New Malibu Pier bar brings back bygone era

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The Malibu Pier Club bar, located at the landside base of the pier, is themed after the 1966 Malibu Sports Club Restaurant that operated on the pier. The bar, which serves a light menu, opened April 2. Photo by Nora Fleming / TMT

After a long-awaited arrival, one of the three promised pier food and beverage businesses opens.

By Nora Fleming / Special to The Malibu Times

After many delays and announcements of business openings that never happened, The Malibu Pier Club, which serves cocktails and appetizers, has opened on the pier. It is one of three food and beverage businesses that will operate on the historical structure. Ruby’s Shake Shack and The Beachcomber Café are scheduled to open on July 1 in a grand opening celebration.

All three venues are owned and operated by the Malibu Restaurant Group, a masthead for a partnership between The Ruby Restaurant Group and The Beachcomber Restaurants, spearheaded by Doug Cavanaugh of Orange County.

“Malibu locals in general have been waiting for the revival of the pier,” Matthew Gagnon, one of The Beachcomber managers, said. “Everyone I’ve talked to is really excited to see something that dates back to when things were light hearted and pier was active.”

Tad Belshe, vice president of operations for The Beachcomber Restaurants, said the Malibu Pier Club, located at the landside base of the pier, builds on a tie-in to the Malibu Sports Club Restaurant, which opened in 1966 and later became The Malibu Pier Club, and still later, Alice’s Restaurant. Even the new bar’s logo, a blue and white life preserver, is similar to the Malibu Sports Club original.

“It’s building on that historical tie-in,” Belshe said. “Part of what California State Parks is trying to do is bring back the height of the pier during the ’40s and ’50s. We kind of wanted to bring that nostalgia in.”

The 780-foot-long pier opened to the public in the mid-1930s and for decades, along with the adjacent Surfrider Beach, was the site of Southern California culture and iconic fame, which became widely popularized in period beach films.

The California State Department of Parks and Recreation took over ownership of the pier in 1980, but due to a series of El Niño storms, it was officially closed in 1995, and for years remained unused.

In 2003, the state named Malibu resident Jefferson Wagner, owner of Zuma Jay’s Surf Shop and now newly-elected City Council member, and financial backer San Francisco attorney Alexander Leff as concessionaires of the pier under the masthead of The Malibu Pier Partners, LLC.

With roughly $6 million in funds, a reconstruction process took place, and plans for development were designed and focused on businesses that existed on the pier in its heyday of the ’40s and ’50s.

But disputes between inner management, litigation involving the trademark name of Malibu Pier and contracts with potential lessors that fell through slowed progress on the pier for the past few years until the April 2 opening of the Malibu Pier Club.

The bar’s opening, however, may take the lead in igniting the openings of long promised other businesses this coming summer (false starts of whale watching tours and fishing tours occurred last summer, with people showing up in early morning hours to find no tours). These include deep-sea fishing, boat tours, kiosk-based boat and board rentals, a bait and tackle shop, a souvenir store and a surf museum.

“We needed the restaurant traffic [to open the other businesses],” Wagner said of the reason the other business opening’s were delayed. “If you want to sell a T-shirt, it’s hard to sell with just a T-shirt.”

Meanwhile, people are slowly discovering the newly opened bar.

The Malibu Pier Club’s bar menu features a wide selection of wines, bottled and draft beer and a list of cocktails with beach-themed and vintage era names, like Zuma Surfer, Long Pier Iced Tea and Gidget’s Gimlet. The food menu includes a mix of soups, salads, sandwiches and a few other light options, including Tiny Ahi Tacos and a Vegetable Muffaletta.

When The Beachcomber Café opens, the bar’s menu will discontinue some items and focus on lighter appetizers, in addition to expanding the drink selection bar manager Gagnon said. A menu of regional and coastal favorites combined with non-traditional creations, including a number of fish and meat selections, is planned for the café.

Ruby’s Shake Shack will offer a smaller menu consisting of American classics like thick shakes, burgers, fries and breakfast selections.

“We’ll really establish ourselves over the summer. It will be a great time to bring in the concept,” Gagnon said.

Features such as a cocktail hour flag raising, as well as happy hour specials and nightly live performances may be added in the future. Currently, the Malibu Pier Club has live piano music Thursday through Saturday nights.

It is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. on weekend nights, but Belshe predicts these hours will lengthen during the summer months.