Hidden Saloon from 1912
Don and I had a mighty memorable night at The Blue Beet, in October... when we finally found it on Balboa Peninsula.
The 110 year old brick building stood just yards from wharf. We could see it on the map, but we still drove in circles. The skinny, 3-story structure was sort of tucked into an alley.
Stark's in 1912
We were greeted by a narrow hall when we stepped inside. If it had been a century earlier, (when Henry Stark owned the saloon) I probably wouldn't have been allowed inside. Unless my name was Dollar Dolly. She was an older "Lady of the Night" who searched for customers at Stark's. This may just be folklore... not sure.
I was not nearly as bold as Dolly, so I let Don lead the way. Actually, I was just moving slowly as I studied the walls and thought about Mr. Stark. I'd read up a bit on the internet. He evidently ran the rough and tumble saloon, in a pretty relaxed manner, back in the day. He managed to keep the bar open, even through prohibition days. He also allowed a never ending poker game to continue throughout his ownership. When the bar closed at 2 am, the game continued right into the morning, when the bar re-opened at 6 am.
Sid's Blue Beet in 1960
If we'd come in the 1960's, when Sid Soffer took ownership, I might have felt a little more welcome. I assume women were allowed, in the sixties. If they'd felt uncomfortable though, they could have put a dime in the payphone near the door, to call a cab. Not sure if that phone is actually original.
From what I've read, the owner Sid was even more of a character than Henry Stark. He served food, but refused to offer condiments. He got himself on the city council where he stirred up trouble... enough trouble, that he fled to Vegas to avoid arrest. He died in Vegas, in 2007.
The Bar Today
I believe The Blue Beet has been owned by a father and son, since 2015. I know nothing about them.
We didn't see the owners, but met Manny the bartender (manager?) when we arrived after 6 on a Monday evening.
We had heard that singer/guitarist Mike Hamilton would be performing that evening. Don and I became quick fans when we enjoyed his music in Laguna Beach, back in 2012. Manny said Mike wouldn't be performing till closer to 7, so we had time to kill.
I looked around the cozy-dim space and wondered about other performers in the saloon's past. I'm sure there were many musicians over the years, but evidently in the sixties you could also enjoy entertainment like flamenco dancing or poetry readings. At some point Steve Martin did stand up here!
After peeking around a bit, we decided to head outside to see if we could catch the sunset.
We didn't have to walk far. The Pacific was lovely and we caught the sun just before it disappeared.
We wandered near the pier and studied some of the businesses facing the water. The older bars reminded us that this area was once a working class seaport. In the early 1900's buildings stood yards from the wharf, offering food and drink... and brothels.
I'm sure "Blackies By the Sea" and "Beach Ball" have some stories to tell. Who knows how old they actually are, but they now stay open more hours than Blue Beet! Blackie's opens daily at 10. Beach Ball appears to have the same hours that Blue Beet had long ago. "Closed 2am to 6am"
Back to the Beet
It was a little darker (than my photo) by the time we returned to the Blue Beet. The window to the kitchen was open, sharing some pretty good smells.
Luckily no smells of burning food... or burning building. Evidently there was a huge fire in 1986, that destroyed most of the interior. Luckily, enough of the brick exterior was spared, so the building could be renovated.
Peek in the Kitchen
Once inside, I had another view of the kitchen.
Under the Prime Steaks sign, I could catch a glimpse of the bright room, that made our dinner later.
Mike & Guitar
Don and I headed for the back room, where Mike was setting up, beneath a neon Blue Beet sign.
I've kept up with with Mike on Facebook, since seeing him perform in Laguna. He knew his fans from 10 years ago, were coming that night, so if was a fun reunion. We chatted casually while Mike dealt with all his equipment.
Mike and Don continued to gab, while I explored. I climbed upstairs to check out all the levels.
There was even a roof terrace, on the top level. I took a quick peek and headed back down, checking out all the framed posters and photos, on my way.
There was an odd assortment of framed celebrities, from Jackie Kennedy to sports players. And then there were images that clearly had stories behind them.
There was a lot to wonder about. What was original from the old saloon, besides the brick?
But there was no time for questions. Mike was tuning up and I was thirsty and hungry.
From Beatles to Bach
Don and I grabbed a table in the cozy back room and spent the next few hours enjoying Mike's mellow voice and acoustic guitar. He started with Simon and Garfunkel's, "The Boxer" Good choice.
I requested Cat Stevens and heard an old favorite, "Moon Shadow". Perfect! It was fun to hear some Kenny Loggins tunes, knowing that Mike toured with him back in the seventies. Another nice surprise was hearing Mike's guitar doing a little combo of Bach and Pachabel! What an enjoyable evening.
We hadn't come for the food but we did have a decent dinner with our drinks and music. The salad with grilled chicken, goat cheese, candied walnuts, beets, apples and and balsamic dressing was very tasty!
The house Pesto Flatbread with mozzarella and baby arugula was surprisingly yummy.
So I mentioned the food, because this is a Dining Blog. But the tasty food was just a part of the enjoyable evening. The other guests and laid back atmosphere, made it feel like we were in someone's living room, hanging out. Mike chatted through his mic, introducing us to to each other and telling stories... experimenting with different requests and thanking us all repeatedly. We hadn't intended on staying until his last song, but we did and enjoyed every minute.
Last to Go
I guess Don and I acted like Groupies. We lingered, until only Mike and Manny were left.
Manny took our picture and we 3 grinned, kind of like we did 10 years ago when we took a photo at The White House in Laguna. Yay for a good mix of music, food and historic atmosphere!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.