale -- a 1980s symbol for New Age animal lovers -- kept losing track and swimming every year up the Bay to Rio Vista, so the souvenir sweatshirts at Foster's feature Humphrey on the front and a big mounted sheep head on the back.
We wouldn't be surprised if someday Humphrey ended up mounted in Fosters -- the new largest mammal trophy.