When I first moved here in 1975, Santa Monica was a far different town. Curiously, the population hasn’t increased that much but the demographics certainly have. Our city always had affluent neighborhoods, but in general it was a quiet, working-class beach town blessed with a wonderful mix of colorful characters. Perhaps purely because of economics, it doesn’t seem that way anymore. (The cheapest apartment in my building rents for $3,200. With that monthly nut who can afford to be colorful?)
In my first year here I was struck by the number of ex-pats from England that one would meet at three popular British pubs: the Ye Olde King’s Head, the Mucky Ducky and the Brigadoon. I love British accents and hanging out in these establishments watching dart throwing and hearing terms like “mate,” “bloke,” “bangers and mash” “shepherd pie” and “have a pint?” I felt like I was in Liverpool, especially if I had enough of those pints.
Opened in 1974, the King’s Head was the most popular. In its 1980’s heyday it was difficult just to get into the joint, but if you did it was like stepping across the pond. The longtime and much beloved general manager was the late Billy Lourie, who passed away this past Sept. 17 at age 58 and for whom the King’s Head is having a memorial celebrating his life this Sunday.
Billy was a Santa Monica icon. Everyone who made the scene at the King’s Head enjoyed the traditional cuisine, beer and throwing some darts. But for many the biggest attraction was the invigorating company of its reigning king or, as he was affectionately known, Captain Billy.
A large man his adult life, (5 feet, 11 inches tall, 250 pounds and “then some”) Billy looked like a cross between a menacing viking and an overgrown choir boy. Brilliant and incredibly strong, he seemingly had endless talents, including being an expert sailor. He learned to sail as a handsome and adventuresome kid on Long Island.
After moving out to California, Billy acquired a classic 40-foot pirate ship, “The Dolphin.” (I wish I had a photo.) With his long red hair and beard, and when he playfully wore an eye patch and brandished a sword, Billy looked quite the imposing buccaneer, ay matey.
Billy started at the King’s Head as a combination cook and bouncer, an unusual pairing but he was an unusual man. As for cooking, he had developed excellent culinary skills. As for bouncing, strong as he was, Billy could efficiently and quickly dispatch any trouble. But he also had such great people skills that more often he could cajole obnoxious louts into behaving like model citizens, or until they went home.
As a result of his compassionate heart, Billy was understandably the best friend to many lucky people whose relationships often went back four decades. Optimistic and resourceful, he was the one who was there when you got into a terrible jam. And he wouldn’t lecture or point fingers, at least not until after he got you out of it.
Among Billy’s other endearing traits was his outlandish sense of humor. The Henry VIII photo with this column was taken in 1992 at his Halloween wedding at the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas, attended by over 200 guests dressed as members of the King’s Court. Given King Hank’s dicey record with wives it’s clear that Billy and, maybe even more so Paula, his bride-to-be who dressed as Anne Boleyn, knew how to laugh at convention.
A partier before the term was coined, every Christmas season at the King’s Head jovial Billy made the perfect Santa. But the costume topper had to be one particular Halloween when he arrived as the “Sugar Plump Fairy” packed into a delicate pink tutu and tights. (For this one I really wish I had the photo.)
Billy was a devoted father to Evan, his 19-year-old son who has his father’s long red hair and his parents’ smarts. Evan graduated from the prestigious Early College High School (ECHS, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) and is a junior at UC Santa Cruz studying literature and film.
Billy was also a caring friend to his ex-wife Paula, Evan’s mom. Billy also leaves behind CJ, his loving partner, who was taken to her high school prom by him over 40 years ago!
The Sunday memorial will be from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. If only Billy could be there to see his family and multitude of friends for one last time. (Some will be flying in from across the country.) If Billy were there one thing’s for certain, he’d make sure everybody in the room had a great time. That was Billy. Long live the King.
Ye Olde King’s Head, (310) 451-1402, is located at 116 Santa Monica Blvd. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.