The Helm to close in August

COSTA MESA - It's a rarity in Orange County, the kind of place where a game of pool, a few songs on the jukebox and a beer with friends costs less than $10.

It won't be around for long, though —- Newport Boulevard dive bar The Helm is scheduled to close at the end of August, according to owner Myron Miller.

Miller said landlord Robert "Zeb" Ziemer, who also owns Goat Hill Tavern next door, decided to stop renting to the Helm and replace the bar with a more upscale lounge.

"He has every right to do it, so there's not much for me to say," Miller said. "He's a businessman ... I'm certainly not mad at him."

Miller said he previously had a lease, but has been renting on month-to-month terms for the last two years.

Ziemer could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Miller has owned the Helm for 23 years, but the bar has a long history before that. The building was built in the 1920s, Miller said, and before it was The Helm it was the Shamrock, thought to be one of the first full-liquor bars in the area.

It's a no-frills place, with neon beer signs, worn red carpet, pictures of friends in old frames on the walls and a side room full of pinball machines and arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man.

Costa Mesa resident Sam Akin said he has been a regular customer for 27 years. He recalled when there was a piano in the corner where a pool table now sits, and a big aquarium behind the bar. He said the "hard-working people" have kept him coming back.

Diana Abou-Khalil of Costa Mesa was pouring drinks behind the Helm's bar Saturday afternoon. She said the job gave her the opportunity to go back to school at Cal State Long Beach to get her teaching credential.

"It's given so many opportunities to people," she said. "The one thing I hear the most is 'Where are we going to go?' We're like a family."

Although Abou-Khalil has worked at The Helm for six years, she is actually the newest bartender. The others have worked there for more than 20 years, Miller said.

Miller said he would like to open another bar in the area.

"I'm going to look for something close to find a place for the girls, and because it's been so good to me," Miller said. "It's sad for a lot of people, but it's been a good 23 years."

The Helm is scheduled to be open through Aug. 27.

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