Press Release: Larry Blake's on Telegraph in Berkeley Closes

From John Lineweaver, Diablo Holdings Ltd.
Friday February 04, 2011 - 11:44:00 AM

[Editor's Note: This press release was sent by John Lineweaver, who is referred to in the third person in the text. It is our policy to post press releases which we think are of general interest, but readers should be aware that there might be other interpretations of this story.]

After 71 years in business at Telegraph & Durant in Berkeley, Larry Blake’s Restaurant & Bar, also known as Blake’s on Telegraph, has closed its doors. Blake’s was once among the most popular hangouts for the Cal community—both students and faculty/employees—and until the late1990’s was famous for the Blake Burger, voted Best Hamburger in the East Bay numerous times, and for the delicious salad dressing developed in the 1940’s by Larry Blake, himself. 

Blake’s, however, was not solely the victim of a difficult economy, the culprit in the recent disappearance of many other restaurants. Over the past 8 years, Blake’s has shifted its focus from serving the finest in pub food and beverages to an emphasis on the club and music scene. While popular with the young crowd, the shift took its toll on the loyal Cal-centric customers as the quality of food and service steadily declined. 

“Blake’s has made more changes to its business plan in the past 8 years than the Raiders have made head coaching changes”, said building owner John Lineweaver. “Quality meats, salads, beverages and great service leading to fantastic lunch and dinner dining experiences have been deemphasized, as Blake’s ownership focused on loud, live music and the youth-oriented night scene from 10pm-2am. As a result, the traditional customers seeking good food and beverage have stayed away in droves.” said Lineweaver. 

“It is a shame that a business grossing nearly $2,000,000 as recently as 2003 could have declined so dramatically, resulting in the inability to pay its bills and a default on its lease”, said Lineweaver, the building’s owner since 1984. Even after the building owner invested nearly $350,000 in building improvements and a 30% rent reduction, Blake’s couldn’t sustain its business. 

Asked about future plans for the nearly 8,500 square foot space, located just one block south of Sather Gate, Lineweaver, said he expected to find a new restaurant and bar operator who would focus on the obvious—the 50,000+- person Cal community who comes to campus nearly every day, not to mention the numerous food-savvy neighborhood residents. The space may be divided into 2-3 components, as it currently includes the 3,000 sq.ft. main floor and mezzanine areas, a full basement and a prep kitchen in another building wing. 

Larry Blake, a colorful figure who died in 1992, purportedly started the Telegraph restaurant in 1940 with a $700 investment. His numerous publicity stunts to promote Blake’s included arranging for a Cal student to ride an elephant across the Bay Bridge during the 1949 Big Game, with a sign reading “I’m going to Larry Blake’s for a good steak”. Cal greats from Jackie Jensen to Joe Kapp were frequent visitors, and Cal grad and Super Bowl quarterback Craig Morton once waited tables at Blake’s. Blake’s basement, known for years as “The Rathskeller”, featured a sawdust-covered floor and a lively bar area, and was the scene of numerous bachelor parties, frat events, jazz performances and similarly active events. 

Sadly, Blake’s had clearly lost its way, and time had run out.