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Route 66 News

Longtime Barney’s Beanery owner dies

Irwin Held, 87, who owned the Route 66 landmark restaurant Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood, Calif., for nearly 30 years, died of a kidney ailment Monday in his Los Angeles home, reported the Los Angeles Times.

To hear Held’s daughter  Linda Shabot tell it, her father probably saved the restaurant from the wrecking ball when he bought it in 1970.

“It was run into the ground,” Held’s daughter Linda Shabot told The Times on Tuesday. “I was scared to walk into the place — it looked like a dungeon.”

But Held poured himself into his new business, experimenting with the menu as his wife, Sally, kept the books. […]

Until he sold when he was 73, he worked full shifts at the Beanery […]. He continued to drop by the original site about once a week until his health started declining.

Held also took heat for refusing to remove an offensive sign over the bar that was installed by his predecessor.

For years, a sign over the bar — “Fagots Stay Out” — drew little notice from customers. Barney’s founder, World War I veteran John “Barney” Anthony, was said to have put it up after police in the 1940s raided his restrooms for then-illegal homosexual activity.

Urged to remove the sign after acquiring Barney’s, Held dug in his heels, despite prolonged picketing and other protests.

“He was just one of those guys who didn’t like being told what to do with his business,” said David Houston, the Beanery’s current co-owner. “He was very old-school, and this was a freedom issue.”

Held removed the sign in 1985 when the city passed an anti-discrimination ordinance. Even without the ordinance, there’s no way that sign would survive at Barney’s now. West Hollywood has become one of the most gay-friendly cities in the country, including installing rainbow-colored crosswalks.

Barney’s now has six locations across the Los Angeles region. But it’s the West Hollywood site that started it all in 1927.

Barney’s is famed for being a hangout for Janis Joplin and The Doors singer Jim Morrison before their deaths.

And when I was there a couple of years ago, it struck me as a marvelously egalitarian joint, where blue-collar folks could eat their chili next to beer-drinking rock’n’roll freaks. That come-as-you-are vibe comes across with this Travel Channel segment:

(Hat tip to Kevin Hansel; photo of Barney’s Beanery’s bar by ZagatBuzz)

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