I was picking up friends at the airport and got there early so I could have lunch at the Melody Bar & Grill. In the evenings they have live music and I thought that if I visited then, with the noise and the dim lights and the crowds, it would be a lot harder to take notes and pictures. So I went just before noon, right after they opened, and it was nice and quiet and nearly empty.
-The main room has a long bar in the center, light-colored wood surrounded with tall chairs, tall dark tables along the walls with the same tall chairs, wonderful red wallpaper on the walls that weren’t rough stone, a fire pit with a lovely fire roaring away, pictures of the neighborhood back in the day (all properly labeled and dated, to my delight), and a bandstand in one corner, and lots of TV screens and ceiling fans; to the side are two other rooms, one cozy and warm with round booths and tables and hanging lamps and a wonderful brown tile ceiling; the other, labeled the “Tiki room,” has a pool table and the sorts of decorations you’d expect to see in a room labeled the Tiki room. All of it was very peaceful and cozy; it’s probably not as peaceful at night when the music is playing but I bet it’s just as cozy.
-The waitress told me that because it was Monday burgers were half off, so I ordered something called a “Melody burger.” It had bacon and avocado and roasted tomato and Gorgonzola cheese and spinach and onions. It was insane and delicious (except I remembered after the first bite that I don’t like Gorgonzola on burgers and picked it off but that was okay) and I wasn’t hungry for the next fifteen hours. There were also French fries, and they were good, but I didn’t eat many because I was so busy eating the burger. Which came on a pretzel bun, I forgot to mention. And the whole thing cost $6.50 because it was Monday.
-When the waitress asked if I wanted everything on the burger, I said yes (I have become a lot more adventurous, food-wise, for the sake of this blog) but then double-checked that it didn’t have mayo on it (I am allergic to egg, and so also to mayonnaise) and she said “oh you don’t want mayo?” so I’m glad I asked. Later, while I was wandering the room taking pictures of the pictures on the walls, I heard her telling the cook “no mayo” and him saying “no mayo?” and her saying again, “no mayo!” They seemed to go back and forth a few times like this. So apparently people usually want mayonnaise. Which is fine, I try not to judge on things like that, unless it’s something like putting ketchup on an enchilada, which I do judge so much.
-I always feel a little nervous sitting on tall chairs. Not because I think I’ll fall off or anything, but because there’s just no graceful way to skootch the chair up to the table if it’s too far away. So I get all in my head about it, feeling like I’m too far away from the table to be really comfortable, but also feeling like it’s very strange to get off a chair, move it closer to the table, and then get back on. Plus it’s hard to get on the chair if it’s really close to the table. This isn’t a huge problem or anything, I just prefer shorter chairs when they’re available.
-It was a little chilly in spite of the fire next to my table. Of course a lot of people wouldn’t consider it chilly in California right now, but that’s okay. It’s not a contest.
-I really liked sitting in this quiet, empty bar, thinking about all the people who’d sat in that exact spot. People have met their spouses there, and broken up with the people they dated right before their spouses there, and cheated on their spouses there. Probably at least a few crimes have been planned there, and probably at least one person has decided to turn themselves in while sitting there. 64 years, more than 23,000 nights of people doing things in that bar.
-The ladies’ room was not decorated much; just one Art Deco picture of a lady in an evening gown singing, under the word “Bella’s.” In the stall, above the toilet, was a sign that included helpful information about what one should and should not flush, but also had a well-known rhyme about cleaning up after oneself. I think I prefer it when that is unofficially scrawled in magic marker, if it absolutely has to be there.
-I have never noticed the handles for beer that is on tap before. Is handle the right word? I think it must be. The thing the bartender pulls to make the beer come out. Anyway, I don’t drink and never noticed but in this bar at least, the handles are all different for each type of beer. Most of them are pretty boring, with just the beer’s logo, but one of them is shaped like a skull! I bet the bartender feels secretly really happy whenever anyone orders that type of beer, because the handle is so cool.
-The waitress checked on me a lot, which I guess makes sense because I was the only person there most of the time. She called me “baby,” like “do you want more water, baby” and “the restrooms are right there, baby,” in a way that only some people can pull off. I liked her a lot. I got the impression she’s the sort of person who has a lot of friends who call her their best friend.
-They brought a bottle of mustard to the table, but the ketchup was just a little bowl to dip fries into. I think they’re right that ketchup wouldn’t have been good on that particular burger, but I don’t think yellow mustard would have been good either? Maybe they were worried it would be dry because I didn’t get mayo. It was not dry. It was maybe the least dry burger ever.
-As mentioned there were not many customers, because it was early (though with the half-off burger deal, the place should have been packed). One woman came in for take-out, and there was a guy who I thought was a customer but it turned out he worked there. At one point two women came in and stood looking around, waiting for the waitress. She’d only just that minute gone into the kitchen, and I wanted to tell them she’d be right back, but they looked so grumpy I was intimidated. They took menus and sat down at the bar, but then when the bartender came out and greeted them they quickly got up and left. It was very mysterious. Maybe a dare or a scavenger hunt situation?
-I could hear airplanes taking off, through the open doors. Or maybe they were landing. Probably an airplane professional could tell, but I couldn’t.
-The guy who I had at first thought was a customer went behind the bar — that’s when I realized he worked there — and he and the bartender had a long discussion about where to put some kind of white metal box. I couldn’t figure out what it was. At one point they said “having it so far away from the water is kind of pointless” but that didn’t help me at all.
-There were murals outside, on both the front and back of the bar, of scenes from the fifties. I didn’t notice until I came home and looked at the pictures I took that on both murals was the word “Never.” I wondered like crazy what that might mean (Never close? Never give up? Never stop painting murals?) and finally I got so curious I looked up the contact info and emailed the bar and asked. Turns out the name of the guy who painted the murals is “Jonas Never.”
-Some of the pictures of old neighborhood scenes on the walls: The Loyola Theatre in 1957, according to the marquee it’s showing “Five Fingers” but over the ticket booth is a home-made sign that says “Free! Free! [Illegible] School Today 1 pm Free prizes!”; The corner of Sepulveda & 89th in 1952, there’s a store called “Sander’s The Man’s Store” and one called “Joe’s Children’s Dept. Stores” and a See’s Candy store; The corner of Sepulveda & 91st in 1948 with the “West Coast Escrow Company” and “Homes Realtors” and “The Manhattan fine laundry and cleaning” and Jerry’s Liquor store. I meant to drive over and see what those places are like now, but I forgot, so I looked on Google Maps later. The theatre is gone, and the corner of Sepulveda and 89th is utterly unrecognizable, and the corner of Sepulveda and 91st
doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Maybe the street name was changed, or one of the big strip malls took over 91st street? Edit: After this went live, I was informed that the picture of Sepulveda & 91st shows the spot where the Melody Bar & Grill would be built, a few years later. I might have figured that out looking at the address, but I did not. There really isn’t a 91st there, though My understanding is that LAX changed the neighborhood completely. So it’s good that the Melody Bar & Grill is still here.
What I Ate: Melody burger with an astonishing number of toppings, french fries
What I Read While I Ate: “Los Angeles’s Bunker Hill” by Jim Dawson. Reading about Bunker Hill always makes me sad (it was completely demolished in the ’50s) but the introduction had a bit that was beautiful and perfect; he talks about visiting places he’s just seen in a movie — he says it’s like making a physical connection with past, which is exactly how I feel.
What Sort of Ghost I’d Expect to Find if I Believed in Ghosts Which I do Not: Two young men in greased pompadours and leather jackets who like to watch people play pool and bet on who will win.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all ghosts mentioned in this blog died peacefully of old age and then reverted to the age/place of their choosing.
9132 S Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90045