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THESE BARS WERE BUILT TO LAST: A TRIBUTE TO OUR OLDEST BARS IN LONG BEACH

By Gina Valencia

Photos by Monique Kuhlman

We all love good stories, especially those that include our family history. To know ourselves, is to know where we come from. My late Uncle Roberto was the unofficial family historian. With a memory that spanned generations, he loved nothing more than to sit around the kitchen table, a mug of hot instant Sanka nearby, and captivate us with family tales and lore of ancestors known to my cousins and I only through his anecdotes.


In similar fashion, there have been hundreds of uncles... and aunts, grandparents, dads, moms all over our city of Long Beach telling and retelling stories over icy cold schooners while gathered with their chosen “family” at some of the city’s oldest bars and pubs.


These places are more than just local watering holes. When you walk into any of these bars, you are stepping into the history, the family DNA, of Long Beach. Although they share similar physical characteristics – dark rooms with wooden tables, high stools, sports, and cold beer – the most prevalent feature is that familiar feeling of belonging. Yes, that place where everybody knows your name, and you’re always glad you came.


JOE JOST’S 

(EST. 1924)

2803 E. Anaheim St, 90804 | joejosts.com | IG: @joe_josts_1924 | Note: cash only



If visiting some of the oldest bar establishments in the city was like visiting relatives: your Irish uncle for Jameson at O’Connell’s; your Mexican primos at the Reno Room for Micheladas (and chips and guac from Tia at Cocoreños); your surfer brother at Crow’s; then Joe Jost’s would be Grandpa’s house.


This familiar tavern is the gathering place for all family members throughout the city. A place that is also always ready to welcome distant relatives and friends.


Unofficial Patriarch Of Long Beach

What stories have not yet been shared about Joe Jost’s (last name originally pronounced ‘Yost’)? Whether we’re speaking about the place, which will celebrate its 100th year anniversary this summer, or about the man himself, no Long Beach history is complete without learning about Grandpa Joe.


“Did you know about how he immigrated from Hungary to America as an apprentice-barber in 1906 when he was 16 years old? It was highly recommended to have a skill when a person immigrated to be employable.


“How he dreamt about traveling the world, eventually traveling by steamer to Hawaii, where he was the first blonde curly-haired man to be presented to The Queen of Hawaii? 


“And when he made it to Australia with only a few dollars in his pocket, he went looking for a job. And then he made it to New Zealand, before he had to return home to California, where he eventually got married, had a family, and worked as an insurance agent.


“He also loved camping and the outdoors so much he was nicknamed Sierra Joe.


“And did you know he took up snow skiing when he was 65 years old and riding dirt bikes at age 75?!”


From Immigrant To Legacy

For all his life highlights and grand adventures (international travels, serving in a world war, starting his own business), Joe’s legacy is mainly known for the stability it has provided a community for generations. Joe’s characteristics of hard work, spirit of adventure, and love of nature and humanity are what is embodied within the brick-and-mortar on Anaheim Street.


He first opened a barbershop and sundries store in 1924, at the east end of the block. After a few years, the shop moved to its current location.


The barroom encapsulates a town museum/grampa’s garage feeling. Rusty old shaving cream cans are stacked high above one of the walls of mirrors behind the bar, remnants from the barbershop days. Hundreds of framed photographs of “family” hang all over the place: black and white photographs of a smiling wedding party with schooners on the table in front of them; of uncles, grandmas, juniors proudly wearing the navy-blue Joe Jost’s t-shirt while in front of other notable landmarks: Mount Rushmore, Wrigley Field, the Great Wall of China; relatives traveling the world, always wearing the family “coat of arms,” representing home.


Other pictures include a young Joe Jost in a black and white infantry class panoramic and one of him camping in beautiful Ansel Adams-type locations while fly fishing. According to bar owner and Joe’s grandson, Ken Buck, the animal heads that decorate the tavern are from past patrons whose wives would not allow their kill to hang in their living room. (For which, I don’t blame them!) Can you imagine the stories about that!


Bar Stories

The history of the bar and of Joe have been widely written about, never more beautifully than by Ken’s wife, Cathleen Buck, in an essay for the bar’s 70th anniversary, which can be found on their website. The site also includes hundreds of testimonials from customers sharing memories: of coming to the place as a kid with their dad and grandpa, playing pool and having the “Special” sandwich with a root beer; of walking into the bar after years of not visiting and being immediately comforted by the stability of the sameness; of having some of the best dive bar staples around– ice cold beer, pickled eggs, pretzel sticks, and fresh roasted peanuts roasted daily in a 1906 coffee roaster. 


Every memory, whether framed and hung on the walls, written about, or shared over conversations and a Busch poured at its optimum temperature of 28 degrees Fahrenheit into a chilled glass, is preserved all around the house that Joe built.


Built To Last

As the oldest continually operating tavern west of the Mississippi, Joe Jost’s has survived a world war, the depression, and other recessions, as well as the 2020 pandemic. Ironically, Ken said, a record setting amount of those famous t-shirts were sold during the pandemic, when they continued to serve customers with an outdoor setting and to-go services. “We were still a place for community, even when [people] were told they weren’t allowed [to be together],” Ken said.


If Joe Jost’s charm is in its dedication to staying true to its pre-World War II Americana vibe, Ken is its thoughtful curator. When he had to replace a broken-down refrigerator, he was mindful to buy one that resembled the one he had to replace, which had been there for decades. 


Joe Jost’s is one of those special cultural establishments within a city that houses thousands of memories. Many of the bartenders and staff were coming to Joe Jost’s as babies, years later toasting their glass coke bottles to their parents’ schooners after a little league game, and now enjoying a cold schooner themselves with their dad and grandpa. “This truly is a multi-generational place,” Ken said.


So, make sure to visit during their centennial anniversary and share your memories. Join the family reunion this summer, because Joe Jost’s is Long Beach. 


ADDITIONAL INFO

Visit @joe_josts_1924 to view upcoming events and joejosts.com to check out their 100-year anniversary merch.


THIRSTY ISLE 

(EST. 1928)

4319 E. Carson St, 90808 

IG: @thirstyisle | Note: cash only



Not many business ownerships come about due to a freak accident. 


The Thirsty Isle can claim this as part of its history, but it also shows the power of neighbor helping neighbor during a tragedy. When Don, co-owner of Don and May’s Thirsty Isle, suffered a severe electric shock in the early 1940s while on the roof of the bar trying to install a swamp cooling system, his injuries prevented him from working again. Harry, a regular customer, offered to help May run Thirsty Isle. By the end of the decade, Harry and another regular patron, Marvin, would become the 2nd owners. 


What had started out as a sandwich shop in 1928 – that also served beer on the sly – evolved into today’s bar. First catering mostly to airport personnel and pilots, Thirsty Isle still honors the local industry with the many framed black and white photographs and authentic McDonnell Douglas drawings of aircraft that hang throughout the barroom.  


After prohibition, Harry and Marvin began to expand Thirsty Isle from the original one storefront. This expansion would continue until the 1970s, into the four storefronts of today: the main barroom, the kitchen room with bench tables for eating, and two rooms for pool tables and shuffleboard. 


When Marvin retired in the 1980s, Harry unofficially recruited another regular at the time, Jimmy, to help run the bar. In early 1996, Jimmy became the 3rd owner of the Thirsty Isle.


What makes the Thirsty Isle, or T.I. (as it is affectionately known in the community), special to the 908? According to manager Tricia Valverde, its longevity and steadfastness. “It has always been around. People who have lived, worked, grown up in the 908 have always known the T.I. to be there,” said Tricia. “Just like most bars in the past, Thirsty Isle used to have peanut shells all over the floor. Regulars still talk about that.” 


Tricia, who is Jimmy’s daughter and next in line to take the Thirsty Isle reins, recalls the pub’s connections to its customers’ lives. “People in the community remember getting their recreation league teams sponsored by Thirsty Isle and enjoying a nice cold beer here after a game at Heartwell Park,” she reminisced. Some of these teams have been sponsored by T.I. since the 1980s. “We are always looking to expand our team sponsorship roster, and encourage new teams to reach out,” said Tricia. 


Regular customers, who have been a fixture at the bar for decades, remember Tricia, now in her 30s, as a four-year-old kid coming in with her dad. That experience foretold what she herself would experience one day. “Some people remember [coming in] with their parents and are now doing it with their own children.”


THE V ROOM 

(EST. MID-1930s)

918 E. 4th St, 90802  

IG: @vroomcocktails



“This is a blue-collar bar,” said Teddy, a patron at the V Room bar for 20 years. “But it’s also for musicians, artistic types. There’s zero hate here.”


Unsure of an exact year, the V Room is believed to have been established just after the end of prohibition and has been welcoming a steady rotation of customers ever since. Some say the “V” stands for Venetian when it was a jazz club, others say it stands for Victory and was known as a Navy hangout when the Navy was stationed in the city. 


Either way, those having a drink at the bar on this Friday afternoon all agree that the V Room is the place to unwind and meet with friends, old and new. “For regulars, this is a special place,” said bartender Sahra, who was a customer for years before becoming an employee. “It’s a tight knit spot. We look out for each other.”


That tight knit feeling is what keeps patrons coming back week after week. “I love the staff, love the regulars, love the ambiance,” said Vietnam Navy Veteran and retired teacher Bob, known affectionately as “Tio” (uncle) Bob.


In fact, Sahra is so familiar with her patrons that as soon as another Navy Vet regular, Dave, wheeled himself through the door, she began pouring his favorite beer as he greeted those already perched at the bar.


With framed kitschy velvet paintings hung on the black walls and true oldies playing over the speakers (the kind K-Earth 101 played in the ‘80s), the V Room is an escape from the hustle and bustle of nearby downtown Long Beach. It’s the dive bar at which to gather and celebrate with neighbors: annual chili cook-offs, guest DJs and local bands, Halloween and New Year’s Eve parties, and even a wedding in 2019. The beaming bride, dressed in a leopard print mini-dress and veil, held a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a cocktail in the other.


O’CONNELL’S 

(EST. 1934)

2746 E. 4th St, 90814

IG: @oconnellslb



“My great uncle used to come drink here,” said long time patron Colm. “I like the old-style feel. The best part is the friends I make here.” Colm was enjoying himself on Grand Prix Sunday, conversing his way through the barroom.


“People come here to see people, to catch up,” bartender Roderick said. “No one’s buried in their phones. It’s more of a town hall than a bar.”


Indeed, the oldest cocktail bar in the 908 is more than a watering hole, according to owner Pete Sverkos. “This is the neighborhood living room.” Himself, a Long Beach native who frequented the bar as a customer for years, Pete remarked, “We’ve been here so long, our younger patrons drink with grandparents who used to hang out here.”


One regular, Todd, appreciates O’Connell’s as his neighborhood bar for the convenience of being walking distance, but mainly for the people. “Everyone knows everyone,” he said. “And it feels safe. Pete’s a great owner. He takes care of the place and the staff.” As a former bar manager in Iowa for 25 years, Todd is attuned with a pub’s environment. A jovial place means the staff is being taken care of by a compassionate boss.


A regular for over two decades and a former college baseball player, Johnny loves that the bar has “all the games on.” On this lively afternoon, Johnny sat at the bar, his attention divided amongst the Padres game, conversations around him, and glancing at the partially finished crossword puzzle folded next to his Coors Light and a pen.


O’Connell’s is the first bar in the city to have received a hard liquor license. It was established in 1934; the year after prohibition ended. And yet as old as the bar is, it provides an oft overlooked modern convenience for some very appreciative customers: purse hooks on the underside of the bar.


“[O’Connell’s] is for everyone,” said Roderick. “This place is special. It’s a temple on Temple.”


CROW’S 

(EST. 1942)

5728 2nd St, 90803 

IG: @crowscocktails_lb



“Take a load off... Share a bit of humor with the person next to you,” advises David Copley, co-owner of Crow’s Cocktails in Naples. “[Crow’s has] good ol’ American hospitality.”


After acquiring Crow’s Cocktails last fall, David, along with business partners Eric Johnson and Matt Peterson, have dedicated themselves to restoring the beloved dive bar back to its “Babian-Era.” Under their ownership during the ‘90s, brothers Dickie and Bobby Babian had fostered a “Chicago-style, ‘everyone is welcome’ environment,” David said. Their influence is the main reason for Crow’s longevity.


John Peterson, Eric’s cousin and general manager of Crow’s, cites that Babian Midwest hospitality as to why Crow’s is special to the community. “You don’t worry, ‘Is what I’m wearing okay?’ You just come as you are.”


Bartender Tiffany was a patron before becoming part of the staff. It was the “homey, cozy” feeling of the bar that she liked. “And I always felt safe here.”


That homey, cozy feeling comes partly from the size of the barroom. It is a small intimate space where you can easily have a conversation with anyone and everyone in the room. Like at home. Or sit in a little corner enjoying the game on TV with a cold beer in hand. Like at home.


“[Crow’s] is inviting. It’s unpretentious,” John said. Crow’s is all about simplicity. David agrees. “[Crow’s] is the place for an honest drink and traditional cocktails.”


THE ANNEX 

(EST. 1952)

4300 E. Stearns St, 90815

IG: @annexbeerbar



Long before beers and pubs became synonymous with sports, The Annex beer bar was recognized as a sports bar, but not because any games were televised.


“Back in the day, the coaches from local high schools would come after school to talk about and plan their season while having a beer,” said The Annex owner Jerome Chiaro. “Rumor has it, there’s an old Sports Illustrated article from the ‘60s or ‘70s that mentions The Annex. Maybe the first true sports bar in town…?” 


Jerome considers The Annex, “One of the last, few, true neighborhood bars.” A community center that boasts about its neighbors, too. 


Walls are decorated with banners from the local high schools, like a proud grandfather displaying family memories.


Neighbors gather to watch college basketball games and celebrate – or commiserate. For Super Bowl Sunday, The Annex hosted a potluck viewing party; they converted their 1940s era shuffleboard table into a food station and neighbors stacked it deep with crockpots and aluminum foil pans filled with hearty food. And when the national anthem played before kick-off, everyone in The Annex stood with their right hand over their heart.


As a beer bar, The Annex offers 12 taps of domestic, imported, as well as a rotation of 5 craft beers. Their glacier beer system guarantees the perfect draft beer temperature of 33 degrees Fahrenheit poured into a chilled glass. 


3636 CLUB 

(EST. 1952)

3636 E. Broadway, 90803

IG: @3636club | Note: cash only



With one of—if not THE—coolest neon signs in the city, the 3636 Club has been a favorite neighborhood bar for over 70 years.


The 3636 Club has been able to maintain its loyal following by being loyal to itself. “It’s the hominess of the bar that makes it last. The ceiling is the same one from the ‘50s,” said managing partner Dan Paige. “And we pride ourselves for being one of the cheapest bars around. $5 well drinks all day, all night. And $2 Miller High Life Mondays.”


The fact that the bar has no parking lot does not deter customers from making their way to the 3636 Club. “We get walkers, Ubers, skateboards,” Dan said. “Many times, there will be several skateboards just lined up along the wall.”


Given its location on the corner of Broadway and Euclid Avenue, just before Broadway transitions into a more residential area, the 3636 Club is the “last stop bar” before getting home for many.


Per longtime patron Vailani who has lived in the neighborhood for 42 years, the 3636 Club is part of a routine that she can enjoy with her mother. “My mom, who’s 80 years old, is welcomed here,” she said. 


“And the staff makes sure I get home safe…100 yards away,” Vailani said, turning her head out the window that faces Euclid Avenue. The corner window stool is a favorite among some regulars and is fondly referred to as Channel 36.


True to its old fashioned feel and time-honored dive environment, 3636 Club serves only classic cocktails and bottled beer, and is a cash only bar.


THE RENO ROOM 

(EST. 1956)

3400 E. Broadway, 90803



In the Belmont Heights neighborhood is a faded yellow building with green awnings that houses the Reno Room. Since 1956, one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) 6AM bar in the city, the Reno Room is a welcoming place for those clocking out from working the graveyard shift: the nurses, first responders, longshoremen, even early morning travelers heading to the airport who want a last call before leaving sunny Long Beach. 


The morning sun rays beam through the large windows as bartender Laura, nicknamed the “queen of the breakfast club,” sets to work, ready to serve up bar favorites like Tito sodas, a beer with a shot, or a cold michelada for those who want a different type of morning jolt.


“Hello, brother,” is patron Andy’s common greeting whenever a familiar face walks through the door. Andy, who travels from Torrance a few times a week to visit friends in Long Beach, always makes his way to the Reno Room. “This place is like family,” said Andy. “There’s unity here. Everybody’s welcome.”


The owners of the Reno Room also own the Cocoreños restaurant next door which supplies the delicious Mexican fare to those already posted at the bar sipping a margarita. With daily specials on drinks, food, and even free pool from 6AM until 11AM, the Reno Room has been a staple location for the community for almost 70 years.



POOR RICHARD’S 

(EST. MID-1960s)

6412 E. Stearns St, 90815 | poorrichardslb.com



Step through the green door and take a seat at the bar where a smiling Kamerin (“the mama bear of the place”) or Conner (voted “best bartender in the city” in 2021 by readers of a local publication) will be happy to welcome you to the Poor Richard’s family.


For over five decades, this unassuming bar in a Los Altos strip mall has been the place locals gather to celebrate, unwind, catch a game, start their night out, and end it with a nightcap. “We get all walks of life coming here,” co-owner and general manager George Schano said. “The work boots, the golf cleats, flip flops, cowboy boots, the heels. We’ve had wedding reception parties come here afterwards in suits and ties. Everyone is welcome.”


And for generations of neighbors, Poor Richard’s has been an extension of their own family. “This place is family,” George said. “There aren’t a lot of choices for bars around here. We’re proud to say we ARE the neighborhood bar.”


“If you grew up around here, you knew about this place,” said patron Marie. “Maybe your uncle came here, your dad, your friend’s uncle. This place is cool as hell. Always a great time.”


When local legend Ryan “the beer wizard/Sloppy” walked in wearing his signature overalls and beanie ensemble, it was highly suggested he was someone to meet. A regular “for so long,” Sloppy’s drinking routine is well-known at Poor Richard’s -- “always start with a White Russian.” They call his first drink the Sloppuccino. “This is the best bar with the nicest people and the stiffest drinks,” he said.


What makes this place special, according to George, is not just the regulars, but the staff members who genuinely enjoy being here and care about their customers. Whether ordering a ride for a customer, driving a patron home safely, or making sure lots of canned cold water is available for patrons, the staff looks out for everyone, and the customers are grateful in return.


Indeed, when the bar needed to make some remodeling improvements several years ago, customers chipped in by offering their services with repairs and labor. “[Poor Richard’s has become] a little community,” he said. “Customers take pride in this place.”

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