The response to the passing of Vic Santeramo surprised me. The early 60’s were an interesting time, I had turned 26 with the beginning of that decade and had also just returned from Yugoslavia where I had spent time with my relatives in Montenegro. I really hadn’t worked in two years. We had sold the Masionette bar at 217 North Federal in 1959 which the two Pergakis brothers along with Al Diaz and myself opened in 1956. Probably not many who still remember that bar.
It was immensely popular; we sold 3 barrels of beer a day during the week and 5 a day on weekends. The people from the Blue Ribbon brewery in Milwaukee came to visit us to see what it was we were doing.
After I returned from Europe Jim Chimbidis decided we would open a upscale lounge in the city. We called it The Red Llama.This was the first bar in all North Iowa with carpet on the floor, it had flocked wall coverings, imported brass lamps from India hanging from the walls, the artwork on the walls were by Trechnokoff, a Russian artist. No juke box, we played jazz on our own player, no beer signs inside or out. It was our opinion the city was ready for such a lounge. We were both young, I, 26 and Jim 31. Yet when it came to acquiring the five needed signatures for the beer license….only three would sign. The council approved it with only three. The two who abstained were prejudice, didn’t like foreigners even though we were both born in America. Any of you got a better reason let me hear it. The police chief told me directly that he would not sign it because Chimbidis was Greek and he wore a beard; so did Abraham Lincoln…but Lincoln wasn’t Greek.
During that time Blacks were not served in 99% of bars, fewer yet restaurants. When the doors of the Llama opened there were no restriction on who could or could not enter….and there was never trouble. Eventually we took the building immediately to the South and opened the wall, built a stage and booked entertainment out of Chicago.
Hob Mason was playing the piano for Al Diaz who ran the Driftwood Club at the Clear Lake Country Club. This was and after hours club that stayed open until 5 am…or later. Duke Eellingston’s band…as well as many others all came there after their gig at the Surf ended. They would jam with Hob then go onto to the course to hit a few golf balls even though they were really not allowed on the course….hell they couldn’t even rent a hotel room in that town, or in Mason City for that matter. When the Driftwood Club closed, Hob came to the Llama. Years later Hob was Grand Marshall of the North Iowa Band Festive. He was also the first black man to live in Clear Lake, Iowa. Everything takes time…..more often than not for no good reason.