The Prospector is for sale at $3M; is it another end of an era?

Excuse my deep spiral into pessimism, but one of the last remaining nails to be driven into the coffin containing the dwindling remains of the Long Beach nighttime scene is set up to be driven home.

This sad and perhaps premature note comes with the announcement that Haskell’s Prospector, the historic and more than venerable Long Beach bar, restaurant and music venue, is for sale.

Three million dollars buys you the restaurant, its attendant entertainment and liquor licenses and the cabin/house next door that the Haskell family once lived in.

The Prospector’s owner is Luis Lemus, who began working at the restaurant in the kitchen and worked his way up to ownership, overseeing the place’s transition into a performance venue for local and touring acts, turning it into a sort of kitschy and cool dive. While Lemus could not be reached for comment, Chris Livingston, the broker handling the sale, said Lemus wants to retire, primarily because of the difficulties these days of running a restaurant due to the worker shortage (or, rather, the shortage of people who want to work) and rising food prices. He’s had to go back to working as chef to keep the place going.

Most longtime Long Beachers have some sort of memory of the place, stocked with its busy collection of Western decor—posters of Annie Oakley, sombreros, Calistoga wagons, cowboy paraphernalia, Native American artwork and other trappings of the West.

For years, following its opening in 1965, the Prospector was a hangout for the old-timers who came in for the rotating daily special meal, a glass of whiskey and to smoke a pack of cigarettes while listening to the piano stylings of Judy Pierce and singing along.

“Judy would wear gloves while she played the piano,” recalled Tom Holland, a longtime Long Beach performer with his band lovingkindness. “I’d sing with her often, usually things from the Great American Songbook, like ‘Moon River.’

“I’m sad to hear that the place is being sold. It’s the last soldier standing in terms of old fashioned steakhouses, and one of the last places for live music.”

Chris Hanlin, a former Long Beacher now living in Northern California, was the guitarist and vocalist for Bourbon Jones, a blues band that played Sunday afternoons for years at the now-shuttered Blue Cafe. “The Prospector was the first place Bourbon Jones played publicly,” he said. “It was around 1994 and they didn’t have an entertainment license, but Luis was bartending back then and he let us play. The place was so legendary. It was part of what made Long Beach so special.”

If this sounds like an obituary for the Prospector, it likely is. According to the broker, they checked people who had expressed an interest in buy the place and had no takers.

Plus, historically, when Long Beach’s best music spots have closed, there has always been the hope that a buyer would swoop in and continue the tradition. Bogart’s, once the best concert spot in Long Beach, is now subsumed by businesses in Marina Pacifica. The legendary Foothill? Condos, now; same with Java Lanes, a once-dependable home for local and occasional touring bands. The mighty Blue Cafe is gone. Fender’s is gone. The Hillside is gone, so is the Rumbleseat Garage. There’s more: The Marina Palace, the Cinnamon Cinder, all the jazz clubs along Atlantic—and even music stores like Gilmore’s and World of Strings.

“Everywhere I look there’s something gone,” said Robbie Allen, who’s been involved with several bands based in town, including Tender Fury, Rob Rule, Thermadore and Gypsy Trash, playing alongside such nationally renowned musicians as Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard, vocalists Jack Grisham and his sister D.D. Wood and drummers Chad Smith of the Chili Peppers and Josh Freese, who’s played with everyone.

Allen reckons that his band Cowboy and Indian, with drummer Antoine Arvizu, has played the Prospector about 30 times, always booked by the late bartender Nancy Pena, who died three months ago. “She was the heart and soul of the place,” said Allen.

“I’m sad that it’s being sold. There was always something happening there. It was about the last place that felt like it was part of the Long Beach scene,” he said. “I’m not even sure what the Long Beach scene is anymore.”

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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