NEWPORT BEACH — If the walls of this beachside jazz joint could talk, oh, the story they would tell.
Those walls of The Blue Beet date back 100 years, but the music venue and restaurant near the Newport Pier over the years has been shaped by much more than just jazz and steaks, said Scott Lewis, the general manager.
“It’s been around for a long time, serving as a hangout in one way or another,” said Lewis, 32, whose father bought the Blue Beet in the early 1980s, sold it, then re-purchased it in the late ‘90s.
The site once served as a Prohibition-era speakeasy — possibly even housing a brothel around the same time — before undergoing several transformations before the 1960s into more legal enterprises, including a general market and cigar shop, Lewis said.
An nondescript brick facade, tucked into a narrow alley dissecting McFadden Square, belies the now spacious, multistory family restaurant and locals’ night spot.
The site adopted its final guise as the Blue Beet in the mid-60s, when former owner Sid Soffer purchased the building and brought in live entertainment, Lewis said.
Among the notable performers and visitors to the jazz club were Steve Martin, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Wayne and the Righteous Brothers, he said.
Photos of some of these famous faces and those of many others, including the Anaheim Ducks with the Stanley Cup trophy in 2007, crowd the walls above plush red vinyl booths and an old-fashioned wooden bar.
“I leave the door open sometimes during the day and people will pop their heads in here,” Lewis said. “They always are surprised and say, ‘This place hasn’t changed a bit. It looks the same as it did 30 years ago.’”
That feeling of continuity was hard won. The Blue Beet was gutted by a fire not long after being sold to Lewis’ father in 1986. While the bricks remained, the interior had to be completely redone.
After the fire, the Blue Beet was sold back to Soffer, then again back to the elder Lewis in 1996.
Under the father-and-son duo, the Blue Beet saw the addition of an upstairs outdoor patio with an ocean view, an expanded menu, and the introduction of rock ‘n’ roll and ‘80s music nights.
“We’re always looking to introduce the place to the next generation,” the younger Lewis said. “Kids in their 20s come in here and say, ‘My parents met here.’ This has definitely been one of Newport’s hotspots for generation over generation.”
With this year marking the 100th anniversary of the old pile of stones, the Blue Beet is paying homage to its history with a “throwback” menu featuring discounted steaks and other entrées.
However, both the elder and younger Lewis have taken steps over the years to make sure that the Blue Beet has a way to tell that history all on its own.
“When Sid opened it, it was this quirky restaurant with great entertainment and reasonably priced food,” said the elder Stephen Lewis, 66. “We’ve striven to continue that theme and stay true to what Sid created. I’ve grown up here and so many new things are built all over the area that just keeping some historic perceptive alive is so important here.”