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Historic Blue Beet Destroyed in Blaze

Times Staff Writer

Newport Beach lost a reminder of its history Friday morning when fire gutted the 74-year-old Blue Beet Cafe near the Newport Pier.

The bar and restaurant, one of the oldest in Orange County, “went up like a torch” Friday morning shortly before 4, said Jim Borchard, a painter who was working inside when the blaze started. Borchard said he didn’t smell the smoke because of the paint odor but saw the flames and ran from the building unharmed.

No one was injured, fire officials said. Firefighters contained the blaze shortly after 5 a.m. and it did not spread to nearby buildings, Capt. Axel Zanelli said. A cause will not be determined until firefighters can clear the rubble of the collapsed roof, he said.

Sid Soffer, who managed the Blue Beet for 18 years and who owns the building, stared at the ruins on Friday morning. “You don’t have feelings after a while--this is my third fire” in buildings he has owned, he said. “You’d go crazy if you fell apart every time something like this happens.”

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Fred Accuardi, owner of the Blue Beet, said he would rebuild the cafe.

The Blue Beet had long been a gathering place in Old Newport for local residents. “It was like your typical neighborhood pub,” said Kathi Shannon, 32, a hair stylist at the Just Splendid beauty salon next door. “It was my favorite place. I went there all the time.”

Blue Beet manager Robert Lewis said that the cafe, which also served Italian-style seafood, had been increasingly successful “for about a year. We were becoming less and less seasonal.”

Soffer recalled reports of the early days before he bought the Blue Beet in 1960. It was originally called Stark’s of Newport Beach, and it had an antique bar from Cripple Creek, Colo., which remained a centerpiece until Friday’s fire. The bar had at least two name changes before Soffer bought it and renamed it.

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The bar was one of the last places in California to abolish slot machines and other gambling at the beginning of the ‘50s, Soffer said. When it burned, the Blue Beet still housed an oak table used for card games during the gambling era, he said.

In the ‘60s, Soffer said, the bar was famous for poetry readings and live flamenco guitar music, and was a favorite hangout for “electronic engineer-types” in their 30s.

The Blue Beet also featured live acts such as comedian Steve Martin and Peter Tork of the Monkees, Soffer said.

Soffer closed the bar and restaurant in the late 1970s after several skirmishes with city and Health Department officials, who he claimed were trying to harass him with regulations. He kept the building but sold the Blue Beet, which passed to two owners before it was sold to Accuardi in 1981.

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Fire officials had no monetary estimate on damage. The inside of the restaurant was destroyed, but the brick walls remained, preventing the blaze from spreading.

Lewis estimated a loss of at least $150,000, but Soffer said that asking for a damage estimate was “like asking how much your daughter is worth.”

Lewis had managed the Blue Beet for five years. He said many of the 20 employees had been working there since Accuardi bought it. “We’ll all be looking for jobs now,” he said.

Many of those who worked in the vicinity were saddened by the loss. “I moved here from Alaska two years ago, and this was the first nice place I stumbled into,” Shannon said. “It had a really comfortable atmosphere.”

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“It’s just really sad,” said 19-year-old Michelle Melendez, a clerk at nearby Henry’s Groceries.

Accuardi, however, remained optimistic. “We are going to rebuild this place,” he said. “The Monday night linguine special will live on.”


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