The last-ever weekend at Albie’s Beef Inn was deservedly packed, with everyone from hipsters who just discovered the place a couple of years ago, to couples who’d gotten engaged there decades ago. All were wondering how it could possibly be that one of San Diego’s most historic locales could get put out of business by a short-sighted, stupid, venal landlord.
For everyone who experienced Albie’s, it was pretty much heaven on earth: the atmosphere of a cozy home (OK, the home of your uncle who had the vintage Playboy collection); a welcoming and unpretentious staff; great food made only from fresh ingredients (where did they get those carrots, anyway?); great music; and the celestial tinkle of Fred Graslie’s cocktail shaker. It doesn’t get any better than this.
When we discovered Albie’s Beef Inn on a visit to San Diego in January 2015, it struck us as pretty much heaven on earth. Nestled in front of a Mission Valley Travelodge, Albie’s has been there ever since 1962. While the sleepwalking bear sign shown below (in a circa 1966 photo) is gone, and the TV in the bar is a color flat-panel instead of a black-and-white CRT, not much else has changed since the restaurant first opened in 1962.
That means great steak dinners, honest drinks poured by a veteran bartender, live music, and — if you happen to be staying nearby — breakfast at the bar on the morning after. All that and, as the photos below will show you, decor that is perfection itself for us lovers of all things padded and tufted.
As soon as we got to know Albie’s, we immediately made plans to visit San Diego as often as we could to visit, staying at the Travelodge right behind. How could we not, when there’s really no place left like it anywhere else?
There’s of course nothing new about the syndrome of a greedy developer buying up a property housing a civic institution, then jacking the rent to drive out the longtime tenant — even though it’s the activities of that tenant who built the value of the property in the first place. But this time around, the story has a particularly ironic twist, since the buyer is an outfit called San Diego Historic Properties (SDHP), a firm touted for its “keen love of history” and “restoring more historic properties in San Diego’s famous Gaslamp Quarter than any other single group.”
It has been reported that SDHP wants to replace the Travelodge (which is also being closed) with a new hotel and restaurant that have a “Rat Pack” atmosphere. Yet the company’s CEO is also said to have demanded that if Albie’s were going to stay, it would have to revamp its “dated interior.” Talk about missing the point and totally lacking a sense of history.
As we’ve noted in a previous post, San Diego’s own, trendy Gaslamp Strip Club essentially features a scaled-up version of Albies’ decor, right down to the girls on the wall. All very pleasant, except at the Strip Club it’s ersatz, whereas at Albie’s it’s real.
Albie’s is not only living history, it’s actually come full circle and is actually cutting edge. If the SDHP people had had the wit to see that, they’d have come to terms with the restaurant’s owner, realizing that even if they had to subsidize the rent, it would be made up for by preserving their hotel’s status as a destination known nationwide.
Instead, they’ve become today’s equivalent of the vandals who were tearing down beautiful Victorians right and left when these, too, were 52 years old.