Meet Giovanni, the saloon barman – The people we met on the way

I met Giovanni Bolliccia in September 2017, with photographer Myles Pritchard, in Calico, California, which is a hybrid of ghost town and theme park.

“What the Hell do you want?” barks Giovanni Bolliccia, after I tentatively knock on the wooden swing doors of Lil’s Saloon, in the Disney-fied Californian ghost town of Calico, a few minutes after closing time. I mutter something apologetic about a story for an inflight magazine, to which he barks: “You’d better make it quick!”

The interview is indeed quick. As Giovanni turns his back to us to count the takings from the period till, he tells us that he’s worked here for 25 years and “been shot 1,000 times” (with cameras, not pistols, we presume). I’m not sure if he’s in character, if he’s actually impatient, or if he’s messing with me.

He claims people from every country in the world bar North Korea have come to the ersatz saloon, built by berry and theme park magnate Walter Knott in the 1950s. The tourists drink Sarsaparillas and cold beers, play on the poker table and admire the glass case full of old pistols, all overlooked by kitsch paintings of Wild West horsemen and hoes.

Giovanni is just about to dismiss me when, as a complete non sequitur, he lurches into politics. “If Donald Trump came here, I’d give him a free drink,” he informs me. “If Hillary came… rat poison!”

If Donald Trump came here, I’d give him a free drink. If Hillary came… rat poison!

I let out a small, pathetic laugh, because I want to be accepted in this ersatz saloon. But I’m soon told I’ve had my time.“Good night, sir”, I say, because that’s somehow the way I think you bid adieu to Trump-supporting saloon bartenders – and exit via the swing doors.  

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