By John Grossi | Photos by Monique Kuhlman
If you’re from Long Beach, or have lived here for at least a few years, your taste buds are likely predisposed to enjoying a pickled egg and a schooner from Joe Jost’s. The Tavern, established in 1924, is in our city’s blood, as generations have laughed, cried, and discussed matters of the day at Long Beach’s oldest and arguably, favorite bar.
In 1906, a 16-year-old boy named Joe Jost immigrated to Ellis Island from Hungary, without his family and with very little money. He had never heard of Long Beach, California. And he certainly had no idea that in 100 years, just about every resident of that city would know his name. Joe Jost was an apprentice-barber and upon arriving in New York, began a decade-long stint of cutting hair and slowly traveling across the country, making his way west as he worked. In 1914, at the outbreak of WWI, 24-year-old Joe Jost traveled back to Europe to fight for the American army. After WWI, he returned to America to continue cutting hair.
In 1924, he opened Joe Jost’s in Long Beach as a barbershop. They also served “near-beer,” a Prohibition-era staple, and light sandwiches. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Jost applied for an official liquor license to sell beer while still cutting hair. It was at that time that the Barber Commission told him it wasn’t safe to sell beer in the same place that razors and scissors were being used, so Jost had a decision to make about which direction to take the business. He decided beer was the future.
CONSISTENCY OVER CHANGE
Today, Joe Jost’s is a tavern that looks almost exactly the same as it did in the 1930s. The bar, the booths, the table are all in their same spots. The furniture is all original– same stools, same benches, same chairs– just refurbished, not replaced.
The menu has been darn-near identical for over 90 years as well. Most people just order three things: a pickled egg, the house-special sandwich (which is made up of a polish sausage, a pickle, mustard, and Swiss cheese on rye bread), and a schooner of beer.
Joe Jost’s front room is intimate. On the left side of the joint, a long bar with 14 stools is almost always full of patrons… from sunup to sundown. On the right side, there are wooden booths that seat about 30 people total. During busy hours, it is not uncommon to see many people standing and holding onto their beers as they drift between the conversations around them. The crew behind the bar is busy pouring ice-cold schooners, making sandwiches, plopping pickled eggs into baskets of pretzels, and selling the iconic blue shirts, the very ones they wear to work as a uniform, to eager customers.
Walk toward the back and you’ll see that the tavern opens up into a much larger space with more booths, lots of chairs around the perimeter, two pool tables, and a shuffleboard table. In this backroom, large parties can rent out space. In days of yore, Joe Jost’s would host poker games in the back room.
A TAVERN WITH A FAMILY ATMOSPHERE
Not only is Jost’s a right-of-passage for many Long Beach locals, as they sip a first beer at the age of 21, but it is also a place where families gather for weddings, funerals, baby showers, birthdays, and other meet-ups. Bringing your kids for a root beer after an AYSO game is woven into the fabric of the bar.
A big part of the magic at Joe Jost’s is the multi-generational pull it has. Families and friends from young to old, enjoying good salty food, ice-cold beer, and unabating conversation. It turns out that when you strip down the facade of trends and gimmicks, humans just really like interacting with one other.
It’s a rarity to see a business last this long, never mind one that has stayed in one family throughout all those years. Ken is the grandson of the original Joe Jost. Yet here it stands, as busy as the tavern that opened over 90 years ago, maybe even busier.
“To me, this has always been a place where people come back and say, ‘I’m home.’”
He pointed his finger on the wooden table we were sitting at– a table that’s older than him, resting on a pickle barrel that’s older than me. He looked me proudly in the eye and said: “Everything changes around them except this place.”
Joe Jost’s | 2803 E Anaheim St, Long Beach, CA 90804 | www.joejosts.com