The neon sign is lit, and Joe's Corner is jumpin' again.
After nearly 80 years of saloon history, with some openings and closings tossed in, the legendary corner "dive" on Niles Boulevard in Fremont has re-opened as a family-friendly neighborhood coffee shop, deli and bar.
With new operators at the helm, locals Bob and Melissa DiMatteo, Joe's Corner is serving a delicatessen-style menu that New Yorkers will envy — in a setting that will make history buffs swoon.
The DiMatteos made some updates, like the newly installed espresso-cappuccino-latte machine, but kept the old-school charm of the vintage Kraftile bar and pastry case, the storefront window which opens to the street, and the historic wooden doors.
And prominently displayed is one hand-painted piece of history — a giant mural entitled "Happy Joe's Corner" with detailed renderings of past pub patrons.
Previous Joe's owners had the painting in storage, Bob said, and he's not really sure who the artist was.
But the DiMatteos are playing a "who's who" to identify the folks in the piece — the lawman, the cowboy, the soldier, the saloon gal — and have a smaller rendition of the painting with individuals numbered and a corresponding, fill-in-the-blank list for names.
The actual building dates back to the 1920s or 1930s; historical versions vary. Originally owned by Joseph Silva, it was sold to Joe Viveiros in the mid-'20s, who for decades ran what was the favorite gathering spot for Niles steel, tile, railroad and nursery laborers, who even cashed their paychecks there, and for silent film star Bronco Billy, who worked and partially owned the nearby Essanay Studios.
Families and children bought ice cream from the front-street window; dairy products and eggs were reportedly sold around the corner, according to a local.
History students even pegged Joe's as a spot that smuggled in alcohol during Prohibition.
After its colorful tavern past, Joe's apparently was denied a liquor license by city officials a few years back, which led to its brief stint as a no-alcohol joint, a teen hangout and the go-to meeting site for such 12-step groups as Alcoholics Anonymous, before folding once more in 2009.
So the re-opening of Joe's Corner is welcomed by locals like Viveiros' daughter, Cathy Mozzetti, who is now in her 80s and lives in the area, the DiMatteos said.
The couple is planning Joe's "official" debut for January.
For now, it's a "soft opening" as details are finessed and menu items tinkered with and expanded, Melissa said. Grilled chicken with basil dressing and baked ziti with Italian sausage are in the works, she said.
At present, Joe's is open Tuesdays through Sundays, serving breakfast pastries, Mission coffees, lunchtime and early dinner sandwiches, and homemade salads, plus beer and wine.
Sandwiches — like grilled proscuitto with salame and mozzarella or the classic Italian muffuletta — start at $6.95 including side salads, dinner entrees run about $10, with beer and wine at $4 a glass.
Even the kids' menu is a throwback: Along with grilled cheese and PB&Js, the new Joe's Corner offers '60s-era "Fluffernutters."
Joe's Corner is located at 37713 Niles Blvd, Fremont. Phone: (510) 896-8025.