When Chris Reece opened the Pike Restaurant and Bar 20 years ago in the fourth street corridor, it was a gang-infested rough Long Beach neighborhood. Being the drummer of the punk band Social Distortion, that didn’t phase Reece who was forever fighting the machine and never felt like he fit in anywhere. It became home.
What was once a Googie-style diner called Chipper’s Corner, Reece converted it into a funky seafood restaurant and bar, on a strip that is now referred to as Retro Row. Back then, a punk rock drummer could afford to buy a house in Long Beach, which is why he ended up staying.
In addition to live entertainment, the menu is a road map of his days touring – the fish and chips he enjoyed in Bayswater, London, to fish tacos in San Felipe, Mexico. There are beachy weekend specials like breakfast burritos and avocado toast, along with a beefy selection of burgers, sandwiches and beer.
“In all my touring days, I realized that the money was in the booze, not playing the drums,” Reece tells L.A. Weekly from behind the eclectic bar with mementos that intertwine his Social Distortion days with Long Beach Pike history. “I played gigs where the waitresses were making more money than me. I was always familiar with the business because I had worked in restaurants and bars to support my music career in the beginning, and I always wanted to open one of my own. I opened in 2002 and it was a real struggle back then. It was a different city and neighborhood at the time. It was a pretty rough side of town. There was a lot of gang violence and crime, but we persevered, and we’re still at it.”
Reece attributes that punk resistance to his longevity and the success of the bar, which has a strong musical draw. It’s a neighborhood watering hole and restaurant, which turns into a nightclub at night until 2 a.m. Experience has taught Reece that a good band will always bring people around and draw a crowd.
“I grew up in punk rock and we had our backs against the wall all the time,” says the San Francisco native. “We weren’t really loved by the police or the establishment, and just did things our way. Somehow, you find a way to survive. We were rebelling against the music at the time, like Journey, Pink Floyd and bands like that, that were on the radio. We didn’t really like that kind of music, it was just too commercial, so we set out to play music our way and stuck to it and didn’t change the recipe over the years to satisfy a record label or radio programmers. I’m still just trying to make a buck.”
On any given night, you’ll find performers like Drugstore Dharma, The Rails with King Flamingo & Acolyte, Sink Drinkers, Long Beach Jazz Jam, Plastic Horseshoes on stage attracting an audience of all ages. In fact, it’s not uncommon to catch Reece himself jamming with longtime friend and founding member of The Crowd, Jim Kaa.
Kaa sprung out of the Huntington Beach surf and skate punk scene in the late ‘70s and is currently the president and CEO of Polly’s Pies, founded in Fullerton in 1968 and owns 10 KFCs. Kaa has worked with several other restaurant brands, including Veggie Grill and Bubba Gump. On weekends, he plays at places like Alex’s Bar in Long Beach with his band 16 Again and is still producing records on vinyl.
“I was getting a degree in accounting at Long Beach state university and took a different tact than Chris,” Kaa tells L.A. Weekly, from behind the counter at Polly’s Pies in Long Beach. “We were one of those bands in ‘78 playing parties, opening for the Cramps at the Whiskey. I was scared to death. Look, I wanted to play parties so I could meet girls. When I started playing in 1978, I didn’t have a grand idea that I was going to be a rock star with records and merchandise. Back then we didn’t think about merchandising and records. You’d play a show, meet people from other bands. We were friends with the Flyboys from Arcadia and met Robbie Fields of Posh Boy, who we were originally going to do a single with and ended up recording the Beach Boulevard album with him. That helped blow open the doors for Orange County punk rock at the time.”
The father of two, who has been working in the restaurant business his entire adult career, correlates the hospitality industry with the music industry in that desire to entertain and be the host of the party.
“I’m a passionate and intense person, and still playing music keeps me sane,” Kaa says. I’m lucky enough to be the president of a large restaurant company, which is a hard and stressful job – even in the best of times it can be brutal. I played at the Pike on Friday night, and when people are happy and having a drink and some fish and chips, we’re playing songs they like, it’s such a great vibe for everybody.”
He acknowledges punk era contemporaries that have been lost and credits his longevity with the ability to grow up.
“I can’t write songs like I was 19 because it would sound stupid and hollow. I have to write about people going through divorces and losing friends. It’s sad to see that happen. You see the big split happen over the years – tons of people get sober and so many of the successful rock guys we know are sobriety people because they’ve seen the dark side when they were young. They came out of that realizing that’s never the answer. We’ve lost so many people to alcohol and drug abuse. You don’t think about what it’s doing to you when you’re 30, or realize what it’s going to do to you when you’re 50. Everybody has the opportunity to be young and dumb, but when you get to a certain age, it doesn’t fly anymore. When you’re 45 saying sorry dude, I just got too hammered, it rings pretty hollow for everyone.”
Further up the 405, in the heart of one of L.A.’s oldest tourist attractions, you can stumble across some of the greatest names in punk rock performing at The Market Tavern in the Original Farmers Market. The brainchild of International Swinger’s guitarist Gary Twinn, who already managed two bars at the market, opened the proper contemporary British pub in the former Johnny Rockets space in the midst of the pandemic.
In a coincidental twist of fate, a band Kaa was playing bass in at the time, Piccolo Pete, opened for the International Swingers about 12 years ago at a club called Fitzgerald’s in Huntington Beach.
It’s not your cliche-themed pub with pictures of the queen. The walls are filled with original photographs on loan from friends of his that you won’t see anywhere else. There are black-and-white pictures of the Sex Pistols, taken by Bob Marley photographer Dennis Morris, as well as L.A. Weekly contributor Dawn Laureen’s images of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Billy Idol. Then there’s the mural at the DJ station. Twinn gathered together a bunch of album covers and posters he’s had since he was a teenager of movies his dad took him to see and other mementos, and made it all into one piece of instagrammable art.
“From a young age when you first start playing – where are you playing? You’re playing in bars and pubs,” says Twinn. “When I first started, I wasn’t old enough to drink. When you’re too young to be in the bar, they stick you in the storeroom and that’s when you really see how things work.”
And it’s still working. The original Gilmore family that still runs the farmers market trusted Twinn and eventually came around and helped finance the pub, which might have been considered a risk. He brought on British chef Brendan Collins, who has now moved on to FIA in Santa Monica.
“I’d been booking bands at E.B.’s for quite a few years and we’ve had some pretty rowdy stuff go on in there,” says Twinn. “I was playing in the International Swingers, which is me, Clem Burke from Blondie, Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols, James Stevenson from Generation X, so we certainly brought in a crowd of rowdies.”
Every Friday, The Longshadows – composed of Twinn, Burke, Mick Cripps (L.A. Guns,) Gaz Ivin and Luke Bossendorfer of The Quireboys perform live at the Market Tavern with surprise acts like Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s randomly taking the stage, if they happen to be in town. DJ Dandy Randy spins vinyl during Friday night happy hour from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. All free, no cover charge. Twinn continues to perform around town, like at the Sugar Mill Saloon in Tarzana.
“When I look in the mirror in the mornings, I still think I’m 25,” says the youthful guitarist. “I try to eat right and am aware of my diet. A little bit of yoga and running. Living in L.A., it’s not that difficult to find good healthy food. When I was touring with the Swingers, it was pretty tough trying to find my carrot juice. A salad could be jello with mayonnaise on it.”
That said, the Market Tavern is probably the only place you can find a British Breakfast Burrito smothered in Heinz baked beans. Sunday roast suppers are a tradition at the Tavern, with roast beef, lamb or chicken, and potatoes, peas, brussel sprouts, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. It’s Twinn’s homage to the kind of thing your mum makes for you on Sunday.
“If I had a choice, I would just play my guitar and sing every night of the week,” says Twinn. “If that’s how I could make my living, that’s what I would do. Once you’re a rock and roller or musician, it just never leaves you, you can’t just drop it. My guitar is in my hand all day long. But, eventually, I had to grow up and step aside to let the next group of musicians come along. I love running this place and seeing people happy, and I’m still able to carry on playing for fun.”
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