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January 26, 2007

A penny here, a penny there, and pretty soon your entire bar is covered with nearly a million of them

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For real.

Randal C. Archibold paid a visit to Mike & Annie's Penny Bar (above) in McKittrick, California to see what a million pennies looks like.

He wrote about the experience in a [nearly] priceless January 7, 2007 New York Times story, which follows.

    See a Penny, Pick It Up and ‘Honey, Get the Glue!’

    It began innocently enough, like most casual obsessions. Annie Moore dropped a penny into an empty coffee can. Clink.

    And then another. Clink. And soon enough, many, many more. Mrs. Moore began scouring parking lots for lost pennies. Clink, clink, clink. She filled several cans.

    Like many penny hoarders, she was never sure what to do with all of them — until she and her husband bought a roadside bar and cafe in this speck of a town in California oil country near Bakersfield. Why not, she asked her husband, Mike, festoon the bar with the pennies? And he dutifully obliged the crazy idea, using regular Elmer’s glue to affix them from one end of the bar to another.

    Job well done. Well, almost.

    “I said that was a nice start, but I meant the whole bar, everything,” Mrs. Moore said with a laugh. She is the laughing one of the pair. Mr. Moore is the grumbler, and it is no wonder.

    It was his task to complete the job, penny by painstaking penny, six years of gluing, gluing and gluing.

    [Below, a detail of the penny bar]

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    Now, one million pennies later — from Annie’s cans, customers with loose change and not a few trips to the bank for exchanges — Mike & Annie’s Penny Bar is a sight to behold. The pennies, like a swarm of copper ants, cover nearly every surface: the floor, the walls, even the sides of the pool table.

    Mr. Moore did not exactly count out one million pennies, but after calculating 304 pennies per square foot of surface area, he figures it is pretty close. “It’s 200,000 on the floor alone,” he said proudly.

    There are surprises. Mr. Moore used different shadings of pennies, old and new, to spell out a few messages that the sober may miss without squinting: “No Fishing,” under a fish tank. “I was a TV,” over an old television set. “Mike (heart) Annie,” on the back wall behind a row of liquor bottles. (These compete with an assortment of bumper stickers with messages like “Don’t suffer from insanity, enjoy every minute of it.”)

    Mr. Moore did not enjoy every minute of this job, especially when pennies kept loosening from the ceiling railings. And it was not done entirely out of love. Mrs. Moore paid him a bribe of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle a couple of years ago.

    Of course, they do appreciate the tourists.

    “It is kind of a regional attraction,” said Kial Gunter, an oil field worker, whose beer one afternoon sat close to the bar’s prize possession, an 1883 Indian head penny. The oldest of the lot, it sits unheralded among its contemporary brethren beneath the hard plastic that covers the bar top.

    “I didn’t even know it was there until a customer pointed it out to me one day,” Mr. Moore said. After a while, a penny is a penny.

    The bar and cafe are what is left of the McKittrick Hotel, which has not operated as one for decades and is one of just a few businesses downtown, such as it is. A road sign off Highway 33, the main drag, gives the population as 190, but Jan Heim, a local rancher, said, “I think they were counting cats and dogs.”

    Still, the Moores are preparing to give it all up. They have put the place up for sale, asking $899,999.98, “as is,” pennies included.

    It is time to retire, they said, exhausted from the crush of business.

    Illness sidelined Mr. Moore from much of the cafe work and penny-laying a couple of years ago. Mrs. Moore, working seven days a week, is ready for some fishing. For lunch each day she cooks about 80 steak specials on two outdoor grills, and she often does many more for the dinner crowd.

    The establishment’s pennies surely lure some, but it is also the only restaurant to speak of for the growing number of energy workers in this part of Kern County, which locals have nicknamed West Texas for all the oil derricks and natural-gas plants.

    Attractions are few.

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    “Who the heck would live in a godforsaken place like this?” Mr. Moore recalled asking when he first passed through in the early 1970s, on the way to visit one of Mrs. Moore’s aunts, who lived in town.

    But the Moores were interested in getting out of the termite-extermination business they had operated in Eureka, Calif., and so they rented and operated the cafe for several months then. They went back to crawling under houses for a few more decades before quitting eight years ago and buying the McKittrick Hotel outright, moving in to some of the rooms upstairs.

    From their travels they had grown fond of greasy spoons, and they dreamed of owning one in a quiet, simple place. But every little cafe needs a quirk, and that is where the pennies came in. Those, coupled with Mrs. Moore’s secret steak marinade, have drawn the masses ever since.

    Television stations and magazines have visited over the years, and usually donations of pennies have followed. One customer left a five-gallon bucket full of them.

    The Moores are leaving it up to the next owner to decide the pennies’ fate, but they hope they will remain. At the very least, someone has to keep up the penny puns, which have been difficult to avoid to this point — but it is time for a change.

    “I guess,” Mrs. Moore said, “the buyer needs to be penny-wise.”

January 26, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Comments

that is really cool now you should keep collecting thanxs see yeah

Posted by: scotty | May 15, 2007 7:11:39 PM

I WOULD LOVE TO COME AND VISIT YOUR BAR SOMETIME. MY BOYFRIEND AND I R GOING TO BE COMING TO CALI SOON AND WE PLAN ON STOPPING BY!

Posted by: Jesyka Shindledecker | Apr 18, 2007 10:36:21 PM

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