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'It's not just another bar,' says new owner of Downtown's King Eddy Saloon

By Hayley Fox
Published: Monday, June 18, 2012, at 10:58AM
Andrew Lopez

The King Eddy is in escrow and will soon be taken over by new owners.

The Skid Row dive bar landmark the King Eddy Saloon is now facing a few-month countdown until it is closed, renovated and reopened under the Downtown developing duo known for watering holes such as the Library Bar and Spring Street Bar.

Michael Leko, one half of the new King Eddy team, says he "loves" this project because of the bar's local lore, long history and incredible mystique. It was a speakeasy, a literary hangout for authors including Charles Bukowski, and in recent years, a hangout for the merging walks of life in Downtown.

"It's a neighborhood bar," he said, "and the neighborhood's changing."

Leko said the name will stay but the bar will change. It'll be updated to current code with renovated aesthetics -- and the 6 a.m. open time may be pushed back to around noon.

"A lot of people I know, they go to King Eddy's and they've gone for years," Leko said. "They're going to be able to continue to go, but it'll be cleaned up a bit."

He said the transfer of ownership from previous owner Dustin Croick and his family has been "amicable" -- and that the new and old guard have been spending a lot of time together at the bar.

"It feels like 'Cheers' now," Leko said of the King Eddy's atmosphere. "I just want it be to 'Cheers' and I want it to be there 100 more years."

As of now the building is in escrow, but once it's officially changed hands the Croicks have requested it be shut down -- they don't want anyone outside their family to run it, Leko said.

When the King Edward hotel, which houses the bar, was purchased by new developers, Croick offered to fix up the bar to keep in line with their plans for improvement.

"I wanted to fix the bathrooms and the floors and make it a nicer area to be in--not so rugged--but that wasn't enough for them," Croick told the Los Angeles Times, adding that there are no hard feelings though. "They wanted to see someone put a lot of money into it. They want a full kitchen with full food service, and they want to open up the facade and restore it to what it used to look like."

Some Downtowners and bar regulars have expressed concern over what will happen to the dark bar with the cheap drinks and the indoor smoking section, and Leko acknowledged that when it reopens it will look a lot differently than it does now.

The bar, which was opened in 1933, has fallen into disrepair, he said. There's "a lot of band-aids and patches" installed over the years that now require a complete overhaul, including plumbing, air conditioning and redoing the actual bar.

"I liken it to Cole's," he said, referring to the french dip restaurant's fairly recent re-design. Leko said they used the same consultant that Cole's did, Ricki Kline, to help develop plans for the bar's restoration.

He said they're mostly trying to make the bar "more accessible" and aim to keep the current clientele of Downtown characters while also attracting the new neighborhood demographic.

This includes redoing the bathrooms and creating a new food menu (say goodbye to the $2.50 Harold's hot dog and Charli's cheeseburger.)

Leko has a vested interest in Downtown -- financially and personally. He grew up in the neighborhood and still lives in the heart of it, right above his own Spring Street bar.

Leko said the "side effects" of what he and business partner Will Shamlian do are always positive; adding that they're not trying to "gentrify" DTLA with their developments but merely enhance the neighborhood's identity.

"I'm just trying to make the world a better place, one bar at a time," Leko added with a gentle laugh.

But he's not entirely kidding.

He said that although the King Eddy is a business investment, he hopes that by attracting a larger crowd to the outskirts of Skid Row he may expose more Angelenos to the problems of L.A.'s homeless and help spur some positive change.

Leko said that one of the major aesthetic changes to the bar will help accomplish this: By installing large windows on the corner bar, patrons will have a front row seat to 5th and Los Angeles streets.

"Lets face it, the view from King Eddy is Skid Row," Leko said, "and there'll be a bigger view."

During the next two to four months until the close of escrow, engineers, architects and developers will be laying plans for the re-design. Once they know the exact closure date, they hope to plan a countdown, says Leko. He and the Croicks have been working together and they both plan to go out "with a bang."

"Its not just another bar," Leko said. "It's not just another restaurant. It's not. It's more."

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