By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
”Boardner’s is just the coolest place in the world to go!“ says regular Denise, who can often be spotted during happy hour with a glass of cabernet and her German shepherd, Frank. Like many here, she has her favorite Boardner‘s memories. ”Every year, members from different chapters of the Santa Club come through L.A. before Thanksgiving,“ she says. ”They basically wear Santa Claus suits and get shitfaced, getting off their bus and going from bar to bar, starting in the morning. Once, about 75 walked in and filled the place, drinking and telling the same old jokes they tell every year from a little stage. After a while someone yelled, ’The bus is leaving for Jumbo‘s!’ In a few seconds they were all gone, and all that was left in the place were these 75 glasses.“
Brad McAllen remembers the time when Boardner‘s was transformed into the proverbial winter wonderland: ”My wife and I were sitting at the bar. Steve was tending bar. All of a sudden I get hit upside the head with a snowball! I said, ’What the hell?‘ I turn and see Steve is at the door laughing -- there was a truck full of snow brought down from the mountains. Next thing you know everyone went out and we had a snowball fight -- this place was covered with snow.“
Brad has been tending bar at Boardner’s since 1972. (”God, it‘s spooky when I think I’ve been here more than half my life.“) After a hitch in Vietnam he‘d moved from Michigan to L.A. and found work as a van driver for Starline Tours. ”One day,“ he remembers, ”I came in here and said, ’I‘m tired of working for Starline,’ and Steve Boardner says, ‘Well, why don’t you get your ass back here and I‘ll show you how to tend bar!’ . . .
“Back then it was Sidecars and Rusty Nails,” Brad continues, naming popular drinks of the Nixon era. “If you walked into a bar and ordered a ‘Cape Cod,’ the a guy‘d throw your ass out -- I mean, who would put a name to vodka and cranberry juice? There’s so many drinks now.” Many of the new cocktails are favored by a generation with a noticeable sweet tooth. “Lemon Drops is one,” Brad says. “Vodka, lemon and sugar on top.”
When Prohibition had just gone out, many of L.A.‘s saloons began sporting screen doors bearing the 7 UP logo, installed free by the fledgling soft-drink company that was struggling to make its mixer as popular as ginger ale and soda water. At that time highballs were the norm, and it was unheard of for someone in a cocktail lounge to order a drink simply on the rocks -- let alone add vanilla to it.
Boardner, over the next half century, was to become a kind of Sigmund Freud of booze psychology. “This is how smart Steve was,” says Brad. “Every once in a while I’d be in here on my days off, and the place would be packed. Steve would get me in the corner, slip me a $20 bill and tell me to buy the house a drink. Back then drinks would be about 75 cents, maybe 50 cents for beer. So I‘d go back to my chair and say, ’Steve, set everybody up!‘ And he’d say, ‘All right, you’re all drinking on Brad!‘ Then somebody else would say, ’Well, it‘s my turn, Steve. Give us all a round here.’ And somebody else would say, ‘Steve, give us a round.’ Pretty soon you‘d have a drink-buying frenzy!”
Today our image of the Depression comes mostly from grim WPA photographs, but for Steve Boardner and other new Californians, Hollywood was an explosion of light and music, a place where lifelong friendships were instantly made and moonlighting jobs easily traded. The 1930s and ’40s were the era of the great American sidewalk and the all-night ballroom, when a nation of restless rhythm and purpose moved in immense collectives, whether as big swing orchestras, insurgent labor unions or massed military formations. Above all, it was a time when people sang -- in bars, on assembly lines or walking down the street, just because they felt like it. “Hell, nobody wanted to go to bed,” Boardner says of that time.
Although Hollywood was a film-studio town, it was also very much a Runyonesque diorama of athletes, jockeys, promoters, sports announcers and refs. Boxers and members of the minor-league baseball clubs, the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels, were the rock celebrities of their day, and mingled in the bars, sandwich joints, gyms and ad hoc clubs that rose and fell around them.
Boardner, a former high school athlete, swam easily in this sea of male bonhomie, from the Olympic Auditorium downtown to Hollywood‘s American Legion Stadium on El Centro, befriending along the way L.A.’s legendary fight matchmaker George Parnassus. Los Angeles was then a major boxing town, and everyone in the fight game seemed to pass through to meet Parnassus and to pay a call on Hollywood. One such person was an old Akron buddy of Boardner‘s, boxing promoter Suey Welch, who brought with him the Negro fighter Gorilla Jones, a former middleweight champ. “One day,” Boardner says, “the Gorilla drove up in front of the Dutchman’s Inn with a lion in the damn backseat of his open car!” (Trained lions, in fact, were part of theatrical ring entrances for Jones, who would soon end his career and spend the next 40 years as Mae West‘s bodyguard.)