Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Brennan's is here to stay
For the last few weeks, I've been getting calls and e-mails from anxious customers of Brennan's Restaurant, who are hearing rumors that their favorite eatery is about to close.
Relax, folks. Brennan's isn't going anywhere.
Actually, that's not quite true. It is going somewhere - next door, into the historic Santa Fe depot.
The last day in the old place was Monday. Brennan's will re-open on the new site this weekend, barring a last-minute glitch.
"In a perfect world, we'd stay right here for another 50 years," said Margaret Wade, granddaughter of founder Jack Brennan. "But it was a choice between moving now or waiting until our lease expires in 2012 and taking our chances that we'd be able to find someplace suitable."
Architecturally, the Mission-style Santa Fe depot is a big step up from the old building, a rectangular box that Brennan, a retired contractor, built with his own hands in 1959.
But the exterior doesn’t' really matter. The essence of Brennan's is the interior - the pictures on the walls, the menu board over the serving counter, the tables and chairs. They're all moving to the new place. And the food will still be served cafeteria-style.
The only major icon that isn't going is the bar.
"It's mostly old, bad fake wood and plastic laminate," said Wade. "But we will be taking the brass foot rail and the bar stools."
But what really makes Brennan's special is the people, and they're all going to the new place, too, including Jim "Float" Agrusa, who has been tending bar at Brennan's since 1975 and knows what every regular wants to drink the moment they walk in the door and has it ready for them by the time they get to the bar.
"There's always hell to pay whenever he goes on vacation," said Wade. "People ask in a somewhat grumpy voice, 'Where's Float?'"
Wade's grandfather founded Brennan's so he could have a place to eat that served the simple meat-and-potatoes fare he loved. The menu hasn't changed much since then, and that's just the way the regulars like it.
"It's nice to know you can go in and get exactly what you expect," said Jerry Figone of El Cerrito, a customer since the day Brennan's opened in 1959, when he was in high school. "The roast beef is always going to be great, and so is the turkey and corned beef."
Brennan located his restaurant at the foot of University Avenue, partly to take advantage of the spillover business from nearby Spenger's Fish Grotto. From the beginning, it has been a hangout for people from all different walks of life, and each group had its own territory.
When I discovered it back in the '70s, the cops sat near the entrance, next to the now long-gone cigarette machine. The politicos, including Jerry Brown, sat in the northwest corner. Next to them sat deputy coroner Michael King, known to his fellow regulars as "The Grateful Dead."
From the start, Brennan's has been a place where everyone knows your name. It's also a piece of living, breathing Berkeley history. I'm glad reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated.
* * *
Speaking of Berkeley history, did you play football for Cal in 1957 or 1959? The guys on the '58 team invite you to join them at their 50th reunion Oct. 24-26, the weekend of the UCLA game.
The guest of honor will be your old coach, Pete Elliott. Assistant coach John Ralston, who later went on to great coaching success at (gasp!) Stanford, will also be there. On Saturday, you'll sit in a special section at the game.
I'm going to write more about the '58 team next week, but in the meantime they wanted me to get the word out to '57 and '59 players as early as possible.
So if you're one of Pete's Boys (the successors to Pappy's Boys), call Andy Segale at 925-934-8168 or Pete Domoto at 360-387990.