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McDini's Landmark San Diego Saloon Just Fades Away

September 02, 1986|GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

Wayne Hay is adamant about it--he doesn't want to be remembered as the guy who killed McDini's, San Diego's self-proclaimed "oldest continuously operated bar."

"That would be bad luck," Hay said during a recent interview. "But the buck stops here. If I'd had a good operation . . . there would have been no problem."

Hay's problem is that the once-popular Martin Luther King Way bar hasn't served up any beer or corned beef sandwiches since May.

McDini's has traveled a rocky road since Hay's Center City Investors purchased the bar for $400,000 in 1981 from co-founder S.H. "Mac" McIntosh, who died in 1983.

McIntosh's estate has twice been forced to initiate foreclosure proceedings against Hay, according to court documents and family members.

The May closing grew from management problems that occurred after the bar's manager quit, got married and moved out of the country, Hay said.

"I realized I had to put time in at the bar myself or do what I did and close it down," Hay said. "I planned to get someone in there who could make McDini's work again."

In the longer term, Hay said, he wanted to "find someone to pretty much take it over, acquire the liquor license, and run it."

Those plans never were realized, however.

The bar lost its "continuously operated" boast--written on the side of McDini's building--in May when Hay "temporarily" padlocked the bar and dining room for "remodeling and reorganization."

On June 19, Ticor Title Insurance Co. served notice that Hay was in default on his loan payments, and posted a notice of trustee's sale--the second time in two years that McDini's had faced foreclosure proceedings.

On July 21, ownership of the parcel at the corner of 7th and Martin Luther King Way was transferred to McIntosh's widow and several surviving brothers and sisters.

On Aug. 18, Hay filed suit in Superior Court, alleging that the trustee's sale was "improper" because Ticor Title Co. had failed to give him adequate notice of the impending foreclosure action. Hay asked that the foreclosure be set aside.

"I will prevail," Hay said a few days before filing the suit. "With the name identity, the product mix and its essence, (McDini's) should be one of the hottest places in town."

Ticor had no comment on the lawsuit.

For now, however, McDini's dining room and bar remain hidden behind the plywood boards that line its windows, and the jumble of junked cars filling the parking lot continues to gather dust.

"If that place stays closed for 60 days, it's dead," predicted Larry Cronin, an El Cajon resident who opened the First Jersey Securities office in San Diego, and, several years ago, gave serious thought to purchasing McDini's. "There are too many other Irish shops opening in the city.

"It's a shame what's happened to McDini's because it used to be one hell of a place."

Will the bar reopen with a new owner?

"I don't know how that could happen," Cronin said. "I think you'd have to be thick in the head to try and do something with it."

That description contrasts with an earlier era at the bar that traces its roots back to at least 1897.

McDini's opened its doors in 1945 when McIntosh and Mario Dini bought the nearby Goodwill Cafe, from Dini's brothers, Colombo and Ricki. Two years later McIntosh and Dini changed the name to McDini's and moved the bar to 7th and Broadway.

"They put (the old, wood bar) on dollies and rolled it down Market Street so they wouldn't have to cut it up," said one bar patron who watched the move. "It went right down the street."

Over the years, the transplanted bar became a gathering spot for a widely mixed clientele.

During its earlier years, McDini's became known as a working-class bar, drawing ship builders from National Steel's shipyards and employees from the many nearby warehouses.

It also drew from the growing number of downtown office buildings.

"You could walk in there on St. Patrick's Day or any other day and the guy next to you could be a lawyer, a doctor, a teamster or some guy off the street," said Mike Reidy, president of La Jolla-based Nexus Development Corp., which specializes in office building developments.

Reidy, who moved to San Diego in 1971, said he was attracted to McDini's because it resembled the neighborhood bars in Iowa that his father, a Coca-Cola route man, frequented.

In 1976, Reidy, a competent piano player, talked McIntosh into letting his "In Case Trio"--which stood for "just in case you need us," Reidy quipped--play traditional Irish music on St. Patrick's Day.

" . . . there was no agreement (with McIntosh) . . . it was word of mouth," Reidy said. "He just said 'Let's hear you sing,' and that was that."

That informal agreement was in keeping with McIntosh's style, according to Reidy.

"When Sam had it, people were heartily received," Reidy said. "The people who took over since Sam didn't have the Irish pub tradition, nor was it well run. There were days when they ran out of corned beef sandwiches and there was no Irish beer."

That description contrasted with earlier days.

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