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Laguna Beach’s Sandpiper Lounge receives pick-me-up from fundraiser

Owners Chuck and Jeannie Harrell, with their sons Spencer and Grant at the Sandpiper Lounge.
Owners Chuck and Jeannie Harrell, with their sons Spencer and Grant, stand under the famous “sticker board” at the Sandpiper Lounge, also known to locals as the “Dirty Bird” in Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Sandpiper Lounge in Laguna Beach has seen generations of people walk through its doors.

It was established in 1942, and the bar has been owned and operated by Chuck Harrell and his family for more than 50 years.

Started as a fine dining restaurant created by Harrell’s uncle, Tom, the Sandpiper went through a change of ownership multiple times until it was bought by Harrell, his mother, Jeana, and his brother, Chip, on Dec. 6, 1969.

The Harrell brothers had just returned from service in the Army, and many decades since were spent reconnecting with the town through the serving of drinks and providing a place for people to dance the night away.

“For the last 25 or 30 years, we’ve been doing live music seven nights a week, 365 days a year,” Harrell said. “Our 50th anniversary was Dec. 6, 2019, and we had been closed five days in that 50 years. Since this March that the pandemic hit, we’ve been open 12 days.”

The Sandpiper had to close because of safety protocols put in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Bars that do not serve food have been prevented from reopening for an extended period.

Longtime owner Chuck Harrell stands outside the Sandpiper Lounge, also known to locals as the "Dirty Bird" in Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A group called Locals for Laguna Beach ran a fundraiser to aid the Sandpiper as it fights to hang on during the shutdown.

On Tuesday night, a sold-out event with a live musical performance by World Anthem Band, featuring Jah Mex, was held in the parking lot of Mozambique, helping raise money for the embattled bar. The proceeds from admission, 25% of drink sales that night, and those from a custom T-shirt sale went to benefit the Sandpiper. The event had more than 200 attendees.

Chuck Harrell, 74, hopes to never give it up, often giving those who ask about a possible retirement the same response.

“I go, ‘No, no, no. I’m dying here,’” Harrell said. “This is my bar. I love this bar. My kids love it.”

Harrell has been assisted by his wife, Jeannie, and their two sons, Grant and Spencer, in running the bar. Like Harrell, they love it for the countless relationships that have come from being a popular spot in a small town.

“More often than not, it just feels like home to a lot of people, and so a lot of stories have been made there,” Jeannie Harrell said. “A lot of stories have come out. I just love the fact that it’s multigenerational.”

Spencer, Chuck, Jeannie, and Grant Harrell, from left, stand outside the Sandpiper Lounge in Laguna Beach.
Spencer, Chuck, Jeannie and Grant Harrell, from left, stand outside the Sandpiper Lounge, also known to locals as the “Dirty Bird” in Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Although the owners describe the bar as nothing fancy, it offered options for those who did not want to get out on the dance floor. Games such as darts and foosball were available, and live musical acts had become a staple of the Sandpiper.

Jason Garza, 40, who co-founded Locals for Laguna Beach with his fiancée Ashley Moseley, said that $10,000 has been raised to help out the local bar, located at Coast Highway and Brooks Street.

Garza said that nearly 1,000 shirts have been sold. The shirt took the bar’s recognizable door, which is covered in stickers brought in by customers throughout the years, and included the words, “Keep It Dirty,” a nod to the bar’s nickname, “The Dirty Bird.”

“They know that it’s a limited, historical shirt of an iconic place, and at that, something that only locals and regulars would even recognize,” Garza said. “They feel like they’re in the inner circle and knowing that the proceeds go to saving that establishment, it was never even an issue [to sell shirts].”

Laguna Beach-based Soul Project printed the shirts, and 4Societee co-designed the shirt with Locals for Laguna Beach.

While her husband joked that he would have to “beg, borrow and steal” to make the Sandpiper a food-serving bar, Jeannie said that the family has no plans to pack it in.

Spencer, Chuck, Jeannie, and Grant Harrell, from left, stand outside the Sandpiper Lounge in Laguna Beach.
Spencer, Chuck, Jeannie, and Grant Harrell, from left, stand outside the Sandpiper Lounge, also known to locals as the “Dirty Bird” in Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“We’re going to hang in until the bitter end because I just can’t see that we can’t get beyond this and we get back to where we as human creatures can gather again and dance and laugh and have fun,” she said.

Orange County has continued to see a spike in coronavirus cases with the coming of the holidays. The health care agency did not provide an update on Thanksgiving Day, but data released on Friday reported 18 new deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Since the start of the pandemic, Orange County has suffered 1,577 virus-related deaths. There were also 1,943 new cases reported Friday, taking the total number of cases countywide to 75,095.

There were 506 people in the county hospitalized because of the virus, with 139 of those patients being treated in intensive care units.

Additionally, the agency reported 40,934 more tests for the virus, bringing the cumulative tests administered to 1,426,129. An estimated 59,080 people in the county have recovered from having the virus.

Longtime owner Chuck Harrell stands under the surfboard at the Sandpiper Lounge, also known to locals as the "Dirty Bird."
Longtime owner Chuck Harrell stands under the surfboard at the Sandpiper Lounge, also known to locals as the “Dirty Bird” in Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Here are the latest cumulative coronavirus case counts and COVID-19 deaths for select cities in Orange County:

  • Santa Ana: 14,421 cases; 331 deaths
  • Anaheim: 12,662 cases; 344 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 3,255 cases; 89 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 2,532 cases; 45 deaths
  • Irvine: 2,595 cases; 14 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 1,452 cases; 26 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 803 cases; 21 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 316 cases; fewer than five deaths

Here are the case counts by age group, followed by deaths:

  • 0 to 17: 6,103 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 11,032 cases; four deaths
  • 25 to 34: 15,978 cases; 21 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 11,970 cases; 40 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 12,135 cases; 120 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 9,018 cases; 219 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 4,593 cases; 309 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 2,396 cases; 343 deaths
  • 85 and older: 1,814 cases; 520 deaths

Updated figures are posted daily at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/coronavirus-in-oc. For information on getting tested, visit occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-testing.

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