Eulogy For a mermaid
With little more fanfare than a glass raised in the air, a Hermosa Beach icon shuttered for good in July. For those of us who work or play on the Hermosa Beach Pier, the Mermaid was more than a bar or restaurant. It was standing tradition.
The people pictured in those dusty photos on the walls got quite a show over the venue’s nearly 60-year history. In those vinyl booths and standing at the bar were a cast of characters worth a Eugene O’Neill play (with a salty dash of Melville and Steinbeck).
Soon those photos, the booths, the walls and the rest will be leveled for a new hotel project hoping to capitalize on that prime, beachfront access. Thus we drown our sorrows … in a glass filled by a bartender who won’t make you a scotch on the rocks even though you ordered a cosmo. We wish he would. That was classic Mermaid.
We asked a few local residents to compose their own eulogy to this lengendary watering hole—a fond farewell for a familiar friend. Cheers, Mermaid, and thanks for the memories.
by Mike Miller
The Mermaid is perhaps the last vestige of old Hermosa Beach. For 58 years, the interior never changed, except those few bullet holes. The dark, smoke-stained walls and vinyl booths seemed inviting at night but would likely scare the hell out of you in broad daylight.
It was a bar’s bar. No all-you-can-drink margarita buckets with umbrellas or fuzzy navels served by the crusty bartenders here. If they didn’t like the drink you ordered, they wouldn’t make it. Plain and simple. The drinks were stiff, and if you tried to send one back, you would find yourself standing in the parking lot.
The Mermaid was one of the few surviving cash-only restaurants in Los Angeles County. Hardly rare to see a tourist running down the street to the ATM after trying to pay their bill with a credit card.
Boots Thelan, owner of the Mermaid, was the heart and soul of the bar until he passed away in 2007. You either loved or hated him. Once, a brave and ambitious Girl Scout ventured into the Mermaid and asked Boots if he wanted to buy some Girl Scout cookies. Boots’ response: “Buy a drink or get out!”
Other people were banned for life from the Mermaid. Dallas Yost, who also passed away a few years ago, was a local high school wrestling coach and later owned a T-shirt shop on Pier Plaza. He was one of those patrons blacklisted after getting in an argument with the bartenders on an Independence Day.
One summer evening later, his Pier bar-hopping friends ran into Dallas. They wanted to get a beer at the Mermaid, but Dallas lamented his banned status. In a spark of drunken genius, Dallas’ friends gave him a big straw hat, a disguise they coined “Alice.” Huddled around Dallas in his getup, they successfully snuck him into the back corner of the bar.
Perhaps the bartenders didn’t recognize Dallas in a big, women’s straw hat … or they found it too funny to care. Either way, that was a typical night at the Mermaid.
The restaurant also became Hermosa Beach’s unofficial Civic Center. Generations of families would pile into the restaurant for their $10 steak dinner.
The bar was always stocked with local characters. On any given night, you could be sitting with a city councilman, a plumber, an oil field worker and an attorney. The bar was no joke, but the set-up often resembled one.
At the Mermaid, what you did by day didn’t matter. By the end of the night, you were friends with all these people—from all sides of town—and knew almost everything about them.
Mermaid, you will be sadly missed. You were one of the few places in the South Bay I could always find a cold beer, a good steak and a good friend.
Magic at 2 A.M.
by Emily Bjelica
Four years ago, I was a single, 25-year-old out with my friends on a Friday night. We hit all the usual spots but then decided we weren’t in the mood for loud music and sweaty dance floors. We switched up our scene and headed to the Mermaid.
The smell of the fryer mixed with years of whiskey being spilled on the floor had a strangely comforting effect. The locals posted at their usual bar seats, the worn booths and dimly lit tables were just what we were searching for. We took a lap around the bar and chose our respected area.
Soon, we noticed a group of guys drinking Coors Light and tossing glances our way. After a few heavy-handed shots from the leathered bartender, conversations started between the two groups. I immediately hit it off with a tall, local surfer, and we ended up spending the rest of the evening sharing stories and enjoying the ambiance of the Mermaid.
–Tom, Los Angeles
Three years later, that surfer asked me to marry him. What better place to take our engagement photos than where we first met?
Now married and living one block from the Hermosa Pier, I never would have thought I’d meet my future husband that night. But because we’re both people who prefer the laid-back, historic and non-judgmental atmosphere of the Mermaid over any Hollywood club, it was the beginning of our love story.
by Vivi and Tim Lynch
The Mermaid was a must-stop for my husband and I on our way to our wedding in 2008. Without a flinch from the always eclectic crowd, we entered in our wedding best to a “Hoorah!” from the patrons. Together with friends and strangers, we toasted to good luck and to another beautiful Hermosa Beach Saturday. We are grateful for these photos, and the Mermaid will continue to live on in our household!
In with the out crowd
by Timothy Barley
The “Maid” was a last-place-before-bartime oasis through a desolate parking lot, often filled with classic cars and classic people. Another world far from the glitz and glamour of the Pier Plaza, this was a place to be avoided for those out of the know.
For many locals, this was their home away from home. No neon. No loud music. No loud, obnoxious kids acting crazy. What other place had the last remaining sit-down Ms. Pacman machine on earth, a piano and a fireplace?
This was simply just a great place to get a (strong) drink from a couple of bartenders who didn’t take shit from you and could care less what you ordered in the first place. It was a fun place without being demonstrative. A place where you could have a conversation. A place to drop in and have a drink with friends. Or make new ones for the night.
I always remembered walking in. Sometimes, I didn’t remember leaving.
The Palos Verdes Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance welcomed over 30,000 fairgoers from throughout the South Bay region to the annual free event with continuous music, food and carnival rides. Some of the highlights included a performance by David Benoit and the Asia America Youth Orchestra and Living Green demonstrations on “Green Street.” Photos by Kay Finer and Steve Coy, CL!X Portrait Studios.
Dust off your hat and head down south to Del Mar for another thrilling summer of wining, dining and all those glorious Thoroughbreds.