The Oar House in Santa Monica, circa mid-1970s

Oar House ad from late ’60s. Yes, that’s exactly how it looked inside.

I worked at the Santa Monica Evening Outlook newspaper in the 1970s.

One day I wanted to find out if a friend was at our favorite watering hole, the Oar House bar down by the beach on funky Main St.

I called information and when the operator asked, “What number please?” I said, “The Oar House in Santa Monica.”

There was silence for a while, then the operator increduously asked, “What? What? Did you say whorehouse?”

I just assumed everyone knew about the Oar House.

It was more like a warehouse then a whorehouse. A rambling building a group of hyperactive airline pilots took over sometime in the mid-Sixties and filled with bizarre crap they picked up in their travels all over the world. It was their playground and it was open to the public.

Here’s how David Markland remembers The Oar House on his blog:

“The Oar House was the definition of a dive bar. Besides the phonetically inviting name, the place itself looked like a TGI Fridays that had exploded, and all the chairs and antiques had stuck to the walls and ceiling.

“If you’ve been on Pirates of the Caribbean and can recall the part towards the end of the ride where it looks like wooden planks are about to drop on you, you can probably get a good mental image of what the Oar House looked like.”

The current owners of the Oar House have this history on their website:

“The Oar House was a child of the sixties.  Over time it became a popular destination fueled mostly by word of mouth.  Serving Budweiser products and the finest call drinks at low prices also contributed to its popularity.

“Patrons were as mixed as the musical selections.  Students, local Santa Monica beach residents, surfers, celebrities, airline crews and a melting pot of SoCal fans.

“Santa Monica was the official end of the line for Route 66, the nations famous transcontinental migration route from the east.  Most young-but-of-age pilgrims landed at the bar.  This aided in spreading the gospel of a coolest bar throughout all points back east.”

I remember the Oar House as an experience, an escape to an alternate universe.

The Oar House was always real loud — fantastic speaker system; eclectic music: rock, jazz, classical. Wall-to-wall people talking and laughing.

Every ten feet along the bar were emergency flashing lights on poles. These were the “fight lights” that a bartender could turn on to let the bouncer know the exact location of an altercation or problem patron.


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