Fifty years ago this weekend, the number one song on the Billboard charts was "I Can't Stop Loving You" by Ray Charles, the San Francisco Giants beat the New York Mets 10-1 with the help of a homerun by Willie Mays, and the cover of Time magazine featured an illustration of a teeth-baring black bear mauling an orange bull for a story about Wall Street.
In Venice Beach, a new bar on Washington Boulevard inspired by a sailing trip to far-off Tahiti was serving 25-cent beers, 35-cent hamburgers and 45-cent cheeseburgers. The bar, Hinano Cafe, has stood the test of time and celebrated its 50th anniversary Friday through Sunday with patrons enjoying the locals' favorite burger, drink specials and live music.
Joe Oarson, 78, the original owner of Hinano Cafe, said he was bartending on Catalina Island at the Flying Yachstman in Avalon when two sailors docked a 30-foot boat and said they were looking for a third sailor for a trip to Tahiti. Oarson, a self-acknowledged sail bum, said he jumped at the chance at the roughly 5,000-mile adventure.
Tahiti in 1959 had few visitors and upon arrival the yacht owners hit up bars on the front street, while the sailors went to the less expensive backstreet bars, Oarson said. He went into a place called Bar Hinano and it becam the inspiration for the Venice Beach mainstay.
The Story Behind the Sawdust
Oarson, who lives in Venice and Salem, OR, said that he was friends with the late Chez Jay owner Jay Fiondella, who had sawdust on the floor and served peanuts at his Santa Monica nautical-themed bar and restaurant that later would become a legend in its own right.
"I just wanted that feel of sawdust on the floor," Oarson said. He used to rake it every morning and offered peanuts like Chez Jay, until his peanut supplier didn't show up one day and he put it in the popcorn machine.
Oarson's nice, Leanne Sims, 57, of Long Beach, said she remembers when the bar opened. It was a family affair with her father, uncle and grandfather all helping to build the bar.
Sims said that Hinano Cafe had a stream of famous and would-be famous clients, including The Doors frontman Jim Morrison. The Beach Boys also were patrons and Bonnie Raitt used to play guitar and sing songs around the fireplace, Sims said. She also remembered actor Larry Hagman coming into the bar during his "I Dream of Jeannie" days.
"The place to get a hamburger before In-N-Out used to be Hinano," Sims said.
Many of the long-time customers still come into Hinano Cafe daily and it's like a "Cheers" group with everyone knowing everyone else's name, Sims said. She recalled how bar customers helped her grandfather and uncle knock down the walls when the bar took over the laundromat next door to convert it into the pool room.
Current owners Andy Schelich and Mark Vangessel were on hand for the fun Saturday and Vangessel noted how Hinano Cafe has been a "sailor's bar forever" and thanked the staff on hand of Mary Alice, Carlos, Melissa and Sarah (aka "Crash") for keeping the bar's tradition of friendliness alive.
Vangessel said he heard about 16 years ago that the bar was up for sale and that a prospective owner wanted to make it all fancy, so he and Schelich partnered up and bought it to keep it the way it is.
"We want to make sure it's exactly the way it always was," Vangessel said.