Richard Schave is the co-founder of Esotouric--a group that gives weekly bus tours to the old, dirty heart of Los Angeles. He writes with a commentary on what the closing and planned renovation of the King Eddy means for a constantly self-reinventing Downtown Los Angeles:
The King Eddy Saloon is on the Northwest corner of 5th & Los Angeles Street in downtown Los Angeles, which some call "The Nickel," or Skid Row.
It occupies a corner of the former lobby of the King Edward Hotel, which the Architect-developer John Parkinson built and opened in the spring of 1906. At some point before 1919, the bar opened.
With the exception of the smoker's cage and the flat screen televisions, little in the King Eddy has changed since the Croick family took over in the early 1960s.
But as much as the King Eddy has remained sealed in amber for decades, the neighborhood has changed around it. Now there are lofts and cupcake bakeries, vintage stores and art galleries, and bars with dress codes and $15 organic cocktails. And now, at last, that tide of change is lapping inexorably at the walls of the King Eddy. The bar has been sold, and will be closed for major renovations in the fall.
When you walk into the King Eddy the jukebox is playing. You sit down and Irene serves you a drink, and you are glad to get it because you are in a lively spot where something is happening. Like the decor, the patrons have been around long enough to have some hard living and traveling behind them. Frankie, in his Stetson and cowboy boots, has lived upstairs for thirty years. The bar is his living room. The man called Pancake will tell you, hands down, this place is the genuine article.
So why should you care about the King Eddy Saloon and its impending transformation?
The King Eddy is a rare and precious remnant of old Los Angeles. It is of a time when Skid Row was a place where transient workers--from day laborers to skilled electricians-- could drift into town and live on the cheap before finding work at the job boards which once lined east 5th Street.
Both James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler were listening to these men in the flophouses, in the soup kitchens, and in the bars on Fifth Street in the 1930s. And there, both writers found great beauty and trained their ears to the uniquely American dialect which these drifters spoke. John Fante set part of his 1939 novel, "Ask The Dust," in the cellar speakeasy of the King Eddy. For just those contributions to American letters, you should care about the King Eddy closing.
The King Eddy's patrons are not the target demographic for the Downtown Businessmen's Association's annual awards luncheon. They are for the most part, among the last poor residents in an historically poor neighborhood. Yet the people of the King Eddy have been a part of Downtown for a long time, and the neighborhood would be less of a neighborhood without them. There are not many places in this city where very different kinds of people can mingle as freely as they do here. For that, too, you should care about the King Eddy closing.
You can not get a Pepsi-Cola at the Nugent Pharmacy at Third & Grand on Bunker Hill anymore. The city demolished that neighborhood. No doughnuts and coffee at the Victory Service Club of the Union Rescue Mission; it was shuttered decades ago, and the building razed. But the King Eddy will remain open for the next several weeks, and the drinks are cold and cheap. So here's to the penultimate round at the King Eddy, may the last one never come.
Event: Thursday, July 19, 8pm. Schave and the Los Angeles Visionaries Association will host a literature festival at the King Eddy Saloon. Guests include writers Dan Fante, Jonathan Shaw and Ruben Ortega.