A Colorful Past…


The building which was to become the Townhouse was built by Emeryville fireman Frank Mesnickow in 1926. He leased the place to a businessman named “Blackie” who knew a way to make Prohibition pay the rent.

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Blackie left for parts unknown in 1936 and Joe Vernetti rented Frank’s property. Vernetti’s Townhouse was originally a neighborhood bar. It was furnished with a haphazard abundance of western curios, a succession of sleepy dogs, a large fireplace and no windows at all.

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historical photo townhouse bar and grill

townhouse bar and grill vintage photo
old photo of the townhouse bar and grill

In the 1940’s, Joe added a restaurant to his bar and formed a dining club called the East Bay Society of Gentleman Chefs. bf3

The Chefs’ main contribution to the culinary arts of Emeryville consisted of wearing chef hats while not cooking.

In addition to his valued regulars, some of Joe’s more notable guests included jockey Willy Shoemaker, movie stars Betty Grable and Tony Curtis, and bandleader Harry James.


1977 —1982

After 41 years, Joe Vernetti retired to Silverado and sold the Townhouse to developers Tom Wenaas and Jim Carnitato. They expanded on the Western theme, adding yet more wagon wheels, snake skins, moose heads and eventually, live country and western featuring big name bands. Riding the crest of the craze created by the film “Urban Cowboy”, the Townhouse became so popular with country-western buffs that club talent booker Ken Greenberg put together an album entitled “Townhouse Live!”


After being closed for a year, due to the exigencies of an unrelated legal matter, the Townhouse was sold to to Bob McManus, an Oakland attorney. It reopened in 1983 with a five day celebration that included free country dance lessons, and attracted old customers whose response was “Thanks for not changing it.” However, as urban interest in country ways gradually declined, business dropped off, and the Townhouse closed for the second time in a decade. Was the end in sight?


No way. In 1989, the Townhouse was sold to Chef Ellen Hope Rosenberg and French restaurateur Joseph LeBrun. After almost a year of repair, remodeling and restoration the Townhouse was reopened. The gloom, saddles, wagon wheels and moose head were gone, replaced with brilliant daylight, a long copper-topped bar, an airy dining area and a sophisticated yet comforting menu.


After 12 years in business Ellen became sole proprietor of the restaurant. Things began to change.

The outdoor patio was remodeled, the gravel parking lot was paved, scrumptious new dishes made their way onto the menu and the web site launched. But there are always flowers on the end of the bar and history continues to be made here every night.

There’s lots more to the story of the Townhouse. To read or download a PDF file with the full story from the Emeryville Historical Society click here.

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