After 35 years, Harry’s Night Club & Beach Bar, a downtown Pismo Beach watering hole with a colorful past and a dedicated following, is under new ownership.
But don’t worry — the new owners won’t close the landmark bar or change its character. There will still be live music every night and karaoke on Thursdays.
“I’ve gotten calls from motorcycle guys saying ‘You’re not going to close it, you’re not going to change it,’” said new owner Mike Frey, managing partner of his family’s ownership group, which since 2004 has owned the adjacent Pismo Beach Hotel.
“Harry’s is always going to be Harry’s,” he added. “We just want to make sure it’s cleaner and more enjoyable for locals and travelers alike.”
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The bar now accepts credit cards, for example, and is offering boutique wine from the Central Coast — Sextant Wines is the first winery to be featured — and plans to open a retail space in a shop next door with T-shirts, shot glasses and other items emblazoned with Harry’s logo. Frey also plans to renovate the bar this winter to make it more efficient for his staff.
The new ownership group has also donated $25,000 toward the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County’s Pismo Preserve project — the largest donation from a private business.
At some point, Frey might try to create an outdoor patio space where Harry’s customers could smoke and enjoy their drinks (the Pismo Beach Hotel has a courtyard, but there’s no direct access to it from Harry’s).
But any major changes will likely take some time, planning and city approval.
Frey purchased the building and business from longtime owners Paul Bailey — a former Pismo Beach mayor who lost his seat in a recall election — and his wife, Joan.
Known as the place where Pro Football Hall of Fame honoree John Madden met his wife, Virginia, Harry’s also has had a reputation for rowdiness.
The Baileys bought the bar in 1979 and for years battled city officials who cited undercover alcohol sales to minors and even a fatal stabbing in their efforts to shut down Harry’s, according to past Telegram-Tribune stories.
In the mid-1990s, the Baileys sued the city in federal court, alleging undercover drug investigations deliberately targeted the bar to put it out of business. That suit was ultimately thrown out by a federal court judge.
Frey said the Baileys approached him to ask if he would be interested in buying the bar. He declined to disclose the purchase price. The sale closed May 1.
“It was a very emotional decision for them,” he said. “This has been like their child for the last 35 years.”