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
“We kind of bought Boardner’s to be a meeting place for people in the adult-entertainment industry. Steve was interested in getting out, and he sold it to me.” An affable man who wears a large pinkie ring, Dave Hadley, 59, sits at his desk in Steve Boardner‘s old penthouse, which today resembles a frat room in dire need of a spring cleaning and a new carpet, if not a new floor. Centerfold posters cover the walls, and stacks of Hustler are piled on one of the many cluttered tables mined with mousetraps. Hadley, who says his family has been traced back to the Crusades, was born in New Hampshire and raised in North Carolina; his rolling, double-bourbon voice sounds like Robert Mitchum’s. Not long after leaving the Navy in 1967 he arrived in L.A., which he found “kind of seedy.”
Still, he decided to give the town a try, and got a job repairing equipment across the street at Don Martin. (“One Halloween,” Hadley recalls, “someone actually painted a crosswalk between Boardner‘s and the school.”) By 1977 he and some associates, including a former porn producer named Kurt Richter, created TVX, which duped and distributed the first X-rated home videotapes, which they sold from a store called Video City, located across the street from Boardner’s. They spent time at the bar -- a lot of time. “We thought it would be a good place to meet and not have to buy our own drinks,” Hadley says, recalling how he and Richter got the idea to make Steve Boardner an offer to buy his place.
By then Boardner was ready to deal, his spirit broken by a series of incidents beginning when a friend, who‘d lost a lot of money betting on horses, also lost a court judgment and was ordered to repay about $6,000 to the brother-in-law from whom he had embezzled to cover his debts. Boardner arranged to get a loan, at $1,000 interest, from a circus-ringmaster friend who lived in his apartment building. Unfortunately, the gambler died, sticking Boardner with the note. He was forced to lay off his night bartender and work double shifts himself for half a year. He sold to Hadley in 1980 and moved to Palm Springs two years later.
If Hadley and Richter had conceived of their ownership of Boardner’s as a party guy‘s dream come true, they quickly found themselves employed solely as saloon keepers when TVX and Video City folded. Hadley says the place has seen some lean years since he acquired it, thanks to what he calls the Three Catastrophes -- the 1992 riots, the 1994 earthquake and the Metrorail construction on Hollywood Boulevard. Then again, 1652 Cherokee is continually rediscovered, and it has become a favorite place to hold wrap parties and to shoot films. (Ed Wood, L.A. Confidential and Beverly Hills, 90210 are among many movies and TV shows filmed here.)
Hadley says he receives regular offers for Boardner’s, but some technicality always seems to queer the deal at the last minute. One daunting challenge facing any new owner is the fact that even modest remodeling of the bar would expose him or her to an array of building codes that have been grandfathered into suspension over the years. Loyal Pennings, who owns the swankily renovated Las Palmas Restaurant nearby, says he is first in line to purchase Boardner‘s, and claims he would only restore the place to its original luster.
And so for now Boardner’s remains under Hadley‘s helm, assisted by a staff that functions more as a family than do many families, helping each other out in times of money problems, going on group camping trips, playing in charity golf tournaments in Mexico, providing turkey lunches for people with no place to go on Thanksgiving, and throwing Christmas parties for local kids in the Casablanca Room, complete with bartender Brad McAllen dressed as Santa.
“D’you hear about the strict vegetarian? The son of a gun wouldn‘t even eat animal crackers!” Steve Boardner always greets visitors to his home in Palm Springs with a joke.
His friend Phil Harris, who died a few years back, can be credited with leading the postwar exodus of Hollywood entertainers into the desert, an exodus that eventually included Gene Austin, who had opened the first legit club at 1652 Cherokee. “He used to shoot these goddamned roadrunners,” Boardner says of Harris. “Phil loved doves and would leave hamburger out for them, but the roadrunners would eat the hamburger before the doves could. A little while ago I heard a roadrunner hollering at something, so I whistled at it and it stopped.”
Even if he were disposed, like Harris, to shooting roadrunners, Steve Boardner would not, because his eyes can only make out shadows and outlines. (“I can tell if the sun’s out,” he says ruefully.) If, in a home filled with photographs of his glory days, this seems like a torment, he doesn‘t let on. He’ll be 87 in November, but seems as sharp and buoyant as when he warned W.C. Fields about the dangers of drinking Coca-Cola. He is still married to his fourth wife, Bea, although she has lived for the past year in a nursing home for Alzheimer‘s patients.