SUNSET BEACH — "It's a real honor for us to be closing this dive!" shouted Regular Guys keyboardist Rick Sterbenz near the beginning of a wild last-night show Wednesday at the Sunset Pub. The lively county roadhouse rocked into oblivion as if it was celebrating New Year's Eve rather than going through the final throes of pub-death.
The Pub, which has been a county mainstay for roots music from blues to reggae for the last eight years, has run to the end of its lease. The property owner plans to replace the venue with a Mexican restaurant. Wednesday's show marked the end of weeks of "last night" celebrations, that allowed several of the club's regular bands to bid farewell.
On Wednesday, the final farewell, the Regular Guys pounded out their greasy R&B, aided by Mighty Flyers bassist Bill Stuve and James Harman Band guitarist Joel Foy, with Harman bassist Jeff Turmes joining the band's horn section on sax. At one point in the evening, the four horns conducted their business from atop a wobbly table in the center of the club.
The band's last notes--in a jam that evolved from the sax instrumental "Chicken Shack"--sounded a little before 2 a.m.
"We went as long as our piano player could stay coherent," said Regular Guys guitarist Rick Gould. "He was speaking Martian near the end."
By that point, bartenders and patrons were dancing on the bar tops, which may have been the only space available, because the club perhaps wasn't adhering strictly to its capacity limits. ("What are they going to do--shut us down?" remarked one club associate).
The champagne had been poured. There wasn't much left on the walls of the funky 1940s building on Pacific Coast Highway. The Pub's original sign and large moose head had been given away to customers picked by lot. Club manager Gabriel Tellez said a couple of overenthusiastic fans had helped themselves to a couple of the club's neon signs the night before.
Unlike a funeral, where the deceased is tarted up beyond recognition, the club remained its same fun, flawed, funky self till the end.
"What we've always done here is throw a party," the tuxedoed Tellez said, "I've never had so much fun as I have here. It's like my garage--just come and have a good time. There's maybe only 20 places like this left in the United States. Roadhouses are a dying breed. I'm excited that we've been able to say goodby this way, and it's gone so well. We've been so busy I don't think it's really hit us yet how much we're going to miss it."
Some of the club's former employees traveled from out of state to be in on the festivities. Susan Tyler, the booking aide who had helped establish the club as a hot music spot, returned to help in the final weeks.
Like most people in the Pub, Tyler was dealing with conflicting emotions. "This is just the way we should go, with a party like this, and everyone has been so supportive. But it's been very sentimental the last two nights. I'm trying to make it through the night without ruining my makeup. I started crying here Sunday."
While Tellez had sounded hopeful just 10 days earlier that the Sunset would rise again in a new location, that prospect seemed far more remote Wednesday.
"It may be time to move on," club owner Clint Oberholzer said. "We haven't found a location yet that makes sense. The ambience, such as it is, is a very important part of the Sunset Pub. It isn't like we could move it over to (yuppie-oriented mall) Peter's Landing. So I think this is it."
That leaves a definite gap for the Pub's partisans.
"It's really sad," said Carl Fountain of Seal Beach. "This area needs a place like this, a casual hangout, as opposed to the Red Onion or El Paso Cantina. I've been coming here for a few years, and everybody I've brought here has felt the same way: that when you walk in you kind of feel like you live here. If it's true it's going to become another Mexican seafood restaurant, that's the last thing we need."
Mark Correia of Anaheim had been coming to the pub for the better part of a decade. Where will he go now that it's gone?
"Home, I guess. We're not going to Burger King or whatever they put here, that's for . . . sure. It seems like all the life is disappearing from this county. If they're able to open the pub again someplace, we'll be there in a heartbeat."
In the meantime, Correia was intent on helping the club party on out. "This is the way to go!" he shouted, as Regular Guy pianist Sterbenz howled something particularly unintelligible over the microphone. "They're doing it 100%!"