Blake's on Telegraph Closes Its Doors After 71 Years of Service

Photo: Blake's on Telegraph is being boarded up in the wake of its recent closure. The restaurant and music club shut its doors Feb. 4 after 71 years due to failed business models and the current financial climate.
Christopher McDermut/Staff
Blake's on Telegraph is being boarded up in the wake of its recent closure. The restaurant and music club shut its doors Feb. 4 after 71 years due to failed business models and the current financial climate.

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Blake's Wake

After 71 years, Larry Blake's Restaurant and Bar on Telegraph has closed. A wake to commemorate its long life drew many community members with music and words about its history.

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After 71 years of service at its Telegraph Avenue home, Larry Blake's Restaurant and Bar closed its doors on Feb. 4, victim to the economic decline and a series of business decisions that put a strain on the Berkeley establishment.

Several efforts were made to keep Blake's afloat within the last seven years - both by restaurant owner Harry Keally and property owner John Lineweaver since 1984 - including multiple changes in business model, a reduction in rent and $350,000 worth of property improvements, Lineweaver said. He added that the combination of a bad economic climate and "choices that haven't worked out for Blake's" made the closing inevitable.

"Mr. Keally didn't close Blake's," he said. "He was unable to keep it open. He was behind in costs, not only to me but to many others. He surrendered his lease as opposed to being evicted."

Blake's, which was located at 2367 Telegraph Ave., occupied one of the three commercial spaces in Lineweaver's building at the corner of Telegraph and Durant Avenues, which also contains 44 apartment units.

"His rent was somewhere in the vicinity of $1.10 a foot - by Telegraph standards, that's extraordinarily low," Lineweaver said.

In an effort to expand the consumer base of their businesses, various proprietors in the city - including Blake's - have attempted to change the nature of their establishments. Unfortunately, such changes have led to a "step backwards, instead of forward," according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

In 2004, Blake's co-owners Keally and Patrick Romani had planned to operate under a new business model - to add a breakfast business to Blake's, according to Lineweaver. Although breakfast was never added to the menu, a second entrance to the restaurant - which would have been necessary for the addition - was constructed.

"This was one of the first of numerous business models that they came up with," Lineweaver said. "Before they even got started with the breakfast business, they changed their minds again."

Soon after the breakfast plans fell through, Romani left his longtime partnership with Keally, who changed his mind about Blake's business model yet again, according to Lineweaver. This time, he started focusing on the club scene, which attracted a new type of live music and, subsequently, a new crowd.

"It wasn't for lack of trying," Lineweaver said of Keally. "He's one of the world's nicest people. It's a really sad situation."

Keally could not be reached for comment by phone or e-mail.

"It's sad to see a longtime institution close suddenly without warning," said Miguel Sanchez, general manager of Smart Alec's, which is located next door to the space previously occupied by Blake's. While Blake's fell victim to the poor economy, Sanchez said Smart Alec's has not been experiencing significant problems.

"We're doing fine. Normal business for this time of year - while the students are in session," he said.

Mayor Tom Bates, one of Blake's longtime customers, said the restaurant and bar was one of the "icons in business" in Berkeley and that it was more than just a place to enjoy a good meal.

"I used to help recruit athletes for Cal," he said, adding that Blake's was where he met with fellow recruiters and prospective athletes. "Had dinner there on Sunday night - salad and steak. One time in the week when I actually had a good meal."

Eliot Kenin, leader of the traditional jazz band Spirit of '29, said he has been going to and playing music at Blake's for about 30 years. He and his band will be playing at a wake on Saturday at 1 p.m. to say goodbye to the restaurant and bar.

"Customers from way back will come and make farewell statements and read poetry," he said, referring to Blake's as one of the places receptive of poetry readings in addition to live music. He added that his jazz band will also be playing in front of the empty Blake's storefront.

While Blake's closing has added to a long list of vacant lots in the city, Worthington said the site offers incredible opportunity to other businesses, especially restaurants, and that he is certain a new establishment will open in the space soon.

Lineweaver said he is also confident that the space will be filled soon and added that he had received several inquiries even before Blake's was boarded up.

"We're expecting to put a different business model of restaurant and bar in that property - I don't see any reason it shouldn't be a bar restaurant," he said. "If any businesses thrive nowadays, it's the food service business."


Karinina Cruz and Jessica Gillotte cover local business. Contact them at [email protected]

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