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
Steve Boardner often took the lieutenant to ball games or the races, and he became a fixture in the bar. Harry Fremont stories tend to run on the tall side and are inextricably entwined with Boardner’s legends, like the time a squad of cops swooped down on some men throwing craps in the patio‘s fountain, which had been drained expressly for that purpose. At least one of the gamblers was a familiar face to the officers.
“Lieutenant Fremont -- what are you doing here?” asked a bewildered cop.
“Get the hell out of here,” Fremont thundered. “I’m losing!”
Colorful or not, Harry Fremont did not impress Boardner‘s friend Carmen Miceli. It didn’t help that one night the pair got into a fistfight in the bar after, Miceli claims, Fremont alluded to his Italian heritage one time too many. “He was a corrupt son of a bitch is all I can tell you,” Miceli says, claiming that Fremont made sure his restaurant was kept under a microscope for years after their altercation. “I personally didn‘t like him because I didn’t like his reference to me as a ‘wop,’ ‘dago,’ ‘guinea.’” And yet Fremont and his freewheeling methods had been the norm throughout the LAPD‘s history, even deep into the 1950s, and the lieutenant is affectionately remembered in Daryl Gates’ autobiography, Chief, as a hard-drinking but dedicated professional who sipped his coffee from a cup and saucer instead of a mug.
Likewise, while Boardner‘s was no ice cream parlor, it was probably no more conspicuous a gambling den than, say, Yee Mee Loo’s in Chinatown, which, according to Vincent A. Carter‘s memoir, LAPD’s Rogue Cops, had three of the city‘s top detectives -- two inspectors and a captain -- on the take. It is worth remembering that only 50 years ago gambling in L.A. was divvied up, by mutual agreement, among the three superpowers governing vice -- the Mob, the LAPD and Eugene Biscailuz’s Sheriff‘s Department. Nor should we forget how pervasive a part of urban male culture gambling was at that time, when nearly every corner newsstand was connected to a bookmaking operation. Finally, while we tend to think of the police, the Mob, gambling, sports and drinking as separate concepts, in reality they continually overlapped and merged in places like Boardner’s.
That is why it was no big deal for Fremont to call Boardner to warn him that a man from the state ABC was sitting at his bar, or for Boardner to let another ABC man use his Hollywood apartment for trysts with his girlfriend. Even the bar‘s penthouse, according to Boardner, served a business purpose, a place where drunken off-duty cops could sleep it off.
Although Boardner never smoked (“I’m in training!” was his lifelong explanation), he was a drinking bartender and ran a string of DUIs driving from the bar to his Studio City house. One night he‘d almost made it home when he saw the flashing lights from two police motorcycles. Boardner literally played the Fremont card that evening, showing his interceptors his license -- along with Harry Fremont’s business card. Suitably impressed, the bike cops let Boardner off with a warning, but then he threw the car in reverse, and into one of the motorcycles. This gaffe required more than one of Fremont‘s Get Out of Jail cards, and so, about twice a week for the next year, whenever Boardner heard a pair of motorcycles pull up in back of his bar, he’d yell to his cook, “Put on two New York steaks!”
Long after Hollywood‘s nightlife began its decline with the end of World War II, 1652 Cherokee continued to be a meeting place for entertainers. “One day, about 1956,” Boardner says, “Johnny [Carson] came in and wanted to tend bar. I used to flip empty Lucky beer bottles up in the air by the neck and toss them in the case they came in. Well, he tried it himself and a goddamned bottle hit him right in the eye!” (Carson, through an assistant, demurs that he’s never heard of Boardner‘s bar, and that this must have happened to someone else.)
No-budget director Ed Wood (Scotch and water) was a Boardner’s regular, as was Alan Hale Jr. (double Jack Daniels). And athletes, great and obscure, retired and active, still made pilgrimages. Mickey Mantle (bourbon and ginger ale) once dropped in, as did Joe DiMaggio. But eventually the bar, like Hollywood itself, began to lose its luster. In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, KNX entertainment broadcaster Tom Hatten (vodka and beef-broth Bullshots) was an actor appearing in The Billy Barnes Revues at the nearby Las Palmas Theater, and he’d go over to Boardner‘s with his friends a after rehearsals. He remembers the bar as “kind of dank and tacky, but fun. Most of us didn’t have much money, and Boardner‘s had good steak sandwiches.”
Depending on who you speak to, Hollywood’s nightlife was killed by “hippies” and panhandlers who scared away foot traffic, or by the proliferation of topless bars and porn shops, as well as by the presence of more desirable restaurants in Beverly Hills and La Cienega Boulevard‘s Restaurant Row. Although the new Hollywood suited one Boardner’s regular, poet Charles Bukowski, just fine, Steve began closing the bar down earlier and earlier, until it never stayed open past 10 o‘clock. He was in his late 60s, he suffered from gout and he never did get a lease for his place, for sometime in the 1950s the building was purchased by Naim “Sy” Amber, who would only rent to Boardner on a monthly basis. And besides, he was going blind.