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ROCK TALK : Art Reigns Supreme at This Santa Barbara Bar

July 08, 1993|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Art's Bar is a popular, little Santa Barbara hole in the wall that has music, usually blues, three nights a week. There may not be a Sara Lee or a Farmer John, but there is an Art. Boy, is there. No one's going to confuse Art with Rick from "Casablanca" or Sam from "Cheers," but maybe the Tyrannosaurus rex from "Jurassic Park." Art Lopez is the shorter one. Their roars are comparable.

Art runs Art's Bar like a benign dictatorship, sort of like Attila the Fun. There's no Plan B at Art's; it's either his way or the highway. And it works. There's no trouble at Art's, no fights, and no need for the cops to be hanging around outside. Art doesn't like trouble, loud music or any L.A. teams. Everything else is fine.

"There's never a cover at Art's," Art says. "If you want to come in, you don't have to have any money. We don't have a bunch of waitresses roving around. If you don't drink, I don't care--just stay the hell out of the way of those that do. We have good music; just don't get out of line."

There is a definite connection between alcohol and getting out of line. Getting out of line gets you out the door; and forgiving is not Art's strong suit. Like a bouncer in a bag, the pistol Art keeps behind the bar is very unforgiving.

"Once they're out, they're out--forever," Art says. "Everybody likes coming in here. We get a lot of people from the neighborhood. This place was voted 'Best Neighborhood Bar' six of eight years. One year, the place up the street stuffed the ballot. I leave my daughter here at night and feel comfortable about it. If anybody ever caused any trouble, right away four or five guys--customers--would be right there.

"The only time I ever had to pull my gun, some big guy was going to beat up this little guy. Outside, the big guy pulls a big knife and starts chasing the little guy around and around this parked car. Can you see the headline? No way! So I went outside, and after he made a few laps, I showed him my pistol and I told him, 'Turn around now and run--do not walk--run down De La Vina Street.' I think that guy's still running. I've never had to call the cops; you can ask them."

Art likes blues bands like the Buddy Smith Band, Little Jonny & the Giants and the Crawdads. While several bands are loud enough to cause the Venus de Milo to sprout arms and fingers to plug her ears, this is not a scenario popular at Art's. "Loud" is up there on Art's list of "no-no's."

"I'm the gauge of whether it's too loud or not," Art says. "They're not playing for the neighbors. I tell them before they even get up here that I only warn them once to turn it down. The second time, I pull the plug and they're gone. I like all kinds of music, but I don't like that punk rock junk. Back in '85 or '86, we had the Cocktails From Hell. The singer's name was Cecil B. DeMille--his granddad was the director. The place was packed with a bunch of punk rockers, but they were way too loud. I think they turned it up after I told them to turn it down. I told them to get the hell out. The drummer told me they'd turn it down next week. There was no next week."

Besides the usual suspects from the usual local bands, Art has had his brushes with musical fame. George Thorogood has been to Art's, but all those hippies look alike.

"We had Eddie Van Halen here once, " Art says. "He was up the street getting a guitar and stopped by to try it out. My son was all excited and told me it would cost a million bucks to get him to play. So we got him for free. Big deal. He just looked like some long-haired hippie to me."

Just as Art hates loud inside, he doesn't like loud outside, either. Don't park that motorcycle in front of Art's unless you're not thirsty.

"I don't allow bikers to park their bikes out front," Art says. "They're welcome to park in the back. It's a public place on the street, so I ask them to move their bikes. If they don't, they can come in, but they won't get served. Once, the bikers boycotted my place--big deal. If you see a row of bikes in front of a place, nice young ladies won't come in."

Art was born in Santa Barbara and graduated from Santa Barbara High School in 1948 and has never been east of Las Vegas, which is weird geography for a Boston Celtics fan. The first thing you notice at Art's is the big Celtics banner behind the bar, right next to the autographed picture of Bill Walton wearing a Celtics uniform. If there was green beer, Art would probably sell it.

"I don't like the damn Lakers," says Art, putting a video on the big screen showing the Lakers blow a 20-point fourth-quarter lead to, guess who? "I won't put the Dodgers on unless they're losing. I even hate the Rams, too."

* WHERE AND WHEN

Art's Bar, 2611 De La Vina St., Santa Barbara, 569-0052. Open daily around 4 p.m. Music, usually blues, Thursday through Saturday. No cover.

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