Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Barkley

I've waited far too long to gush about The Barkley. Oh, there are other classic Los Angeles establishments that feel like something imagined by Raymond Chandler or Orson Welles. Musso and Franks is one. The Formosa Cafe is another. But those places are in Hollywood. The Barkley is right here in South Pasadena at the corner of Fremont and Huntington. From the moment you notice the sign promising live music and dancing, you get a feeling this restaurant is a blast from a distant past. The one before we thought about cholesterol, where everyone ordered a second martini before dinner arrived.

When you step into The Barkley, you get the urge to hear something by Tony Bennett. It's a classic mix of dim lights, dark wood and shiny brass with fussy chatchkas on the wall and neatly folded napkins on the tables. The Barkley menu is pages upon pages long, with dozens of classic dishes arranged under alliterative subject headings and fetched with elan by an old-school, professional wait staff that, honestly, should be the subject of a documentary. This not a hipster place inspired by great steakhouses. This really IS a great steakhouse. It's not a spot the Sex in the City characters would have ever appeared -- though they clearly missed out, because the wine glasses are more like fish bowls. But it is a place where the Sopranos would would have felt comfortable enough to argue loudly in one of the dark, leather booths before patching things up over cheesecake.

I recently had dinner at The Barkley with friend and fellow Southern California blogger Yakpate. We thought the New York Strip steaks we ordered were the best we'd ever had. No, they weren't unique or cutting edge or nouvelle -- just simple and delicious and perfectly prepared. And did I mention those fishbowl-size wine glasses?

You can read more about The Barkley here.

25 comments:

dbdubya said...

Roger Barkley was a radio legend in Los Angeles. He and his partner Al Lohman were a morning team for many years. Roger was a long time La Canada resident. He and his business partner bought their first restaurant in La Canada in probably the mid-80's and turned it into The Barkley. It had the same, huge menu with funny quips by Roger about menu items. Roger could be seen regularly at the bar.

Roger and his partner Bruce Campbell bought several more restaurants including the old Crossbow. Not all were named for Barkley, but all were good, traditional joints with a hefty bar action. Did I mention that Roger could often be seen at the bar.

Roger passed away about 10 years ago and this is the only restaurant that still carries his name. But, it remains very much the same.

Yakpate said...

And another thing... there is something about the Barkley that inspires good conversation, above and beyond those fish-bowl-sized servings of wine. Somehow, dining there, you feel more outspoken and inspired.

And if you order your steak medium rate, it arrives hot and with the perfect amount of pink!

Barbara said...

Nice in black and white..

Trish said...

dbd---you beat me to the punch on the details.

Like Vin Scully, or Gary Owens or Wolfman Jack, if you were listening to the radio 30 or 40 years ago, you heard Roger Barkley--deep bass voice and witty too.

But, I will admit, it is one of the few SoPas places I have never been in. Ever. I think as a child, it was due to the not exactly light bar and the location so close to Alhambra. A combination a parent wasn't likely to take their child to experience and somehow, that carried into my adulthood.

Am glad you and yak had a good time and that Roger's good food and spirits are living on. The fishbowl sized wine glasses is enough to encourage me to stop in sometime!

Mister Earl said...

I used to go there to dance sometimes with one of my dance partners, but it's rough on that small floor if anyone else is dancing. There was a woman there who sang and she would always tell my partner that she looked "stun - ning!"

I lived in San Diego in the mid-70s and was a big listener to Lohman and Barkley. In 1981, when I moved to South Pas after law school, my girlfriend, who was a USC med student, called Lohman and Barkley to thank them. She said, "My boyfriend is moving down here from Northern California where there's air, to Southern Californai because we have Lohman and Barkley." The three of them were on the phone for several minutes. I still have a tape of it.

I never met either of them in person, and I was unhappy when they parted ways. I'm not sure what happened, but I think they were estranged for the last decade they were both alive.

Mister Earl said...

Laurie - You're kidding me that you were in Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung you in the Closet and I'm Feeling so Sad... aren't you? What part did you play? I was Jonathan, of course. I was typecast. I was very repressed in many ways.

Before Oh Dad our drama teacher picked the plays. Some people were so scandalized by the bedroom scene in Oh Dad that after Oh Dad, the principal made a rule that from thenceforth all plays would be picked by a committee.

Margaret said...

I walk by this restaurant almost every day as I walk my kids to school or take my dog to the vet. Don't hate me I tell you it's always seemed a bit...dodgy to me. But I guess I was wrong.

dbdubya said...

It is a bit dodgy, Margaret, which is part of the charm. It's a throwback to another era, sort of like South Pasadena. There are no tofu burgers on the menu - just classic fare.

A good friend's father was a bartender at the Formosa Cafe, mentioned by Laurie in her post, for about 50 years. Old Nick had some great stories about old Hollywood. You can see the Formosa in LA Confidential, one of the great film noir movies of all time.

Virginia said...

And did you have a baked potato with sour cream and chives and a wedge of iceberg lettuce with thousand island dressing? Pardon! I just had a little flashback myself. It's 10 in the morning and my mouth is watering for that steak. Garcon! Refill my fish bowl s'il vous plait!
V

Laurie said...

DBW--I spent MANY nights at The Formosa the first few years after I moved to Los Angeles. I lived on Formosa Avenue just up the street. I knew all the oldies well -- Lindy, the bartender, became kind of like a grandfather to me and my friends. That is, if one would ever have a grandfather who was named best bartender in the world by Rolling Stone magazine! This was back in 88 when everyone was still alive working there who had been there in the 40s and 50s, including the owner Lem who always sat in the booth near the back and Cass the waitress who used to flirt with Bogie back in the day.

Mister Earl, I played Mme Rosepettle. It was the first play chosen by the brand new drama teacher who came from New York. Needless to say, the whole sand-kicked-in-lovers-faces speech caused a huge scandal. The next play was a respectable Diary of Anne Frank! (I was Mrs. Van D in that.)

Carry on, everyone!

dbdubya said...

Laurie - I'm glad you changed your 9:28 post from "loved" to "lived." It totally changes the meaning, but is not nearly as interesting!

My friend was Nick the Greek. He probably retired about the time you started hanging out there. He was short, bald, with big ears - sorta looked like Yoda. His daughter has been a great friend since High School.

Wayne said...

The Lohman and Barkley!! I loved that show. When I was in my 20s and 30s I was down to LA fairly often. I would make sure I was in my car or by a radio when the show came on. It was the morning drive show I think but maybe it was on the in p.m. as well. I thought it was the funniest show around.

They had a character named W, no relation.

For the record, I've never had the urge to hear anything by Tony Bennett. Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen yes, TB no.

Dixie Jane said...

I feel totally out of the loop here in Austin, Texas. But in the past I have accompanied Laurie and Yak to some notable places during my visits. My first trip I even got to go to the Formosa and was immediately treated to a book of pictures of ol' movie stars. Oh, for a divine steak and a baked potato like Virginia describes. And Wayne, it is too bad that you have not yearned to hear anything by Tony Bennett. He just gets better all of the time. But I guess I am from the old school. And for Tony Bennett, school is never out.

pasadenapio said...

I love the Barkley and its old-school-New-York-red-booths environment. It's a real gem.

Mister Earl said...

Wayne:

The full name of the character named "W" was "W. Eva Schneider Baloney," and she was the wife of "Ted J. Baloney." Whenever they played Linda Ronstadt's "You're No Good," W. and Ted would clomp around in the background dancing to "their song."

Another favorite thing of mine was the commercials for Mercedes. There was the Mercedes SL or "Super Leiderkranz" and the SEL was "Super Einschpritzer Leiderkranz."

Cafe Observer said...

Marg, does your dog visit the vet on Fremont Ave?

San Diego Farmgirl said...

It occurs to me that if you and Yak were here and drank fishbowls of wine ... there's an excellent chance one of you had to be cropped out of this photo because you were squatting against the side of the building, peeing. It would have been me, had I tagged along. Damn.

Laurie said...

Okay, I'm cracking up over Farmgirl's comment.

I'm glad to know all the background on Roger Barkley. I moved to Los Angeles in 88 -- was he still on the air then? I remember Mark and Brian on KLOS, of course, but don't recall Barkley other than recognizing the name.

Thanks for all the nice comments today, everyone. Until tomorrow!

dbdubya said...

Al Lohman and Roger Barkley were a morning team on KFI from 1961 until 1986. The format was unique for the time. Very little music and mostly talk and skits. Lohman was the "cast of characters" and Barkley was the straight man. Their humor was very PG - think of Jay Leno compared to Howard Stern. Suddenly, in 1986, Roger Barkley left the show without explanation. He and Lohman never spoke again. Barkley teamed up with Ken Minyard for a few years on KABC and Lohman teamed up with Gary Owens for awhile on another station.

No one knows the reason for the split up. Lohman was very bitter about it. It's one of the great radio mysteries of LA. They had a huge audience and it's speculated that Barkley had grown tired of the routine.

Roger Barkley was a big philanthropist. He was a regular emcee at fundraisers for good causes. He died of pancreatic cancer in 1997.

Now Laurie, you know the rest of the story.

Laurie said...

Thanks, DBW!

Ms Baroque said...

Laurie, you make me want to go there! And I'm too far away!

Ms Baroque said...

I should add that I don't really get the thing about parents not takign their kids to places like this... I got taken to places like this in New York when I was a kid, which is probably one reason I feel as if I can practically smell the place already just by reading about it.

Ah, the steaks...

Andrew said...

Waaaw really amazing to see this..great photos..

This is pretty interesting...

Thanks for sharing..
___________________
Andrew
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Jerry Critter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Laurie, you are a goddess with words and I couldn't have said it better myself. It is one of the rare, great steak houses left in the San Gabriel Valley. They also, ahem, have some of the stiffest drinks around. Get ready because the "Little Lady" is going to get a make-over soon. It will still have its old school charm but with an improved menu and refined decor. Stay tuned...