Still Rowdy, Raucous & Rockin’: L.A. Landmark Barney’s Beanery Turns 100

The Editors

 

Call it a recipe for success 100 years in the making. Take the freewheeling Americana spirit of Route 66; mix in some classic, old school Hollywood performers; add a bunch of pool tables; sprinkle in some pop art; throw in a few episodes of “Columbo”; blend in the mold-breaking attitude of The Doors, Janis Joplin, and “Easy Rider”; introduce a healthy serving of Beatniks, authors, screenwriters, architects and artists; stir in a delectable menu of comfort foods like chili, waffles, pancakes, burgers, pizza, burritos, and onion soup; pour on dozens of beers from around the world; create the most raucous, free-wheeling, game-playing and hard-rocking atmosphere imaginable; and then heat the whole concoction up with a killer soundtrack from the iconic rock scene of the defining 1960s Sunset Strip/Laurel Canyon music era.

And that’s how you would design the one and only Barney’s Beanery, the legendary West Hollywood restaurant and bar that’s turning 100 this year.

This is where Janis Joplin had her final meal a few hours before she died, and where Jim Morrison was once thrown out for urinating all over the bar. This is where Oliver Stone filmed part of his movie The Doors, where Quentin Tarantino wrote scenes for Pulp Fiction, and where Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis hammed things up as the guest stars of a glitzy Hollywood event in 1951. Barney’s Beanery is also where such artistically diverse celebrities as Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando, Liza Minnelli, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have come not to pose but to repose with good food, good drinks, good friends, and hard rockin’ times.

In recognition of this year’s centennial milestone, Barney’s Beanery will host an ambitious street fair in June (date pending) at its flagship West Hollywood location. The event will feature classic Barney’s dishes and drinks, along with special guest stars, VIP speakers, and musical performances. Additional details about the event, along with other forthcoming centennial-themed celebrations taking place throughout 2020, will be announced shortly.

 

 

Racing From 66 to 100                                                                                                              

Woodrow Wilson was president, movies were silent, World War 1 was over, booze was outlawed, and nightclubs, flappers and jazz were roaring their way into the public consciousness 100 years ago. But one constant remained – people liked to eat good food.

Answering this timeless call, a man named John "Barney" Anthony founded the first Barney’s Beanery in Berkeley, California, back in 1920 to offer everyday consumers the same blend of chili burgers and onion soup he had served his pals in the Navy during the war.

Attracted by the climate and vibe of the still frontier-ish Route 66 in Southern California (now Santa Monica Boulevard), Barney moved his namesake diner to what is today West Hollywood in 1927. Soon after, Barney’s irresistibly delectable cuisine and welcoming, down home atmosphere found a local following, especially among travelers looking for a better life in California – travelers who, as a rite of passage, would leave behind countless out-of-state license plates to prove to the world they had arrived in the promised land. Those license plates still decorate the bar at Barney’s Beanery today.

Embraced by Hollywood royalty as a down-to-earth alternative to the region’s growing number of snooty formal dining establishments, Barney’s soon became a home away from home for such early movie stars as Clara Bow, John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Bette Davis. At the same time, Barney’s Beanery proved to be an equally welcoming sanctuary for newly arrived Southern California transplants and Average Joes off the street because Barney himself instinctively understood one truth that remains a Barney’s hallmark to this day: Delicious food coupled with a fun, colorful and unpretentious decor, and music will always be society’s great equalizer.          

Over the decades, the world of course changed, but Barney’s Beanery stayed true to its original mandate: Provide guests with the best food, the best drinks, and the best experience possible. Indeed, so universal was Barney’s timeless appeal that by the 1950s, it was a destination of choice for everyone from seasoned film and TV stars to counterculture musicians, and from Beatniks to avant-garde writers, artists, poets and architects.  

From the early to mid-1960s, Barney’s became an outlet for counterculture freedom and artistic expression as well. The Pop Artists associated with the Ferus Gallery, located on nearby La Cienega Blvd., included regular Barney’s patrons John Altoon, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Mel Ramos, Dennis Hopper, and Ed Ruscha.

The era was perhaps best defined by the 1965 artistic work of avant-garde artist Ed Kienholz, entitled, “The Beanery.” The piece, which was created in plaster of Paris, was a reproduction of the Barney’s restaurant, complete with bacon smells, cooking sounds, and papier-mâché customers.  For the piece, John Anthony, aka “Barney,” posed for his own artistic counterpart – appearing as the only figure within the tableau with a face instead of a clock. “He was flabbergasted,” Kienholz told Newsweek magazine. The debut of “The Beanery” took place in the Barney’s Beanery parking lot, and was later displayed by the Dwan Gallery in New York. Today the piece is displayed at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. (See:   http://www.kathievezzani.com/ blog/the-beanery)

If there’s a period of time over the past decades that best defines Barney’s unique personality, however, it is the late 1960s. Located near the Sunset Strip, the Whiskey A Go-Go, the Troubadour, and the Roxy Theater, and a natural magnet for the young and up-and-coming, Barney’s Beanery welcomed not only a new generation of actors like Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, but such hippie-era figureheads as Jim Morrison and The Doors (a plaque on the bar marks Morrison’s presence today), and Janis Joplin, who passed away from a heroin overdose at the nearby Landmark Hotel after a night of partying at Barney’s.

Sadly, Barney Anthony himself also passed away during the 1960s – in 1968. Restaurateur Irwin Feld took the reins for the next 30 years, before selling Barney’s to David Houston and Avi Fattal in 1998.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Barney’s Beanery attracted a veritable tsunami of new wave musicians and Brat Packers: Jane’s Addiction, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and John Cusack, to name just a few. As the indie film world expanded in the ‘90’s, it also wouldn’t be unusual to spot a then-little-known writer and director named Quentin Tarantino holed up in one of Barney’s multi-colored padded booths, hard at work writing a little film entitled Pulp Fiction.

Today, the eatery continues to draw the famous and infamous, with regular appearances by the hottest supermodels, pop singers, sports figures, politicians, social media “influencers,” scandal newsmakers, and reality TV stars visiting from coast to coast.  

 

A Taste of History

If the United States had its very own menu, it might look like the 700 item mega-menu at Barney’s Beanery. Sure, the restaurant’s classic French Onion Soup harks back to another country and there are more than a few mainstays from south of the border, but most of the food served at Barney’s is quintessential American through and through.

"Our plates of chili beans have been served up to customers since 1920, which is how the ‘Beanery’ part of Barney’s Beanery got its name," says co-owner David Houston. He adds, “The casual atmosphere and roadhouse comfort food is moderately priced, making it a big value for business luncheons. Our ideal customer is anyone and everyone who has an appreciation for fattening food, good chili, cold beer, and loud rock ‘n’ roll.”

Barney's Beanery serves nearly 200 imported and domestic beers with 40 on tap, along with countless other bar specialties.

 

 

Barney's Beanery in Popular Culture                                                                                                      

 Not surprisingly, during its first century as a Southern California landmark and entertainment capital mainstay, Barney’s Beanery has become a film, television and music industry star in its own right. Guest appearances for the restaurant over the years include TV’s Columbo (though only one episode was actually filmed on-site, the beloved lieutenant enjoyed many a bowl of Barney’s chili on a soundstage recreation of Barney’s during the series run), Oliver Stone’s The Doors; Brian dePalma’s Body Double; the Val Kilmer feature; Real Genius; and the Farrelly brothers’ comedy, Stuck on You.

 

 

Revving Up for the Next 100                                                                                              

As Barney’s Beanery prepares for its historic 100th anniversary, co-owner David Houston sees continued success ahead for this classic slice of Americana. As he explains, “Barney’s Beanery  is like this great old pair of blue jeans that you love – it’s a time capsule you don’t have to wait a hundred years to open because it’s already been open for a century. The reason we’ve been able to capture the imagination of diners from one decade to the next is because we haven’t really changed much over the years. We are very authentic, and even though we are world-famous, we’re not a tourist trap.”  

For more information, visit: Barney's Beanery. 

 

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