Bartender Kevin Burtch holds court inside King Eddy Saloon. The legendary…
The Enabler has fretted about the fate of the legendary Skid Row dive bar the King Eddy Saloon since it was bought by new owners and closed for renovations in December. King Eddy, which first opened in 1933, has a history of attracting literary types, including John Fante and Charles Bukowski, along with a rough and tumble cast of blue collar workers, homeless folks and artists. It was easy to imagine the new owners, Acme Bar Group, making it a place for the fancy pants set. The thought made the Enabler want to smash a bottle of vermouth over her head.
On Monday, King Eddy reopened very, very quietly to show off its new look. And much to the Enabler's relief, that look is just fine. In fact, the bar looks very much like the old King Eddy — only the tinsel, plastic beer signs and brash neon beer signs have been removed. Otherwise, the place has simply been cleaned up. The large, battered square bar in the center of the room remains, as does the dingy checkered tile floor. There is new art work on the wall — edgy panels commemorating the bar's history, including a portrait of Bill Roller, the dapper gentleman who managed it for more than 30 years.
Most important, though, the prices are reasonable and the vibe welcoming. The Enabler arrived behind a longtime regular who was in a motorized wheelchair; Acme's Jon Valenti says the regulars (including a particular favorite who calls himself "Pancake") have been coming back and are pleased to find their favorite watering hole in the base of the King Edward Hotel intact.
"Pancake was in here the other day dancing around, and Bob, one of the managers at the hotel, comes in and he loves it," says Valenti. "I do little specials for those guys because they can't afford a lot and they're grateful we didn't make it pretentious. It's just spit and polish, and a lot of cleaning."
Valenti says work is already underway on the basement, a former Prohibition-era speak-easy, that he plans to turn into a modern-day bar with an atmosphere true to its roots. That should open in about six months. In the meantime, Valenti just wants to establish the bar as a low-key neighborhood spot where all types can feel comfortable. With $4 beers and $5 well drinks, that shouldn't be too hard.
As an experiment, the Enabler ordered her first ever King Eddy martini from bartender Kevin Burtch, who gladly obliged. The Enabler noted with pleasure that the cocktail came in a rocks glass. Highbrow mixology is not on the menu. Thankfully.
"It's been a reunion-type deal here," Burtch told the Enabler. "The nights have been packed with a ton of locals and a dance party vibe. As for the old regulars, I think they're just happy to have a familiar place to drink again."