BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Thanksgiving eve kicks off one of the busiest four day stretches of the year for restaurants everywhere but in the Old Town Kern section of east Bakersfield, that’s especially the case.
Sometimes it seems like the tradition is older than cranberry sauce — the long Thanksgiving weekend, when family members reunite for the holiday and college students drive back for home cooking and mom’s laundry service.
And where do many of them go the day before and the day after Thanksgiving? Right here.
Thanksgiving weekend is huge for Old Town Kern restaurants — Pyrenees, Woolgrowers, Arizona Cafe and especially Luigi’s. Basque and non-Basque alike, it’s big.
The Wednesday lunch crowd at Luigi’s was more like a Friday or Saturday crowd. Owner Gino Valpredo sees the phenomenon play out every year.
“All the college kids come home,” Valpredo said. “Tonight is really the big party, so they kinda hit the area, but the ones that made it back early enough generally always come here. Our biggest day will probably be Friday with all the college kids. We got a smattering of them here today.”
Cooper Bridge was in town from Long Beach for Thanksgiving at his in-laws’ place. Why did he and wife Lori choose Luigi’s the day before the feast?
“There’s a few hidden gems in Bakersfield,” he said. “Luigi’s is definitely our number one. So whenever we come back to visit, we always find ourselves here for lunch.”
At Wool Growers, the lunch crowd was typical – so-so for a Wednesday — but just wait till tonight for the big reunion.
Joe Coscarart, who has been bartending here for 30 years, said visitors come in from other states.
“We got people from Arizona, from Texas right now, from New Mexico,” he said. “They come from all over, you know. It’s a family reunion.”
Every Old Town Kern restaurant has its own distinct vibe. At Pyrenees Cafe, the blue-collar lunch crowd will give way to old friends and live music Friday night. Pyrenees server Delaney Griffin is looking forward to it.
“The night before Thanksgiving a lot of the families come into town to do their big Thanksgiving thing,” she said, “so we’re the big break before they have to do their family stuff tomorrow.”
Arizona Cafe, one of the oldest Mexican restaurants in town, was feeling it too. Owner Oscar Ramirez is glad customers choose his place for reunions – but he’s even happier to see his own family get together again.
“‘Everyone gets together, my sister, she is back and it’s good times,” he said.
On this long Thanksgiving weekend, it’s all about family, it’s all about hometown, it’s all about memories, reliving old ones, making new ones. And Old Town Kern is the place many choose to experience it.
The lunch crowd was long gone by 5 p.m., but then came the dinner crowd, and sometime after that, another Thanksgiving weekend tradition – that pub-to-pub walking caravan known as the Basque crawl. Here’s hoping this was going to be a big evening for taxi and Uber drivers.