Closing time for O’Hara’s, the last of Westwood’s dive bars

Patrons sit at the bar on O'Hara's last night of business. The establishment served the UCLA community for more than 20 years.
(Sean Greene / Los Angeles Times)

Even the free-flowing tequila shots and blaring music could not cut through the air of sadness that hung above O’Hara’s, the last of Westwood’s dive bars, on its final night of business Saturday.

The bar will be replaced by Rocco’s Tavern, an Italian-themed chain restaurant. But many of O’Hara’s patrons — students and alumni returning for its last night — expressed disappointment that Westwood would be losing a quintessential part of the neighborhood.

O’Hara’s “is uniquely UCLA.… It’s like an icon for college students who are 21 and over,” said Vince Barcelona, a recent UCLA grad and bouncer, as he checked the IDs and passports of students lining up outside the brick building.

An O'Hara's employee stacks stools in front of a chalkboard that reads "0 days to closing time," a reference to the bar's traditional last call song, "Closing Time" by Semisonic.
(Sean Greene / Los Angeles Times)

For the revelers at O’Hara’s, the beloved Irish pub was Westwood’s “one true bar,” famous for its hot, crowded pint nights, sticky floors and raucous atmosphere.

Generations of UCLA students planned their week around O’Hara’s themed nights: Pint Night on Tuesday, Thirsty Thursdays (more of a college tradition) and $1 shots during Friday’s 9 p.m. “Survivor Hour.” Every night, during last call, O’Hara’s staff would play Semisonic’s “Closing Time” and the theme from the old TV show “Cheers,” about a popular neighborhood bar — although the latter tradition died off in recent years.

The pub at Gayley and Weyburn avenues opened in the 1990s as Maloney’s on Campus, part of a chain of six restaurants around the country. The owners later changed its name to O’Hara’s, but for many current and former UCLA students, the original name stuck.

Over the years, Westwood’s bar scene has faded. Alums said that 15 years ago, they could go to Madison’s, Westwood Brewing Company or Maloney’s. Now all three are gone. “BrewCo” became a Boiling Crab restaurant in 2013.

Westwood residents have long been at odds with the campus population over the character of the village as many student-friendly establishments have closed in favor of more upscale chain stores and restaurants.

Local and citywide restrictions have made it difficult to run a bar in Westwood, said General Manager Samantha Cross, a UCLA alumna. Zoning laws prohibit pool tables in the area and conditions placed on O’Hara’s license to serve alcohol prohibited it from offering happy hours or allowing dancing.

But they did sell beer by the liter.

On Saturday night, O’Hara’s stock was nearly tapped out and it ran out of beer by 7 o’clock.

Two hours later, the bar’s supply of whiskey and tequila was dwindling, but manager and UCLA alum Johan “Joe” Cruze wasn’t too worried. “We can serve water here and people will still show up,” he said.

The staff found out about the closure last Sunday, and many former employees returned for the bar’s last night. Employees said there was a sense of family among the staff and many of the regulars, who greeted bartenders by nicknames.

“It’s hard to emphasize family because it sounds like a cliche. She’s my best friend and she’s my best friend,” Cruze said, pointing to Cross and another co-manager, Laura Olivares, as they tended bar.

Without O’Hara’s, Westwood’s drinking options become severely limited, especially for money-strapped students, patrons said. Barney’s Beanery, a restaurant and bar, sits around the corner from O’Hara’s, but it’s the kind of place you’d go to watch a game, Cross said.

“If you wanted to party, you’d come here,” she said.

A few patrons said they would try out the incoming Rocco’s Tavern, which will feature a lounge and high-end bar in the basement, the UCLA Daily Bruin reported. But many more bemoaned the lack of student-friendly establishments. More students may now choose to take their business outside the village, hopping on a ride-hailing service such as Uber or Lyft and heading to Santa Monica.

“L.A. gets a lot smaller when there’s an easy carpool,” said Angus Beverly, a UCLA law student and member of the Westwood Neighborhood Council.

At 11 p.m., O’Hara’s finally ran dry. The staff raised the lights for last call and once again played “Closing Time” and, yes, the theme from “Cheers,” with some patrons singing along to the line about a beloved place “where everybody knows your name.”

Twitter: @seangreene89

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