Huntington Beach Golden Bear

Huntington Beach Beaches:

The Golden Bear-Where the Stars Shined Brightly

by Chris MacDonald
Writer/Photographer, HB Ambassador/The Local News Columnist

Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum previously had a special exhibit on "The Golden Bear--Memories, Music and Magic from the Golden Days of HB." The museum is located at 411 Olive Avenue.

Jerry Garcia. David Crosby, Robin Williams, BB King, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Martin, Jimmy Buffet. The Doors. Talk about Star Power! It made Huntington Beach's Golden Bear, a local as well as internationally-famous restaurant / entertainment club (on and off) for more than 50 years.

The Bear was started in 1929 by restaurateur Harry Bakre as locals and Hollywood heavyweights like Humphrey Bogart and Lionel Barrymore came to dine across from the Pacific Ocean, near Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street. However, by 1963, the building was vacant, when entrepreneurs Del Kauffman and Jim Ryerson leased it to create a folk music club. They brought in a variety of performers and groups featuring David Crosby, Judy Collins, Jackson Browne, Jimi Hendrix, Stan Getz, Hoyt Axton, The Lovin' Spoonful, Lenny Bruce and others. Still, with all its musical success, the Bear closed in 1966, but not for long.

That same year, George Nikas and a partner reopened it and helped raise its fame by hiring The Doors, Byrds, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Neil Young, Jose Feliciano, John Denver, The Mamas and Papas, Steve Martin, Dizzy Gillespie, Robin Williams, Pat Paulsen, the Smothers Brothers and more. With such amazing acts, the Golden Bear rivaled Hollywood's Sunset Strip.

Musicians appreciated the small venue where intimate audiences really listened and inspired the performers to new heights. In 1974, Nikas sold the famous club to Chuck and Rick Babiracki, who along with Rick's wife, Carole, made the Bear roar even more.

Jimmy Buffet, Jerry Garcia, The Tower of Power, David Crosby, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Wait, Muddy Waters and Arlo Guthrie were just a few of the talents who loved playing here. "...Musicians prized the room as a place where the ambiance, owners, crew and public all welcomed a spirit of musical adventure," wrote noted journalist, Jim Washburn. They did two shows a night, at 8:30 and 11.

There even was a "Monday Hoot Night," where unknowns auditioned for a slot in the Bear lineup. A couple guys named Cheech and Chong tried out and made the cut.

Van Halen was the opening act for a group called, "Yesterday and Today." "They said to take their photo because they were going to be famous someday," Carole Babiracki-Kirby, recalled recently. "No Doubt also played here."

"Men at Work and the Average White Band did their first shows in the US at the Bear," Carole proudly said. "One week, we had Robin Williams trying out his new baby jokes during his 'Mork and Mindy' days."

Many of the acts were so sensational that even Cher, Helen Reddy, Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton dropped by to check them out. Frampton ended up jamming with Firefall.

A young artist named Wyland painted a mural on the side of the Bear. He cleverly drew portraits of performers on musical notes, featuring Linda Ronstadt, Steve Martin, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. "We didn't have much money to pay Wyland but we gave him free food (spaghetti and Bear Burgers) and show tickets," she said. (Now, he too is world famous.)

"I'll always remember when the entire building shook when Steppenwolf played 'Born to be Wild,'" Carole fondly remembered. "And when Honk had a junior high musician come on stage and play baritone horn with them." What memories! But the legendary Bear came to a rather abrupt end, when the building reportedly did not meet Earthquake Codes and stood in the way of city redevelopment plans. The last concert was Robin Trower. The Bear closed its doors on January 29, 1986 and was torn down shortly thereafter.

"While we were packing, it began to rain inside the kitchen," Carole said. "Almost like the Bear was crying goodbye."

But the Bear, and it's Golden Memories, will never be forgotten. Museum Board Member Dan McCoy, who loved going to shows at the Bear, thought its magical past should be remembered with an exhibit, which included many of Carole's original Golden Bear items (such as tickets, matchbooks, shirts, jackets, handbills, posters, bricks, photos) as well as beautiful color prints and other artwork by HB Painter Bill Anderson, and what McCoy says is the first instrument to play at the Golden Bear, a ukulele, and a rare photo of the Novelty Boys who played it in 1938.

You can purchase the prints and other "memories," including copies of menus, posters (with your favorite musicians who played there) and much more. Also available is the definitive book, "A History of The Golden Bear, Huntington Beach" by Robert J. Carvounas, which is full of valuable information and photos. (The longtime Bear fan said he even purchased the north side of the famous club sign at a garage sale.) Carole also has a scrapbook of Golden Bear photos that she took through the years that can be purchased. Portions of all sales go to assist the museum.

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1.Left to Right: Dan McCoy, HB International Surfing Museum Board Member, Premier Huntington Beach Artist Bill Anderson, Former Golden Bear Owner Carole Babiracki-Kirby and The Golden Bear Book Author Robert Carvounas.

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