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Chico landmark closes after nearly 70 years

 The outside of the 19th Hole Restaurant in Chico on Erlands Point Road. The building has moved locations and has been added onto since it first opened as the Richfield Tavern in the 1940s. - Christopher Carter/staff photo
The outside of the 19th Hole Restaurant in Chico on Erlands Point Road. The building has moved locations and has been added onto since it first opened as the Richfield Tavern in the 1940s.
— image credit: Christopher Carter/staff photo

When friends and patrons left Sunday after Barstool Bingo, “Mama” Mary Turner shut the doors to the 19th Hole Restaurant for the last time.

The restaurant and bar on Erlands Point Road near the Kitsap Golf and Country Club in Chico closed over the weekend after the owner, Herb Heintz of Seattle, called Turner and told her to close shop.

Mounting debt from unpaid taxes and a slumping economy forced the closure of the World War II-era building.

“I tried desperately to make this work and keep the doors open to the public,” said Turner, the restaurant’s manager. “We just don’t have enough money.”

More than 300 people crowded the restaurant Saturday to have their last pint. It was a chance for old friends and newcomers alike to say their goodbyes.

“In a way it’s like a graduation and you don’t know where everyone else is going from there,” said Isaac Smith, who said he visited the restaurant almost every night.

The floor was full of people singing along while Turner sang karaoke for the last time Saturday night, “Babe” by Styx. She said patrons lifted her chair over their heads and chanted her name.

“It was the greatest day of my life. I’ve never felt so loved,” she said, adding the experience was bittersweet. “It was really, really rough for me.”

Turner, who grew up in Detroit and moved to Bremerton in 1983, has worked at the 19th Hole for 23 years and calls the place her “princess.” She’s officiated weddings at the bar, wakes and receptions.

“I’ve stayed here because I love it,” she said, noting she hasn’t had a day off in a year.

Turner said the 19th Hole has been both a place for first jobs and second chances.

The Bremerton Police Department and probation officers have dubbed her “the queen of second chances” because she has hired employees when no one else would because of their criminal background, she said.

She said it is all part of the restaurant’s motto, “That’s how we roll at the hole.”

For Turner and her patrons, the 19th Hole was a home away from home.

“People go there and it’s just like there is no drama and no fights. You feel like you’re at home,” said Smith, known to those at the 19th Hole as “Mike Jones” for his karaoke raps. He added that he felt safe and at ease. “You feel comfortable, they don’t judge you on anything. Everybody is friendly there.”

George Golay, Turner’s son who worked as a bartender at the 19th Hole, said the people that frequented the restaurant were viewed as friends.

“The camaraderie, the people that come through the door, aren’t just customers,” he said. “They tell you their problems, I tell them mine.”

Some patrons have made friends and formed bonds over drinks.

“It’s all family, we’re all family,” said Kathleen Howe of Silverdale. She said she met her boyfriend there and that her cousin met her husband there, as well. “Everybody is split up and no one knows what to do now.”

Turner was serving third generation regulars before she was forced to shut the door.

“It’s crazy how many people there are who my mom has changed their diapers and later served them their first beer,” said Golay.

The green building is not much to look at, and Golay knows it. He said it is what goes on inside that counts.

“This place is nothing fancy. The plumbing sucks, the electrical sucks, but it doesn’t matter to people,” he said.

The 19th Hole used to be called Richfield Tavern in the 1940s when it was built, Turner said. It was also in a different location up the street. She said the building was uprooted and moved to its current location 40 years ago, where it has since been added onto.

The building had a major remodel in 1995, expanding from 1,500 square feet to 3,700 square feet. It was then that the 19th Hole added restaurant to its name and began serving hard liquor.

Heintz and a co-owner bought the establishment in 2006, but the partnership went south, something Heintz said crippled the bar.

“I played catch-up for two years after that,” he said. “If I’m losing money every month, I’ve got to stop the bleeding.”

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