Casual Celebrity Hangout And Dive With Peanuts On The Floor To Be Preserved
If ever a bar, watering hole, locals’ dive hangout or whatever you want to call it, deserves to be named a local landmark and preserved, it’s Chez Jay in Santa Monica.
It’s a dive without really being a dive. There’s a barrel of peanuts, and peanut shells on the floor. There’s an old, large wooden ship’s wheel by the bar. And the bar counter is at an angle, so if you put your beer on it, you have to make sure you’ve drank enough out of the bottle or old-style glass so it either doesn’t tip over or spill.
The people who go there are a mix of businessmen, young professionals and Venice Beach funky types, all of whom mix together like a perfectly made cocktail.
And when there are trendy bars opening up all the time and places like the Bungalow Bar (down the street at the Fairmont) are getting all the press, it’s still popular.
Chez Jay has culture – that’s evident even before you walk through the door – and it also has history.
It was the favorite hangout of Henry Kissinger when he was in town taking breaks from the Paris Peace Talks.
Legendary LA Times sports columnist Jim Murray loved the place and would often dress as a waiter and wait on tables in the restaurant. The customers had no idea they were being served by the greatest sportswriter who ever lived. I wound up sitting next to Chez Jay’s owner Jay Fiondella at Murray’s funeral. (Fondella died in 2008 and his family now runs the business.)
Chez Jay is such a part of Los Angeles culture that when my parents came to visit me for the first time here, I took them to Chez Jay for dinner. And there’s one thing you should know about the place – it’s an outstanding steak and seafood restaurant. It may not appear to be one, but it is, and it’s not as cheap as its surroundings suggest.
And now the Santa Monica City Council’s Landmarks Commission has voted unanimously to designate Chez Jay as a local landmark, saving it from a redeveloping project that is turning the area around it into a park.
No doubt, those members on the Landmarks Commission have spent a few nights (or even days) in Chez Jay. Cheers to them for preserving it.