For just the third time in its 78-year history in Laguna, the Marine Room Tavern will change hands.
Chris Keller, already the owner of three Laguna restaurants, signed the lease on Saturday. He will take possession Nov. 28, according to Kelly Boyd. The councilman, with his late brother Bo, was the leaseholder of the tavern, affectionately known as the “Mar Bar,” for the past 25 years.
“Rumors have been flying for months,” Boyd said earlier this week. “It is time to set the record straight.
“My lease was up in June, and I have been working with the Ellerman family, who owns the building.”
Negotiations included a per-square-foot price that Boyd felt was beyond his reach.
“I decided that I couldn’t sign something that I don’t think I could pull off,” Boyd said. “I told them [the Ellermans] to think about finding someone else to continue it the way I would want.”
In fact he was instrumental in bringing Keller to the table.
“I contacted Chris and he was ecstatic,” Boyd said.
Boyd said he could think of no one he would rather see take over the tavern than Keller, who has made a success of K’ya Bistro and the Rooftop Lounge in the HIP District’s La Casa del Camino and the House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer downtown.
Keller was out of town and unavailable for comment.
“Chris will keep the tradition going, which was important to me and to Nellis,” Boyd said.
Nellis Ellerman is the widow of Walt Ellerman Jr., who took over the bar when he came home from World War II.
Walt Ellerman Sr. bought the property in 1933 and opened the tavern in 1934.
“At one time the back room was a pool hall,” Boyd said. “You came in through a side door.”
Breakfast and lunch were cooked in a small kitchen and served at a counter, both have since closed.
The Ellermans had the second liquor license approved in Laguna Beach — the first was to Poppy Smith for the Coast Inn, Boyd said. .
“He was in line in front of Walt,” he said.
The Ellerman family ran the tavern until 1987, when the Boyds took it over.
Under their ownership, the tavern has been a venue for political fundraising, election-night celebrations and wakes for well-loved Lagunans and retirement parties.
The sale is the end of an era, another chapter in the long history of Boyd’s family in Laguna Beach, which stretches back to the 1800s when his great grandparents had a homesteaded in Aliso Canyon.
His grandfather Joe Thurston later owned considerable land in Laguna, including Mystic Hills. He married school teacher Marie Thurston, for whom Thurston Middle School and Thurston Trailer Park are named.
The Thurstons donated the property on which Laguna Beach High School was built and established a scholarship, administered today by the high school’s Scholarship Foundation.
Boyd has carried on the family tradition of service to the city. He served his first term on the City Council from 1978 to 1982. He ran again in 2006 and 2010.
In 2000, he served on the board of the Laguna Beach/Emerald Bay Public Facilities Authority.
Boyd’s decision to retire from the Mar Bar was made easier due to health problems and agonizing pain he’s suffered the past 10 months.
He has had cracked ribs from coughing, undergone two back operations — the most recent on Oct. 5 — and distressed vocal cords from intubation. But the future is looking up, he said.
He is walking — carefully — and biopsies of his vocal cords and throat show no signs of cancer.
Dr. Kent Combs has indicated he should have his voice back in six to eight weeks.
Boyd also has no intention of retiring from the City Council. He does plan to do a little traveling with his wife, Michelle, a human resource manager for the Laguna Beach County Water District. They recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.
“We need to do things together, and it is time,” Boyd said.