Some folks don’t wait until October to dress in costume. A growing group of women periodically don Victorian steampunk garb for special get-togethers, “Damsels’ Night Out” at Cullens’ Tannery Pub. Steampunk style is adapted from the vintage science fiction writings of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Men wear top hats, brocade vests and cravats. Women have full skirts, lace and brocade corsets worn outside their blouses. Common accessories are a set of goggles and creatively-used gears.

Sissy Coffeen, of Benicia, models her steampunk hat designed by Elisa Anderson.


Cullen’s Tannery Pub opened in the former O’Leary’s site in 2012. Intrigued by the thematic options, Dennis and Denise Cullen gradually transformed the original look to full-blown steampunk. An octopus arm and diving gear suggest Captain Nemo’s adventures. Airship illustrations recall retro sky travel. Other décor might be souvenirs from Wells’ famous “Time Machine” journeys. Some are by the innovative artist Greego. Their pub is a sought-out Benicia destination for fans of Vallejo’s Obtainium Works and Mad Hatter celebrations, the Bay Area’s Clockwork Alchemy steampunk convention and attendees of Renaissance festivals, the Northern California Pirate Festival and the Great Charles Dickens Christmas Fair. 

East Bay resident Cheryl Murphy organizes and promotes the Damsels’ Nights through her Facebook page postings. She instigated the “Damsels” meet-ups as opportunities to “exercise our corsets” – an excuse to dress up and go to town. Men are welcome, too. Local attendees join those from Vallejo, Martinez, San Jose, Sacramento, and beyond. Soroptimist International of Benicia is considering similar nights as new fun for monthly meetings.

Laura Chilcott, of Vallejo, visited O’Leary’s. She and Murphy attended a Cullen’s Pub beverage tasting and realized it was the perfect place to show up in Victorian dress. “Cheryl and I decided to invade.” The Cullens’ agreed. They and staff members now dress for the periodic occasions.  “It’s a lot more than just goggles,” Murphy said, “It’s not a clearly-defined genre.” Allied with the Maker Movement and Burning Man, steampunk encourages creativity in costuming and character. One can portray a daring airship captain or a high-society Victorian, she said. “It’s thinking outside the box.”

Soroptimist Sissy Coffeen, in an outfit designed by Elisa Anderson of Elisa’s Cottage, said the Damsels meetup gave her a chance to dress “as a different person,” a break from the everyday. Anderson wore an outfit inspired by Dr. Who. “The costumes are awesome,” she said.

The Damsels’ Nights and the pub are considering a return to the tastings that inspired the gatherings from the beginning – rums, whiskies and absinthes in steampunk-themed offerings.

“It’s all good, clean fun, and you learn something,” Denise Cullen said.

Cullen’s Tannery Pub, 131 First St., 707-637-5300, is open from 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays through Fridays, 1 p.m. to midnight Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. It has both a Facebook page and Twitter account.