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
The Dutchman’s Inn, which stood across the street from the Nickel Arcade, near where the Las Palmas Newsstand is currently situated, was a beer-and-wine joint owned by an ex-pug named Gus Singer. He had hired an underaged Boardner away from the Arcade and set him to work pouring beer. It was here that Boardner frequently helped down-and-out actors by slipping them lunch. It was also at the Dutchman‘s that he served preferred customers shots of bourbon he’d poured into old vinegar bottles kept behind the counter, ensuring a small secondary income.
In 1937 Boardner filled in for a vacationing bartender at the Jade Room on Hollywood Boulevard. Owner Larry Potter ruled a small empire of supper clubs that ran from Melrose Avenue to Ventura Boulevard and up into Burbank. Boardner was Potter‘s kind of man: personable, honest with the till -- and charming enough to pull in four times as many customers as the vacationing employee. Soon he was earning $37.50 a week, with a $5 bonus for every $100 he made for the bar. “Steve, come here,” Potter once called. “I want you to listen to this girl sing -- see what you think of her.” The striking blonde from North Dakota didn’t look a minute older than her 17 years. “Does she drink?” Boardner asked. It didn‘t matter. Peggy Lee won her audition and began a job that paid, tips notwithstanding, $2.50 per night -- with 50 cents kicked back to Larry Potter.
Today Boardner’s doesn‘t have live entertainment, but it has, over the years, experimented with a range of deejayed music nights, held on its patio and in the adjoining Casablanca Room, which was acquired in 1991. Presently Thursdays are given to hip-hop under the moniker Respect, while Fridays alternate between Prototype and Dyna Groove. Saturday is Goth night, when Bar Sinister takes over and the bar pours out red Vampire wine to a black-clad clientele. (“The worst patrons,” says the bar’s promotions director, Tricia La Belle, “are the ones who believe they really are vampires.”)
Still, it‘s not as loud and boisterous as it was during the late ’80s, when the thrash-rock explosion, fueled by Guns N‘ Roses, swept L.A. and weekends meant elbowing your way to the bar past tall, skinny guys with sprayed-up hair and leather pants.
“It was the first Hollywood bar I felt comfortable enough to go to by myself, and it was where I learned to love to drink,” Liz Garo, then an A&R exec with Restless Records, remembers of that time. “We took the Brit band Jazz Butcher there and stayed for what seemed like three nights straight drinking. Their sound man devised a terrible concoction called a Life Sentence -- half vodka, half red wine. The waitress only rolled her eyes when we ordered it.”
Like all bartenders, those at Boardner’s have their gripes, most of which revolve around patrons accusing them of short-pouring drinks or trying to get free ones.
“What really irritates me and every other bartender,” says Brad, “is when people pound their glasses on the bar when they want refills. I use the same line Steve used to use: ‘When I get down there, there’d better be a dead bug under that glass!‘”
By late 1942, wartime rationing and the militarization of industry had caused many consumer goods to virtually vanish; even the color green disappeared from liquor-bottle labels and cigarette packs, since their aniline dyes were required to produce olive-drab pigments for the military. When the owner of the downstairs bar at the Crossroads of the World offered to swap his ABC license for Steve Boardner’s ‘41 Pontiac, Boardner jumped at the offer. His Crossroads in the Crossroads, as the bar was known, immediately caught on, and in no time he made his money back and got another car, which he freely loaned to soldiers on leave. (Boardner himself didn’t serve, because he had a bartender‘s flat feet.)
Part of the Crossroads’ success came from its busy Sunset Boulevard location. It didn‘t hurt that the bar was downstairs from the ever-thirsty Screen Actors Guild, and the place was even popular with the clergy next door at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church -- one Father McCoy (Scotch and water, as Boardner remembers him drinking) was a regular customer who would later baptize Boardner’s son. But another factor was the enormous good will Steve Boardner had cultivated in the dozen years he had served Hollywood its liquor. Still, he couldn‘t get a lease out of the Crossroads landlord, and in January 1944 he decamped to take possession of Club 52, located two blocks north.
The Boardner’s of today looks basically the same as it did after Steve first reconfigured 1652 Cherokee. He took out the hat-check room and moved the bar into its place. The front entrance narrowed and lost its street windows; banquettes with telephones were installed, a kitchen built, the ceiling lowered and a “penthouse” constructed around the old orchestra platform. This penthouse served as Boardner‘s office, command post and home away from home. It was the scene of many all-night card games, and it was where his friend the car-painting magnate Earl Scheib and his entourage would come after carousing at meetings of the Vikings of Scandia at the Sunset Strip restaurant.