How The Garret
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In The Beginning
Bonnie and Clyde
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A little over a year ago an old friend showed up at the Ventura County Fair where my long time friends B.J. and Sue and I were slinging our mini donuts. It was Jerry Hollombe with his new wife Lydia. We had fun talking about The Garret because Jerry was one of the regulars who spent much of his youth with us. He was older, better looking, more secure, very successful and happily married to a real nice gal we also enjoyed very much.
We didn't hear from him until we heard he was doing a Web site on The Garret and needed some help from us with names, etc. He also wanted to know...although reluctant to ask...(I think I always intimidated Jerry) if I would write something about starting The Garret. Absolutely...yes I'm still ham enough to get in on it. So Jerry.....here's is a short rundown of how it happened and B.J. and I want to thank you for your effort. We love the site and hope it will bring some fond memories to those who were there and regrets to those who weren't.[N.B.: Jerry Hollombe blushes furiously every time he reads the above and doesn't feel all that secure these days, but is very glad Terrea, B.J., et al., approve of the Web site. Webmaster]
In the early fifties Betty Moore (B.J.) and I were involved in a merchandising business called Label Bank®. I was also doing radio and T.V. with my trusty guitar. After doing a personal appearance one night I really realized how much I enjoyed singing for real people instead of a mike and camera. Since a bit of boredom had set in with the humdrum dealing with ad agencies and people saving labels for premiums we decided that opening a small club would be fun.
We told Britt, B.J.'s nineteen year old brother, about our harebrained idea and he had an even better one open a coffee house. Oh ... I had just read in T.V. Life about certain entertainers who were enjoying coffee houses, but had never been to one myself. But it sounded good to us because young people who couldn't go to bars would be able to have some kind of night life other than the drug store fountain.
The search was on. We checked out the local and near local coffee houses and then we were off to find a location. After a month of looking and neglecting Label Bank® we settled on a little grey duplex on Fairfax in West Hollywood.
The place was a mess and we really had our work cut out for us. We enlisted the help of Britt and my mother Elizabeth. We also hired Mr. Anderson, a rather aged man who did our carpentry.
Armed with crowbar, hammer, and a saw we went to work. Tearing walls out, steaming wall paper off, cleaning oil off the floors and scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing. We cut a large hole in the floor of one of the rooms, clear down to the foundation. The owner nearly had a heart attack when he saw it but loved it when he came in later and saw the circular fireplace of used brick and the black wrought iron hood. I am sure some of you, when getting out of the basket chairs have cracked their heads on that hood.
B.J. and I wanted a warm atmosphere so we decided on red deep red walls and ceilings. The outside would be black with white trim around the windows on the front of the building. It was a lot of work, but when we looked at the transformation it was well worth it.
We furnished with tables and bent-wood chairs from a used restaurant supply and spent a lot of time removing gum from the underside and then painted everything black. Red bowl shaped candles in brass holders graced the tables and the white bar with the espresso machine topped off and completed the scene. One of the most exciting times was lighting all of the candles and looking around at the fireplace and the stage and the floor in one section the basket chairs around the fireplace and the stage and white bar stool on the stage that would become home for me for the next thirteen years.
We opened in November of 1958.
And a grand opening it was. My mother, Elizabeth, soon to be known to everyone as Liz was in the kitchen making sandwiches, cheese plates, cutting gingerbread and trying her best to keep up making regular coffee (40 cents). Britt was helping B.J. who was making all the drinks behind the bar having learned to use the espresso machine just a couple of hours before, since it had just been installed a couple of weeks late. (Is anything ever on time?) Our two waitresses were green, so they stood around looking pretty rather than waiting on a crowd even we had not anticipated, although we had ordered four turkeys and four very large trays of French pastry.
The place was jammed. B.J. was up to her ears in cappuccinos, mochas (both hot and frosted), Dutch coffee, café au lait and other drinks all of which she concocted and to this day I have never had such wonderful coffees.
During the height of the frivolities a reporter from Modern Screen asked me if we could light the fireplace. Now it was late November, but most of you know that is when we have some of our warmest weather. But I, being willing to do anything for some good press, said, "Why, of course I'd be happy to." A fire was already laid so I asked Britt to light it and stood back while everyone oohed and aahed while the flame leapt high and the smoke went up the chimney ... filled it up ... curled up around the edge and filled the room with smoke, smoke, smoke.
Horrified we put the fire out, opened all the doors (both) and many people went outside to breathe while we fanned and finally got the smoke out. First order of the next day was to call an electrician and have a fan installed in the wonderful black hood.
I would like to say that, The Garret ... oh yes ... why the name? Because both B.J and I loved, still do, Puccini, and there were three stair steps at the entrance. It reminded us of our favorite, La Boheme you know Mimi ... Rudolpho ... their Garret. Soooo ... what else could we call it but "The Garret?" Anyway, I would like to say we were an instant hit, but it did take some time. Weekends were great, but the week nights were long 8 p.m. 'til 3 a.m. and 'til 4 a.m. on weekends. I lived in North Hollywood and every morning while driving home I sometimes wondered if I'd done the right thing.
But there was a good thing about the late hours. They gave other entertainers playing gigs in Hollywood a place to go. The first time I heard Bud and Travis was sitting around that Garret fireplace. I thought they were the greatest. There were many others who had their coffee and sandwiches there after hours and some of the best times of my life.
I guess I could go on and on with stories of the people and things that happened there in thirteen years. We had so many waiters and waitresses so many who became good friends. Gretchen who worked in the kitchen when Liz became cashier, and then became cashier when Liz left us in '68. Britt who became seater and bouncer. Sue and Stacey who served you guys who were regulars and first timers. They made life fun and did a wonderful job and still make life fun.
People who cook and serve are invaluable to a place like The Garret but really, the bottom line is this: Without you, the customer, no place can survive and you made our survival possible and fun. I loved singing for you and if it were possible I'd be sitting on that stool doing a set now.
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Page last updated: December 22, 2006