After celebrating seventy years as one of the most popular Cal student hangouts, Blakes on Telegraph has closed its doors for good. A message on the music venue’s web site reads, “We are sorry to say, after 70 years, we have closed our doors, thank you to EVERYONE who ever dropped by for some good music or something to eat, we have always appreciated you.” Phone calls to the business went unanswered.
Property management firm Diablo Holdings announced the closure this morning in a press release, stating that the restaurant was unable to pay its bills and defaulted on its lease. Only eight years ago, the establishment was grossing $2 million a year. The release also wasn’t shy about blaming Blakes’ failure on bad management, saying Blakes “was not solely the victim of a difficult economy,” with “not” being the release’s only word emphasized in bold. John Lineweaver, who has owned the Blakes on Telegraph building since 1984, said he attempted to help the restaurant by recently investing $350,000 in building renovations and giving them a 30-percent rent reduction.
“Blake’s has made more changes to its business plan in the past 8 years than the Raiders have made head coaching changes,” Lineweaver stated in the press release. “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.”
Since the 1990s, Blakes on Telegraph did in fact put more energy into its music and bar scene than in years past. According to Blakes' Facebook page, the Telegraph restaurant was founded by Larry Blake in 1940 with a $700 investment. Some of his publicity stunts included getting a Cal student to ride an elephant across the Bay Bridge with a sign reading “I’m going to Larry Blake’s for a good steak.” Waiters such as Jackie Jensen, Joe Kapp, and Super Bowl quarterback Craig Morton made it quite the jock hangout back in the day. Its music scene began with talents such as John Lee Hooker and Etta James, and would eventually feature performances from Cyndi Lauper, The B-52’s, No Doubt, Cake, The Counting Crows, and Bright Eyes. The restaurant was so proud of its history that its motto was “If you haven’t been to Blake’s, you haven’t been to Berkeley.”
Lineweaver said future plans for the nearly 8,500-square-foot space, located just one block south of Bancroft Way, could possibly include a new restaurant and bar operator who would focus one more food-savvy customers. The space may be divided into two or three components, as it currently includes the 3,000 square-foot main floor and mezzanine areas, a full basement, and a prep kitchen in another wing of the building.