2600 San Pablo Ave., (at Parker Street), Berkeley
Like most Bay Area bars, the Missouri Lounge, a West Berkeley bar staple since the 1950s, went dark in March 2020, when the pandemic shutdown closed down most of the region’s nightlife. But as area restaurants and bars return to business, the Missouri remains shuttered, prompting some folks to worry that it might be closed for good. According to owner Ali Eslami, he’s hoping to reopen the Missouri this summer, if all goes well after a long-deferred maintenance project concludes.
Nosh last checked in with Eslami in March 2021, to see how the business was holding up. He told Nosh then that he planned to keep the bar closed until the end of the pandemic, as “we’re lucky that we own the building, because that way we didn’t have to find a way to stay open to pay the rent.”
But without a clearcut ending for the coronavirus crisis in sight, Eslami’s timeline is now set by a maintenance project he embarked on at the beginning of 2021. Eslami said that workers have had to pull the Missouri’s entire wooden bar apart, as that was the only way to access a long-deteriorating sewage pipe that runs directly beneath it. Replacing the bar has been a huge priority for Eslami, as throughout the project, he’s worried about “maintaining the feel of the old place” as he makes the necessary repairs.
So what will replace that well-loved bar, polished by decades of elbows hoisting cocktails and pints? Eslami said that he hopes to find some material that is pre-weathered instead of new and shiny, and will recreate the weathered wooden bar in a shop nearby. He realizes this is a daunting task, but remains committed.
“The finishes are critical,” he said. “People have a sense of belonging.” Pointing to the bar’s 1970s-era wood paneling, Eslami said that it might have to be replaced instead of just removed and updated. It’s tough, he said, to figure out what improvements might be appreciated and what needs to stay the same. Meanwhile, much of the interior decor is stored in a big container, awaiting the day Eslami can move it back into the bar where it belongs.
Outside, the area next to the bar’s building consists of tarp-covered piles of dirt surrounded by mud from the rains from mid-January. Pointing to the mounds, Eslami described his plans for the outside: landscaping, bricks and tables.
The outdoor kitchen and eating area will be the same as before, but “warmer,” he said. The location of some elements was unresolved, but the menu will be similar to what was served before — classic dive bar fare of hot dogs, burgers and Impossible burgers, among other items.
There will be a canopy over the outside areas to offer some privacy from the looming Kaiser building next door. The things people really miss about the place — cheap drinks, dancing, the fire pit, Costco sausages, video poker and other games, lots of music and a neighborhood feel — could very well pick up where they left off, if all goes well in the next few months.
Although his original intention was to reopen the Missouri Lounge in March, Eslami said that all the usual construction and supply chain delays make a summer opening more realistic. Besides, things take time when you’re trying to preserve a place instead of just ripping everything out and starting from scratch. But that’s what he has to do to keep in place what makes the Missouri the Missouri. “People want their comfortable ‘blanket,’” Eslami said, “even though the old blanket is gone.”