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Tales of the Black Frog nightclub

Ambition and tragedy in Southeast San Diego

Soulful Ernie: “Since I have been here, they have been listening to me.”
  • Soulful Ernie: “Since I have been here, they have been listening to me.”
  • Image by Jim Coit

The only female contestant in the Black Frog First Annual Barbecue Cook-off. which was held July 30 in the parking lot of the Black Frog restaurant in Southeast San Diego, was Pearl Brazell, out of Americus, Georgia, but raised in Detroit. She was cooking on a standard backyard rig: a lidless, tri-legged barbecue with a swivel grill; instead of laying the meat on the grill, however, she was stewing it in a blue freckled pan. the oval kind that holds a turkey. Her sauce? “A little of this and a little of that,” she said, pressing a short can of Budweiser to her lip, trying not to smile.

Anne Allen, the present owner of the restaurant: “He’d say, ‘I got it to do. Someone’s got to do it, and right now it’s got to be me.’” He would not stop, but then, to stop may have seemed like quitting.

Anne Allen, the present owner of the restaurant: “He’d say, ‘I got it to do. Someone’s got to do it, and right now it’s got to be me.’” He would not stop, but then, to stop may have seemed like quitting.

What? A secret? “Oh, yeah,” she said, long and low, “I got it from my mother, and she got it from her mother, and so.” End of quote. She blinked her blue-mascared eyelids. All right then — perhaps she’d describe her general reaction to barbecue? “Barbecue,” said the mother of twelve, “is creative. It’s a creative atmosphere that happens to food when holiday comes.”

Restaurants don’t do well in Southeast, where dining out is a picture-taking occasion. All the more surprising, then, was the Black Frog’s success when it opened in 1978 with a menu of prime rib and fish, catering to class.

Restaurants don’t do well in Southeast, where dining out is a picture-taking occasion. All the more surprising, then, was the Black Frog’s success when it opened in 1978 with a menu of prime rib and fish, catering to class.

“Hey. hey,” said a ripsaw voice from the next grill over. “Come on over here and I tell ye what barbecue is. Come on over. Here, have that.” From the end of a long skewing fork, Booker T. Burnett, seventy-one years old. held forth a dripping half of a barbecued hot dog — a sauce sampler, as it were, stewed in a quart pan next to the big, half-covered caldron of wings and ribs. “Yeah, that taste good,” he said, not waiting for a second opinion. “I know what barbecue is, I do. I start my sauce with this here Watkin’s.” He hefted a bottle that looked like family-size shoe polish. “Cain’t buy this stuff in a store. No, no, they sell it door-to-door. Used to come 'round in a truck, back in Texas, selling catsup and staples. You buy your Watkin’s, put in some catsup, black pepper, some smoke sauce — Durkee or whatever’II do — then a touch of sugar.” He winked. “Then you got your sauce.

The main business is in live music and disco, resembling the other clubs in Southeast: Cynd’s, the Oasis, and the busiest of them all, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5179 on South Forty-third Street,

The main business is in live music and disco, resembling the other clubs in Southeast: Cynd’s, the Oasis, and the busiest of them all, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5179 on South Forty-third Street,

“Of course it ain’t the sauce we used to use,” he said in a lower voice, poking at his hot dogs. “For real barbecue we dug a hole two feet deep, two feet wide, and six feet long” — he was outlining the speech with his hands — “then we took hardwood, which would be oak wood or pecan, and made coals and laid them coals in the ground, then took the meat in big slab, say, half a calf or a lamb, and lay that down on the coals, and turn it over with a pitchfork, and lay water here, round the edge of the pit so that the dust didn’t get onto the meat, and if it was summer we’d have onions to cook up in the bone part and the fat part of the meat, and that was our sauce. We took a rag on the end of a stick and mopped that meat with the sauce.

Mrs. Allen’s son, Glenn Smith, had been working at the restaurant since its opening, and stepped in as manager.

Mrs. Allen’s son, Glenn Smith, had been working at the restaurant since its opening, and stepped in as manager.

“This was the nineteenth of June in Colorado County, Texas, 1921. I was there, ten years old. Wimar name of the town — German town, immigrants. On the nineteenth of June, even white folks took the day off and ride into town. We had our park; we had baseball games, and cut the weeds round the well and had a dance, and I don’t remember any better times now. What fun I had with a dollar and a half in my pocket! Hey now, ye want a rib?” He lifted the lid on his prize pot. “Go on, just reach in there and grab what you need.”

Teddy Roosevelt sign. She recalled what he’d said about the Roosevelt quotation: “He said. 'That’s the way to be,’ and I said. 'But I don’t want to be that way! I don’t want to suffer.'"

Teddy Roosevelt sign. She recalled what he’d said about the Roosevelt quotation: “He said. 'That’s the way to be,’ and I said. 'But I don’t want to be that way! I don’t want to suffer.'"

Next down the line: three young men, a van, beach chairs, and a spherical grill, closed like a pillbug. The men were kicked back, drinking Olde English 800 from the can or Hennessy from plastic cups. They begged ignorance of their sauce: one of their mothers had made it that morning. One might have suspected a crinkle of tension between themselves, drinking in the shade, and Booker T. Burnett, standing in the sun with a Diet Pepsi, but none existed. They recognized him as the old man who bought candy wholesale at a warehouse downtown and sold it for fifteen cents a bar from the trunk of his car to children in the parks of Southeast. No — their minds were on anything but competitive barbecue.

“What you doin’ tonight?” said one to another.

“Goin’ to the drive-in.”

“Drive-in! You go drive-in every night.”

“I got a lot to entertain. ’Sides, they showin’ Night Shift and it’s a R.”

“You ain’t seen an R?”

“Yeah, but man this a hard R.”

They caw and touch fists.

Next: Richard Anderson, a bearded young man in white tennis togs and a sun visor. He hoped to market his sauce in the near future, so, naturally, it was a secret. Speaking in a deep and beautifully inflected voice, he explained that he’d been barbecuing since age twelve. His father, a police instructor for the city of Detroit, had barbecued in their spacious backyard, developing the sauce in use today. Anderson proffered a chunk of hot dog on a long wooden needle. To barbecue, he said, one begins by marinating the meat for at least twelve hours, then one cooks it slowly on the grill, then soaks it in a pan of sauce until the juices have permeated the meat, and finally returns it to a low fire for heating. “Cook, soak, finish,” he said. “Those are the basics.” He took a swig from his green bottle of Lowenbrau and surveyed with utmost serenity the Black Frog parking lot, looking like a general who had never tasted defeat.

Actually, it wasn’t much of a scene that he surveyed. Only four contestants had entered the cook-off, not counting the manager of the Black Frog, who had set up her barbecue under an umbrella by the restaurant’s front door. Perhaps thirty people were in the parking lot. A few were dancing to a Rick James album that the Black Frog’s disc jockey. Soulful Ernie, was playing on one of his Technic SL-B101 Frequency Generator Servo Turntable Systems, under the front door’s awning.

About fifty people more were inside at the bar being served by Richard Norris, formerly a barman at the Sportsman on Logan Avenue, the premier club in Southeast San Diego before it changed hands, became a restaurant, and closed. Restaurants don’t do well in Southeast, where dining out is a picture-taking occasion. All the more surprising, then, was the Black Frog’s success when it opened in 1978 with a menu of prime rib and fish, catering to class. Soon it was doing 160 dinners a night. The clientele was never exclusively black, but it has always been mostly so, and in its heyday the restaurant was a place where the black middle class could enjoy its success — where it could feel comfortable with its money, and where there abounded grace in the root-meaning of the word: free.

“I feel free here, comfortable,” said Regina McGee, daughter of Norris the bartender. She was out in the parking lot looking at Anderson’s barbecue with an expert eye. “First of all, the business is black-owned, which I like. And I like the people, and I like the music. And it’s right here in the neighborhood.”

She lifted a Lowenbrau to the brown hill bordering Forty-seventh Street near Federal Boulevard, across from the Coca-Cola distributing headquarters that so many people see from Highway 94. Down the hill was Berardini Field (two baseball diamonds), and the San Diego Police Department firing range. Few houses were visible from where she stood. Originally a railbed commercial district that never attracted enough industry. Southeast is remarkable for its open spaces, and for its abundance of freeways, cemeteries, and parks.

Asked about the barbecue, McGee turned to view the contestants: the creative mother, the traditionalist, the young-bloods, and the confident Anderson. “I’d say it looks pretty good,” she said. And did she remember barbecue from her girlhood? “Oh, yes,” she said. “I grew up in Houston and we had barbecue every June 19th. That’s, you know, when black people in Texas celebrated their freedom. June the nineteenth was the verbal day of emancipation. Not the day it was issued in writing, but the day we heard it was happening.’’ She then excused herself and went inside for another Lowenbrau.

The Black Frog’s interior looks something like that of a Chart House restaurant. The walls and partitions are tawny redwood; turtle-green aquariums flank the entrances to the dining rooms. Left of the door is the long bar, topped with resin dyed tropical blue and green. The wall photographs are of Navy frogmen in action, in one case helping U.S. astronauts climb from the hatch of a splashed-down Gemini capsule.

The founder of the restaurant, Richard Allen, was a frogman, and is in some of the photographs, not the ones near the bar but those above the back dining booths and on the eastern wall of the Seal Room. A Seal is a Navy frogman with basic training in underwater demolition and advanced training in parachuting and land assault. Training is rigorous to say the least. A Rolex watch, a knife called a K-Bar, and, for those who served in Vietnam, a sapphire ring are the frogman’s emblems, but the inward quality is a steadfast refusal to Chime the Hog. This is a Seal tradition in which the trainee may announce to his commanding officer that he is quitting the program, but the quitting is not accepted until he has rung a certain large brass bell three times, giving the trainee pause to reconsider.

Say a squad has just run ten miles in deep sand. The squad leader runs his men back to their barracks, and without breaking stride, runs them back to the sand for another ten miles. The point of the exercise is partly to build endurance and partly to identify those people who, given the choice, would rather not go on.

For five years Richard Allen was in charge of basic training for frogmen at Coronado. One evening in 1963 he was on his way to a party in Southeast San Diego when he suffered a mix-up in directions and called at the wrong house. Anne Porter, a divorcee with two children, answered the door, finding this handsome man in a brown uniform. He was in good physical shape, having won the 1963 light-heavyweight boxing championship for the Eleventh Naval District. Before that he’d won the national Golden Gloves light-heavyweight title in 1956, ’57, ’58, ’59, and ’61. When Miss Porter asked him what he wanted, of all things it turned out she was going to the same party. Her friends had teased her for never going out of her way to meet men, and here was one on her doorstep.

She liked him. Receiving his attentions, she married him five years later.

The next year he retired from the Navy as an E-8, the second-highest rank for an enlisted man. The Central Intelligence Agency offered him a job but his wife saw to it that he wasn’t interested. Instead he took an offer from the two retired frogmen who had founded Chart House, Incorporated. Starting as an assistant manager at the Chart House on Shelter Island, he moved to manager at Coronado, opened the Chart House in La Jolla, and finally, as he’d done in the Navy, took charge of the training program, responsible for assistant managers in the San Diego district.

Like most team players, though, he wanted his own team, and in 1973, he left the company to start a restaurant of his own. He tried to run a beer-and-wine bar with his brother and sister, then two sandwich shops with a partner who soon was arrested on charges of kiting checks. Some success came with a consulting business he opened with another ex-frogman; they went as far as Las Vegas, advising restaurateurs on the business. At one point he had an idea for a restaurant in Southeast San Diego. He’d name it after himself — the Black Frog — and got as far as commissioning architectural plans when the financing fell through.

A year passed. While involved with other ventures, Allen persisted with the idea of his own restaurant, then heard that Disco Lady, a nightclub on Forty-seventh and Federal, was going out of business. Moreover, the landlord, Coca-Cola, had indefinite plans to use the property for its own operations, which meant that it might be available for a less expensive lease.

Allen took up the situation as a start for the Black Frog, but his image of the place grew quickly when projected against the real walls of a building. He realized he needed a partner, ideally one to run the bar while he managed the kitchen and dining rooms. Some years before, his wife had introduced him to Thomas Wilson, who was the kind of man that Allen would like: neat and mannerly, one who automatically arranged papers in a square-cornered pile. Though his background was not military — Wilson was a counselor with a Ph.D. from United States International University — he had a military man’s bearing and reserve. “The way to get close to Tommy, said one who knew him, was to stay away from Tommy.” Most important to Allen, this friend of his wife had at one time managed the bar at the Sportsman, the club whose demise had made room for a restaurant like the Black Fog.

Allen and Wilson soon struck a deal: they would invest and share equally, while Allen took the lead in management. The Small Business Administration advanced them a start-up loan, on which the business still owes $90,000. They taxied their big plans down the runway, and to the applause of their friends and acquaintances, they began on their own adrenalin power to fly.

From the beginning the Black Frog did business not only in dinners but in hosting civic groups, commercial meetings, and some social events that heretofore had clattered into church halls for want of something better. The Frog booked jazz: the clientele found it closer to home than Chuck's Steakhouse in La Jolla, and the neighborhood seemed safer than the Crossroads’ on Market Street, downtown. The Frog’s red awning extending to the street, its logo of a tough-looking toad with a top hat and cigar, its appeal to families as well as singles — these distinctions were right for the clientele. For blacks in particular, the closest restaurant like the Frog was Jerry’s Flying Fox on Santa Barbara Avenue in Los Angeles, and the closest next to that was Ivey’s on West Embarcadero in Oakland. In this region it drew from as far as Escondido, and of course had San Diego to itself.

But as anyone in restaurants knows, the next worse thing to having no business is having too much. A high volume of service creates some problems in dining room noise and scheduling rush-hour waiters; but much more troublesome, it hides problems. High volume gives an assistant prep-cook the chance to drop a rack of prime rib in a cardboard box, throw it in the trash dumpster, and return after hours to retrieve it and sell the meat that night in Tijuana. High volume covers the waitress when she takes a second order for two Tanqueray gimlets, tells the barman the order is for two ordinary gimlets, poured with the less expensive house gin, then takes the cheap drinks back to the customers, charges for the expensive ones, and keeps the difference.

While Wilson taught classes in the daytime or evening, Allen ran the business. He was there “full time, double time,” one friend remembered. In restaurant terms, he handled ordering, scheduling, marketing, and operations. He arrived at nine, received deliveries, started the kitchen on lunch, perhaps tried to call a fill-in for a waiter who’d left on the previous payday, or made more calls for a business group the following weeks, and at eleven-thirty hosted lunch, which lasted till three. If he could, he went home for a shower and change. Dinner began at four-thirty, and volume built until he could no longer leave the floor for a moment to check on the line cook’s plate presentation — to see if the sauce had been ladled carefully and the greens arranged neatly on the plate before it was served. Late in the evening he might have to handle a drunk. The kitchen closed at ten; he was home by midnight at the earliest.

It is true of most people that stress is most bearable when it is familiar. Allen’s twenty-two years in the Navy had subjected him to physical stress until it had become routine, and he knew the particular stresses of the restaurant business; he’d run Chart Houses for five years. Perhaps something about running his own restaurant, taking all the responsibility on himself, or some new problems with accounting or cash flow were just different enough to give this stress fangs.

Whatever the case, Mrs. Allen asked him to see a doctor. He was drinking, smoking, eating more than he had ever done before. He sometimes felt queasy. After his examination, he told her that his blood pressure was slightly high but not enough to worry about, which was one lie leading to another. Whenever she asked him to slow down, he said he would — as soon as he finished whatever he happened to be working on that moment. “He said the same thing that I do now,” said Anne Allen, the present owner of the restaurant. “He’d say, ‘I got it to do. Someone’s got to do it, and right now it’s got to be me.’ ” He would not stop, but then, to stop may have seemed like quitting.

On December 22, a Friday, about ten months after the restaurant opened, Allen managed to leave the building by 8:00 p.m. Since one of their cars was broken, Mrs. Allen had arranged to pick him up, but she was late. So Allen started walking home down Forty-seventh Street. She passed him on the road and heard, “Hey, girl! Can’t you see me standin’ here?” then stopped and let him in. He was in a good mood, talking all the way home. He lay down for an hour, then she fixed him some eggs. Late that night, in bed, she woke to the sound of water running in the bathroom. “What the hell are you doing?” she said. “Are you changing clothes? You’re not going back to the Frog tonight. I’m tellin’ you.” And he said, “I’m sick to my stomach.”

A moment later he fell. Still with no idea that his heart was failing, she called an ambulance and followed him to the hospital, where he died in the early morning. He was forty-six.

Now that Wilson was the leading partner, he implored Mrs. Allen to help him run the business. He was committed to teaching and counseling at adult centers in the junior college district; he couldn’t run the restaurant day and night. But neither was she completely free: she was a telephone operator with enough seniority to choose her hours, but with too many years invested in her pension to quit the phone company in favor of the restaurant. She deliberated for a time, distraught with her husband’s passing, and finally agreed to help however she could.

In the years that followed, the Frog went slowly flat. The economy didn’t help; as prices went up, fewer couples in the neighborhood could afford an evening out. And of course without Allen to handle the usual problems, the problems became unusual. One customer whom Wilson had known for years, Nadine Kearse, was too large of girth to sit comfortably on any of the bar stools. She asked Wilson to favor her someday with a stool to accommodate her. She was a good customer; he agreed.

When she reminded him of his promise months later, he exploded. He told her that he had more things on his mind than finding a chair for her to sit in, and while the rest of the customers listened, they argued about it. Dr. Wilson, with his Ph.D. in human behavior, and with a reputation for adroitness in dealing with people, especially customers, found himself arguing with a lady over why he hadn’t found her a seat.

His problem, thought Mrs. Allen, appeared to begin when Wilson was promoted to dean of instruction for the evening programs at Mesa Community College. Thenceforth he had to report for work at 8:00 a.m. sharp — no excuses. Mrs. Allen said that working nights at the bar and mornings at the college was almost more than he could bear. At the same time, he and Mrs. Allen entered a ninety-day agreement with Willie Morrow, the Southeast cosmetics entrepreneur, to seek his help in turning the business around. Wilson may have felt that he was doing a bad job and might be asked to leave or sell out.

One Friday in early October he borrowed $325 from Edward Bradshaw, an old friend of his and Mrs. Allen, promising to repay it the next day. Having been a bookie, Bradshaw seems likely to have lent the money for gambling, but in his probation report later he said that Wilson didn’t gamble; he liked to party.

Late Saturday night Bradshaw went to the Black Frog to collect on his day-old loan. Mrs. Allen and a friend left before closing to breakfast at Nappy’s, an all-night coffee shop on El Cajon Boulevard near Fifty-fourth, while Bradshaw and Wilson remained alone in the bar. Bradshaw had a .38 caliber handgun that he said Wilson had asked him to bring for their protection, since he had once been robbed after closing the bar. He said that Wilson was going to pay him out of the day’s receipts, which was why he’d waited till Mrs. Allen had gone.

Wilson poured drinks for himself and Bradshaw, then sat next to him on the customers’ side of the bar. The gun was on the bartop in front of Bradshaw. Their conversation started quietly, but then, according to Bradshaw, Wilson started tapping the bartop with his hands, uttering insults, and finally pounced for the gun. “He had been my friend,” Bradshaw told his probation officer eight months later, “and although he had been drinking heavily . . .he had never acted the way he did that night toward me. He went crazy and I shot him because he was going after my gun.” Of three shots fired, only one struck Wilson, but at such close range that it left a powder tattoo on the left eye.

“Figuring his friend was pretty much dead” — to quote the probation report — Bradshaw left the bar, locking the door behind him, then drove to the Coronado Bridge to throw himself into the water. In the end, he threw the gun instead, went home to his present wife, told her what he’d done, and at five o’clock in the morning had a neighbor drive him to the county jail.

At 8:15 that morning a test showed his blood-alcohol level at .07 percent, which computed to 16 percent at the time of the shooting. Wilson’s blood alcohol at the morgue was .31 percent, nearly twice as high as Bradshaw’s, and three times the legal standard for determining intoxication. Wilson’s drunkenness made Bradshaw’s plea of self-defense more plausible; the jury could not agree to convict him of murder. But instead of facing another trial, he pled guilty to manslaughter and on July 2 began his sentence of six years. The probation report noted that Bradshaw believed the incident would never have happened if they had not been drinking, and that Bradshaw “correlated his previous relationship [with Wilson] as that of a brother.”

Now Anne Allen was without a partner. Wilson’s widow had no time away from her children to help with the management, and Morrow let his contract expire: no mere cosmetics could rejuvenate the Frog. Mrs. Allen’s son, Glenn Smith, had been working at the restaurant since its opening, and stepped in as manager.

It is still a restaurant but no longer a supper club. It does a few lunches and dinners, some afternoon business at the bar, and hosts some meetings, but the main business is in live music and disco, resembling the other clubs in Southeast: Cynd’s, the Oasis, and the busiest of them all, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5179 on South Forty-third Street, which has 1131 members (second highest in the state), and according to State Commander Thomas Homey, grosses as much as $21,000 in bar receipts in a week. Being a nonprofit service club, the Post seeks no publicity for its bar, but servicemen up and down the coast know where to go in San Diego for music, drinks, a dance floor, and a steady crowd.

To compete, the Frog must provide the same. In March it hired Soulful Ernie, twenty-nine years old, who went to Lincoln High School with Glenn Smith. The success of the Frog appears to depend largely on how Soulful Ernie can draw customers with his music and personal popularity.

“Hey,” he said, looking up at one of the Frog’s waitresses one night as he slid into a booth to be interviewed. He pointed at an unlit pot candle on the table.

“What,” she said, “you want me to light that candle for you, Ernie?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I do.”

“Sure,” she said, dragging an uneager flame from a matchbook. I'll light your candle for you, Ernie. There you go. Anything you say, Ernie.” Then she turned and asked the interviewer if he would like another drink. He declined.

“I’m okay, too,” said Soulful Ernie, but she had already left.

“Since I have been here, they have been listening to me,” he said, meaning the management. “And I am trying in every way to make this the ultimate class club in San Diego, with entertainment and variety. We got jazz. Top 40, dancing, drinks, jukebox, you name it. We got — ”

“Phone for you, Ernie, long distance,” said Glenn Smith, passing by.

Ernie left to take the call, then a familiar face approached the interviewer in the booth. “Richard Anderson,” said the person’s rich voice. “At the cook-off, remember?”

“Oh, yes.”

“I came in second,” he said. “I wasn’t too disappointed because I didn’t have time to prepare. Usually I spend two, three days getting ready for a barbecue — this one I just threw together at the last minute. But I’ll do better next time. And I’m still working on marketing my sauce. So — just thought I’d say hello. Take it easy, now.” And smiling, he walked away.

“Phone call from Phoenix,” said Soulful as he slid back to his seat. “Want me to go to L.A., all expenses, plane, hotel, what have you, to audition this band called King Tut. So you see what I’m doin’ here. I handle all the talent comin’ in and goin’ out. I entertain twenty-four hours a day.”

That night the entertainment was Star-fire, a band with so many musicians that they stood in two rows: one on the bandstand and one down in front. Percussion, keyboard, horns, guitars. Big dance music. Naturally the crowd was mostly of young people, but there were persons of middle age, too, even portly, bewigged grandmothers, three of them at a table with a younger woman who might have been one of their daughters. The Black Frog has not yet installed a dance floor to go with its new bandstand, so the people sat still as concertgoers in front of the music, a few heads nodding time. From the back of the room, one saw the harshly bright stage, and below it yellow pot candles glowing on the table tops like lilies on dark water.

Close at hand, one overheard a pair of young men approach a table of strangers with Southern Sunday manners: “ ’Scuse us, ladies, are these seats reserved?’ ’ In the parking lot was a Fleetwood, a Bug, a Datsun 210, an old Camaro — an assortment of ordinary cars, two with Florida license plates. It was altogether an ordinary scene, except that it was created, in effect, by other more ordinary scenes at nightclubs outside of Southeast, where the Frog’s clientele feels welcome until the management switches from soul music to country-western, or posts a sign by the door saying, “No Hats.”

The Frog has a sign of its own, but it is backstage, posted on bare plywood and hand lettered by Richard Allen. It is a quotation by Theodore Roosevelt: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checked by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, but are left in the gray twilight of neither victory nor defeat.”

“Richard and I used to have arguments over that thing,” said Mrs. Allen the afternoon after Starfire had played. She was weary, and was spending her time off from the phone company chasing down troubles at the Frog. A new bartender was being trained. She expected a liquor delivery from a supplier with whom she had a special arrangement: he wouldn’t send her check to the bank until Friday.

It was mid-afternoon and the evening-shift employees were finishing the day’s lunch. A few customers were at the bar; the dining rooms were empty. She sat in the Seal Room near a photo of her husband, who was leading some training maneuver, standing on a rocky shore, bare chested, with a bullhorn clipped to his belt and his arms raised high like a line judge signaling a touchdown. She recalled what he’d said about the Roosevelt quotation: “He said. That’s the way to be,’ and I said. But I don’t want to be that way! I don’t want to suffer. I want to play along the way things are.’ And he said, ‘No — you be this way and you be happy with it.’ And that’s the way it was: When we went to the track, I bet my two dollars and Richard bet his fifty.

“And then, later on, when we put the new bandstand in the dining room, somebody tore this poster down . . . but I put it back where it is so I can see it whenever I come back here.”

Speaking of the restaurant’s future, she said she might find investors to form a corporation and move to a better location when the lease expired. More likely, she would hang on where she was, keeping the liquor license, which was the only asset that could not be subject to attachment or a lien. “I would like: to pay everyone off and walk away clean,” she said. “That is my goal.”

Was it hopeless?

Nothing is hopeless,” she said. For a second she looked merry, then tired again.

“He gave me so much,” she went on a moment later, speaking of her husband. “He didn’t allow any of us to say I can't. He said, ‘You may not want to, and if you don’t want to, then don’t.’

“There you see the Kiwanis stuff.” She pointed to an American flag leaning in one comer with a mess of boxes. “They still meet here Wednesday mornings at seven. No, there’s no stopping them. One morning when the cook was sick, they helped him make their breakfast. I tell you this place is not a restaurant anymore, it’s a club. Not a nightclub, a club-type club.”

Which cares for its members. Not long ago Mrs. Allen threw a party for Pearl Brazell, the winner of the First Annual Barbecue Cook-off. It was a Saturday afternoon, following one of the Black Frog’s busiest Friday nights in nearly a year. Mrs. Brazell sat at the bar in a twilight-blue gown, accepting drinks. About the room were balloons and streamers, and one or two posters promoting Tom Bradley for governor. Someone congratulated Mrs. Brazell on her cook-off victory, then asked if the barbecue at the Frog were the real thing. She laughed delightedly.

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