Blakes on Telegraph, a fixture in Berkeley for 71 years, closed yesterday after the restaurateurs defaulted on their lease. While the restaurant’s website announces the change, phone calls to Blakes are still being answered by a recorded message that encourages callers to check out the schedule of live music on the website.

According to John Lineweaver, the building’s owner since 1984, Blakes had lost its way in recent years.

“Blake’s has made more changes to its business plan in the past eight years than the Raiders have made head coaching changes,” Lineweaver said in a press release about the closure. “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.”

Lineweaver said that Blakes had turnover of $2 million as recently as 2003. He had invested $350,000 in building improvements and granted a 30% rent reduction, but the business decline was just too great.

Lineweaver plans to find a new restaurant and bar operator for the 8,500 sq. ft. space, one block south of campus on Telegraph. He said there might be an opportunity to divide the space into two or three, since the current configuration includes the 3,000 sq. ft. main floor and mezzanine areas, a full basement and a prep kitchen in another building wing.

Blakes was founded in 1940 by Larry Blake, supposedly with a $700 investment. Blake’s numerous publicity stunts to promote the restaurant included arranging for a Cal student to ride an elephant across the Bay Bridge during the 1949 Big Game, with a sign reading “I’m going to Larry Blake’s for a good steak.”

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...