Los Angeles Times

Our Laguna: A send-off to remember at Mar Bar

The crowds that jammed into the Marine Room Tavern on Tuesday and Wednesday night were a testament to the regard in which the Mar Bar and its retiring owner, Councilman Kelly Boyd, are held.

New owner Chris Keller hosted the party and by any measure, it was a rousing success.

"It was beyond any of our expectations," Michelle Boyd said Thursday. "I am just a marshmallow today."

She was at work and so was her husband. He was back at the bar at 7:45 a.m., as he has been most mornings for the past 25 years.

"I have to say how much I appreciate the opportunity that Walt and Nellis Elterman gave me in 1987 to lease the Mar Bar," Boyd said. "I have thought so highly of them ever since."

Boyd and his late brother, Bo, and their wives partnered in the deal.

Bo's widow, Vicki, and their daughter Christen, were among the crowd Wednesday night, along with other members of the Boyd and Marine Room family: Sean Boyd; "step-in" daughter Kirsten Rugg; right hands "Aggie" Dougherty and "Big Brad" Charlton; and nephew Robby Boyd, who will stay on with Keller.

"I teased Chris that if he made too many changes, I would become his worst nightmare," Boyd said.

Both nights were packed with people, music and memories.

Former Mayor Kathleen Blackburn's fondest memory is the party at the Marine Room to celebrate her first election to the City Council.

"I had my 60th birthday party here," Rhonda Kinn said.

Architect Morris Skenderian recalls Phil and Frank Interlandi arguing in the Marine Room 40 years ago before Laguna's legendary cartoonists moved to the Ivy House, reportedly because the walk from bar to post office was shorter.

Skenderian also remembers "Songwriters Night" and listening to composer Jack Tempchin perform "Peaceful Easy Feeling," brought to town by Beth Fitchet-Wood, a member of Laguna's Honk.

"When I was 16, I used to walk by and this was the only thing open," said Bill Blackburn. "There would be three or four guys having a drink at 7:30 a.m. and smoking. I don't think it has changed much."

Bobbi Cox reminisced about dancing to the music of the Missiles of October on Sunday afternoons.

"The one-and-only time in my whole life I've ever gotten drunk was here," said architect Marshall Ininns. "A really good friend had died of a heart attack and another friend and I headed here and I got so drunk."

City Community Development Department Manager Ann Larson used to come to the Mar Bar with Heritage Committee member Tamara Campbell and Joan Upton every weekend to listen to music and dance.

"I used to come with my baby daughter and sit in the window while she listened to her father play the piano with the Missiles and fall asleep," said newly-elected City Clerk Lisette Chel.

Peggy and City Manager John Pietig were patrons of the Mar Bar long before John was hired by the city.

"We have been coming here for 20 years on New Year's Day," Peggy said. "We would meet friends at the White House and then come here to play pool."

Before the pool table was installed in the back room, there was a stage and folks dancing. Pat Curtis and Becky Barber were among them.

"You feel at home here," Barber said. "People know your name and what you drink."

She wasn't the only one to reference the local bar's atmosphere as being akin to the one in the TV comedy "Cheers."

"I have had five birthday parties here," said Waste Management's Michelle Clark. "When I walk in the door there is a Coors Lite set up on the counter."

Insurance broker John Campbell and his wife, Lu, are regulars, showing up every Friday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. He said the Mar Bar is the quintessential neighborhood bar.

"It's like being home, only more fun," said Arts Commissioner Pat Kollenda."So many laughs. Such great music."

Remembering the bagpipers on Hospitality Night brought a smile to Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson's face.

"I love the history of the place," said Heidi Miller, owner of Tight Assets.

The Marine Room Tavern opened in 1934, a year after Walter Elterman Sr. bought the building.

He had the second liquor license approved in Laguna Beach — the first was to Poppy Smith for the Coast Inn, Boyd said.

Elterman's son, Walt Jr., took it over after World War II and ran it until 1987, when the Boyds leased it.

The sale to Keller is only the third time in the 78-year history of the Marine Room that it has changed hands.

Boyd said he could think of no one he would rather see take over the tavern than Keller, who has made a success of K'ya Bistro and the Rooftop Lounge in the HIP District's La Casa Del Camino and the House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer downtown.

"Chris will keep the tradition going, which was important to me and to Nellis Elterman," Boyd said.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman would like to see one change: food service.

At one time, the bar had a small kitchen in which breakfasts and lunches were cooked, to be served at a counter.

"Maybe we could grandfather that in," Iseman said.

But it wasn't only the bar that brought back memories.

"I'd walk in and see Kelly sitting on 'his' stool," Ken Fischbeck said. "It is hard to imagine him not sitting there."

Boyd could be found most days at the bar, listening to locals' stories and their complaints.

"He couldn't get away," Barbara Painter said.

Richard Schwarzstein said Boyd was always accessible.

"He really is Mr. Laguna," Schwarzstein said.

Also in the crush: Mayor Jane Egly, newly-elected council members Bob Whalen and Steve Dicterow, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, Cindy and Dr. Paul Prewitt, Linda Leahy, Bree Burgess Rosen, Chris Quilter, Angie Miller, Karen Wood, Faye and Bob Chapman, Al Roberts, Ken Jillson and former Councilwoman Martha Collison.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4618 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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