San Diego Loses Albie's Beef Inn And Its Nude Portraits
Martinis, prime rib and nude oil paintings: a combination that has been drawing San Diegans to Albie’s Beef Inn for decades.
Now, the Mission Valley restaurant and piano bar located on Hotel Circle South, is closing. Owner Ted Samouris, whose family has owned Albie's and its sister restaurant Adams Steak 'N' Eggs for 27 years, can’t afford the rent requested by new landlords.
"Albie’s is closing not because we failed," Samouris said. "We’re not going out of business. It is simply, the property has sold, and the new owners had their own ideas going forward and I couldn't negotiate a lease with them."
The restaurants have been at the location in front of the Travelodge for more than 50 years.
Cathy Herrick of San Diego Historic Properties purchased the Travelodge and the property where the restaurants sit earlier this year. She eats at both restaurants regularly and says she would like them to stay.
Herrick negotiated with Samouris for eight months, hoping to come to an agreement. Herrick said she offered Samouris lower rent for a year. But ultimately the market rate, which would take effect in year two, was too expensive for Samouris to take on.
Herrick also wanted Samouris to update the interior.
Albie’s looks exactly like it did 27 years ago when Samouris' father bought it. Ted Samouris asks, why fix it up if isn’t broken, especially since the atmosphere has drawn a younger crowd.
"It has that old world, '60s feel," Samouris said. "What’s now become retro hip with the hipsters and the younger crowd and I’ve left it alone."
"It’s an old-school steak and seafood house with a piano bar and the dark paneling, dim lighting and the original oil nudies that were done for the restaurant," Samouris said.
"It’s kind of a boozy hangout."
Ironically, Herrick plans to remodel the Travelodge in style reminiscent of "the 1960s and the Rat Pack."
On a recent Friday evening, Albie's is packed.
"I tell you, if you want to get busy, announce that a landmark restaurant is going to close and you get really busy," Samouris said.
David Timothy Smith has been playing the piano in the Ablie’s bar for 18 years. He says Fridays are always like this.
"People are off work, they want to party, so we just let it all hang out," Smith said.
Couples dance. Others sit in the black diamond-tufted booths, eating the house specialty: prime rib.
The menu, which includes halibut and chicken fried steak, has not changed in years. A favorite Albie’s oddity is the large, boiled, single carrot served with dinner.
Most nights, a regular stable of singers join Smith at the piano. Many of them are extremely talented. But Smith says there have been some "memorable" surprises.
"I remember one time, there was a gentleman who used hand puppets as part of his act," Smith said. "And he came up and sang 'How Much is That Doggie in the Window,' and he couldn’t keep time or stay on pitch. And he’s working this puppet the whole time."
Even more than the song and stiff drinks, Albie’s owes its reputation to the nude portraits on its walls. They’re large oil paintings in gilded frames. Set against dark backgrounds, some women wear sheer lingerie.
Stories have circulated over the years about where the paintings came from. Turns out they were commissioned for the restaurant from a local painter named Larry "Vincent" Garrison. He signed his paintings “Vincent.”
"Larry tells me they were five PSA stewardesses that posed for him at the time," Samouris said. "I want to say it was the very early '70s. With the exception of the gal that sits at the right hand side of the piano bar, which was Larry’s third ex-wife."
Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) was an airline headquartered in San Diego until 1988.
Eugenia Hart Kintzele showed up at Albie's to celebrate her 90th birthday. She is not the least bit offended by the nudes.
"Oh no, they’re gorgeous. And I hear they are PSA stewardesses, which is just great, because after all that was our local airline," Kintzele said.
When Albie’s closes, the paintings will go into storage.
"I don’t think my wife wants them all throughout our home," Samouris said.
For 27 years, Albie's has been the home away from home for bartender Fred Graslie.
"If you knew my wife, you’d know why I come to work," Graslie teased, mostly for the benefit of the regulars drinking at the bar that day. They all laughed.
A veteran bartender, he’s quick with a joke and has heard his share of stories. Retirement was not on his mind.
"I was not ready," Graslie said. "I’m only 70 years old. I had a long way to go."
Like many of the long-time employees at Albie's, Graslie is waiting to see if Albie's can find a new location. Samouris says it's a possibility but nothing has been secured yet.
Lounging above the bar as Graslie works is one of those stewardesses. It's the largest nude in the bar. It will be there on Dec. 23 and Smith will be at the piano, when Graslie pours the last drink at this fabled San Diego spot.