In a way, it was like uprooting the Blarney Stone from the embattlements of Blarney Castle, or removing the altar from St. Stephens Basilica in Budapest, or transplanting the General Sherman redwood from Sequoia National Park.
The much-loved bar at Noriega Hotel, where about a million picon punches were mixed and nearly that many friendships were made during the lifetime of that legendary Basque eatery, was moved Wednesday from its former home in east Bakersfield to its new digs at the Kern County Museum.
"I'm so glad we have room for it," Mike McCoy, the museum's executive director, said as volunteers offloaded the wooden bar and rolled it into the museum's Trolley Room.
"I wanted it to stay where it was," McCoy said of the bar's former home at Noriega's. "But if it had to go somewhere, this is the best place for it."
The move required a crane, a pickup and the experience and sweat of several volunteers, including Geoff Gray, of Bakersfield Irrigation Co.
Gray has some Basque blood flowing through his veins, and the closure of the Noriega Hotel, a Basque restaurant and bar that became well known to many across the country, hit him hard.
But by helping to take the old bar to its new home at the museum, Gray was helping preserve an artifact of local history — and libation.
"It could have ended up in somebody's man cave," he said. "At least we know it's being saved and preserved."
McCoy was all smiles when it arrived. While he strongly believes that Kern's landmarks, neons and other mirrors to local history are best left where they were originally, that is often not possible.
"We made a very good offer for Noriega's neon sign," he said. "That would be the cherry on top of the cupcake."
But the sign is owned by the owners of the building in Old Town Kern where the restaurant was housed for decades before it closed for good in late April and is expected to reopen under new ownership at a still-to-be determined location. Some believe the sign could go to the highest bidder, and maybe end up in someone's palatial backyard or so-called man cave.
Steve Bass, who with the late George Ansolabehere wrote "The Basques of Kern County," was one of the volunteers Wednesday.
"They brought the bar down in pieces from Fresno," Bass said. "It was assembled at the Noriega Hotel in 1940.
"That was the time when the bar and the dining room were added to the hotel," he said.
Attached to the side of the old bar is a metal plate engraved with the name Roger Blanc, who as the story goes, was the brother of Henri Blanc, who operated a service station and general merchandise emporium on the corner to the east of the Noriega. Apparently, Blanc came into the bar every morning and evening, where he sat at the same barstool.
The nameplate will remain exactly where it is, said McCoy.