Hollywood has seen a great deal of changes over its lifetime, and one place that has witnessed it all is Barney’s Beanery. Once a humble California Craftsman home surrounded by poinsettia fields it has morphed to become one of the icons of Hollywood history, both of the film and music variety. Oh, and did I mention Jim Morrison peed on the bar?
Despite being a Hollywood institution, its roots are in Northern California. Barney’s was established by John “Barney” Anthony, who served in World War I, dishing up his unique chili burgers and onion soup to his fellow Navy men. When he returned to his Northern California home he opened up his first restaurant under the name Barney’s Beanery in 1920, doing everything himself.
Like many, Barney wanted a warmer place to call home, and in 1927 he moved to Southern California, relocating his Beanery to this location on Santa Monica Boulevard, which is also part of historic Route 66. Many drove the Mother Road to California also in search a warmer climate or in hopes to make it as movie star, and they often stopped at Barney’s, where a tradition soon started. Those moving to sunny Southern California would leave their home state license plate behind, giving themselves a symbolic fresh start, and Barney decided to hang the plates up on the wall.
By 1945 Barney’s was already widely known, and had been written about in several papers and magazines as a place to get a chow down on classic American comfort food, and talk with the “down to earth” owner. In the golden years of Hollywood the likes of Clara Bow, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Marlon Brando, and Marilyn Monroe had dined here, but the times were changing. It soon became a beatnik hangout, and West Hollywood was also becoming a center for the gay community. The darker side to Barney’s is that Barney apparently wasn’t a fan of the gay community, and notoriously put up a misspelled sign reading “FAGOTS – STAY OUT” but apparently no one really heeded it.
As the Sunset Strip became the place to see bands and Hollywood emerged from its studio system, Barney’s kept with the times, becoming a place for New Hollywood stars like Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, and Steve McQueen, as well as legendary musicians such as Janis Joplin and The Doors, which leads me to that little thing I mentioned earlier, Jim Morrison urinating on the bar. Apparently after a night of heavy drinking, Morrison either couldn’t be bothered to teeter to the restroom or in his egotistical, “Lizard King” mindset he thought to make himself even more a legend by standing on the wooden bar and going to town. Whatever the story, Barney’s embraced it, and on what would have been Morrison’s 65th birthday, Barney’s installed a plaque, but they politely put “sat.” As for Joplin, Barney’s is supposedly where she had her last meal before dying of a heroin overdose at the Landmark Hotel.
Barney passed away on November 25, 1968, and the restaurant ended up in the hands of Irwin Held, who later sold in in the late 90s to David Houston. Houston chose to open up several more locations, and now Barney’s can be found in Santa Monica, Pasadena, Burbank, Westwood, and Redondo Beach, but the original is in West Hollywood.
Into the 80s and 90s, Barney’s remained a hot spot for celebrities, including Bette Midler, Emilio Esteves, and John Cusack. Quentin Tarantino is said to have written some of Pulp Fiction from within the multicolored booths.
In 2016 there was an announcement that the restaurant would be part of a development plan to build a 113 room hotel with recording studio and Barney’s would be disassembled and rebuilt inside as part of the new structure, but two years later new developers came on the scene and opted for an apartment and hotel duo, with music venue and recording studio, but leaving Barney’s intact and building around it. The project has since been sitting in the approval process.
Grab a bite to eat (I highly recommend breakfast) but please don’t pee on the bar, at Barney’s Beanery at 8447 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.