King Eddy Saloon sold to team behind the Library and Spring Street bars
Skid Row's last authentic dive bar is going belly up. But not before it throws one helluva party. King Eddy Saloon, which has been serving downtown Los Angeles since 1933, has been sold to Michael Leko and Will Shamlian, who also own the Library Bar and Spring Street Bar.
King Eddy Saloon owner Dustin Croick says the deal has been in the works for about a month; he confirmed the sale on Wednesday afternoon at the bar. Bill Roller, 74, who lives in the hotel directly above the bar and has been managing the bar for 35 years, was also present--as were the bar's usual cast of colorful characters, drinking $3 cocktails and chatting over plastic pitchers of cheap beer.
"Bill's the heart and soul of this place," said Croick, whose grandfather Babe Croick purchased the bar in the 1960s when it was a solid "blue-collar, workingman's hangout." Babe moved his family to L.A. from Chicago and made his money running downtown parking lots before buying the bar.
Leko's team issued a statement calling King Eddy "the holy grail of dive bars" and promising that his team has "every intention of maintaining the mythical status King Eddy's has earned over the years while giving it a much-needed face lift."
Reached later by phone, Leko confirmed the sale and said the bar's history was its biggest draw. Leko said he intends to "kick the dust off it and bring it up to date" so that others can learn about its legacy. (It reportedly has the oldest liquor license in L.A.)
The sale became imminent after the building housing the bar--the 120-year-old King Edward Hotel--entered bankruptcy and was sold to new owners, at which point the bar's lease had lapsed.
"I wanted to fix the bathrooms and the floors and make it a nicer area to be in--not so rugged--but that wasn't enough for them," he said, adding that there are no hard feelings. "They wanted to see someone put a lot of money into it. They want a full kitchen with full food service, and they want to open up the facade and restore it to what it used to look like."
Croick said that he knew Leko was the right guy for the job when he first met him and that he feels Leko will respect the bar's history--maybe even reopen the old speakeasy in the basement, which was allegedly run by the LAPD during Prohibition. Old murals from that era are still visible underground, as are a broken shaft elevator, a rickety cooling house and a number of antique safes.
"Michael is such a laid-back downtown guy," said Croick. "You wouldn't know he's so successful and owns those upscale places because he's so humble. He's just a hard- working guy and he sees this place as something with a historic background--a landmark."
Still, closing the last true Skid Row dive bar is going to be anything but easy for Croick, who says the place meant the world to his father, who passed away in December.
"This place has been a dive bar since I've been coming here as a kid with my dad, ordering milk and sitting on that stool," says Croick. "And to do it any other way wouldn't be my vision because it wouldn't represent me or my family."
To his extended bar family--the people who have been drinking at King Eddy Saloon since before he was born--he promises to make the rest of the bar's days count with rolling drink deals and a closing night bash for the ages. (Leko says King Eddy will remain in its current incarnation through the summer at least.)
"I'm sorry it's closing, I'm sorry we couldn't keep it going," says Croick. "It was great while it lasted. I hope our regulars find a new King Eddy that they will love just as much because as much as they will miss it so will I. When I have to walk out of this place, turn out the lights and shut the door, it will be the hardest thing I've ever done."
King Eddy Saloon, 131 E. 5th St., L.A. (213) 629-2013; www.kingeddysaloon.com.
Photos: Top, the bar scene at King Eddy; middle and bottom, murals in the basement of King Eddy Saloon dating back to the bar's Prohibition years as a speakeasy. Credit: Jessica Gelt / Los Angeles Times