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In the Pipeline: 'A lovely venue in a lovely town'

November 20, 2012|By Chris Epting
  • Dan McCoy of the International Surfing Museum and Carole Babiracki.
Dan McCoy of the International Surfing Museum and Carole… (Courtesy CHRIS…)

The Golden Bear closed down in January 1986, though to hang around people who frequented the place, you might swear the dark, cozy, intimate musical venue once located near PCH and Main is still there. People speak of it in such loving and present terms, rifling through old memories like they happened yesterday, that it still seems very much alive. Stories of Joplin, Ronstadt, Garcia, the Ramones and on and on are all part of the lore.

The Golden Bear opened at 306 Pacific Coast Highway (just across from the pier) as a restaurant in the 1920s, designed by renowned Southern California architect Ernest Ridenour. Movie stars back then would motor down from Hollywood for dinner after a day at the beach. By the early 1960s, the space morphed into a music club. Dizzy Gillespie, the Byrds, the aforementioned Janis Joplin plus many others played the Bear during that era.

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Under new ownership in the 1970s, the Golden Bear continued to grow as a seminal performance space. That's where Carole Babiracki came in to the picture. She and her husband, Rick, along with brother-in-law Chuck Babiracki, ran the Bear from the mid-1970s until the bitter end. And she misses the place deeply.

I was with her and Dan McCoy, director of the International Surfing Museum, the other day as they put the finishing touches on a splendid Bear exhibit that runs for the next month or so. McCoy brought it in for obvious reasons. "The greatest venue this city ever had," he said as he hung old posters and other artifacts from the Bear. "The city made a huge mistake getting rid of that place. Just think of what we'd have today."

Babiracki agreed. "Every time I pass the old site, I think of what might have been." And then she started reeling off the memories.

The night singer Tom Waits crashed on the floor among beer cases and pulled a Big Mac from his pocket before uttering, "You never know when you'll get hungry."

Or when actor Christopher Reeve came down to visit his pal Robin Williams, who was performing standup. How about reggae singer Peter Tosh's request for five fresh red snappers so his chef could make fish-head stew? Or Van Halen, opening for a band called Yesterday & Today, telling Babiracki, "Take our picture; we will be famous some day." So she did, and it is one of many other rare photos on display. Like the one of Peter Frampton jamming with Firefall, and Peter Gabriel performing during his first solo tour.

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