Surfers, Bikers Are Drawn to Malibu’s ‘Net’
The waves were flat at Point Dume early Sunday morning, so surfer Mike Ronge headed up the coast to County Line.
By midday he was joined by more than 50 others as the swells reached a respectable 3 to 4 feet at one of the area’s most consistent surf spots. For years, this highly visible stretch of beach near the border of Ventura and Los Angeles counties has beckoned surfers.
Across Pacific Coast Highway, twice as many onlookers watched the action from Neptune’s Net--the quintessential Southern California hangout that for five decades has been serving steamed shellfish to bikers and surfers alike.
“This is the place I used to come with my dad. It’s been like this for years,” said Ronge, a 31-year-old production worker for a movie studio. “Now it’s a way of life. I’m here just about every weekend.”
A line of customers winds around the wooden tanks filled with lobster and crab inside the patio restaurant. They select fresh shellfish, pay by the pound and, a few minutes later, the steamed seafood is ready at the pickup window.
“People love this system because they can look down and pick out what they want. They even want to put their hands in the water, but we discourage that,” said Michelle Lee, who, along with her husband, Chong Sun, has owned the small restaurant on the northern edge of Malibu since 1991.
On summer weekends, dozens of strangers sit together on the covered patio where the long tables always seem full. This time of year, the restaurant goes through about 200 pounds of Maine lobster and 150 pounds of Alaskan crab a week, Lee said.
At the other end of the patio, diners can order hamburgers from the grill or fried fish and chips and calamari baskets along with 40-ounce beers and soda. And Malibu locals swear by the clam chowder.
Jacob Eastman built the seafood and hamburger shack in the 1950s, calling it Jake’s Diner. The place has changed hands twice over the years and became Neptune’s Net in the 1970s.
But the eatery has changed very little over the last half-century. And the customers like it that way. The dirt parking lot, with a reserved stretch out front for motorcycles, has been paved, and a local construction worker replaces the wooden tables on the patio as needed. But that’s about it.
“This look has never changed. People love to come here because of that,” said Lee, 46. “You have sun and ocean and food. Some people say this is the California dream place, because it’s natural and not changing.”
“It’s so relaxed. You just grab a beer and watch the surf,” said Arleene Solis, who has managed the restaurant for 14 years.
For years, it also has been a draw for celebrities, who come to relax and be left alone in the unpretentious atmosphere.
Drew Barrymore and her husband, Tom Green, were in a few weeks ago. “She comes in quite a bit when she’s not working,” Solis said.
Adam Sandler is a regular. The late Flip Wilson would come in for breakfast on weekends. Cher drove her motorcycle to the seafood shack one Sunday. So has Jay Leno. Tom Hanks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Keanu Reeves, Elizabeth Taylor, Pierce Brosnan, Jerry West, Charlie and Martin Sheen and Nicolas Cage also have frequented the place.
When the movie “Charlie’s Angels” was being filmed nearby, Cameron Diaz and Bill Murray would stop in for lunch. Most recently, a scene from “The Fast and the Furious,” which is now playing in theaters, was shot on the restaurant’s patio.
“People come here because it’s the epitome of California living. It’s got the beach and good weather. And you can sit here and people-watch for hours,” said Margaret Lee, 19, a college sophomore who has worked at her parents’ restaurant for the last five summers. “It’s the one place where all differences are set aside and people come together. Bikers sit with surfers. They relax, have a beer, enjoy the sun and hang out.”
“This is the spot to be. There’s the ocean and a different mixture of people. I can meet people from all over the world here,” said Luigi Viescas, 41, a Malibu resident who has surfed all over the world and still comes back to this place he calls home.
On Sundays, weathered bikers on Harleys rumble in and commingle casually with surfers, tourists and families.
“It’s a place to drive to,” said Trish Hesse, a biker from Culver City who has been riding with her husband, Mike, to Neptune’s Net on weekends for about 12 years. Six years ago, the 45-year-old bookkeeper bought herself a Harley Sportster. “Part of being a biker is to see and be seen.’
Others say Neptune’s Net and the beach at County Line are two of the remaining holdouts for those looking for the California experience.
“This is the last outpost,” said Mike Taylor, 43, who has been stopping by Neptune’s Net daily after work for 25 years. “You can drive up and down the coast, and there’s not anything like this. . . . This is the only place around here in the last quarter of a century that hasn’t changed.”
During the winter the restaurant is abandoned except for a few locals, like Taylor.
“Only those who live here come. Then it’s really our place,” he said. ‘But during the summer we don’t mind sharing it with everyone. Everyone needs a little bit of heaven sometimes.”