In late 2020, Berkeley’s 60-year-old Albatross Pub permanently closed, just two years after owner Andrew McGee bought the business. The months of lockdown proved too much for the historic watering hole, which — as it did not serve food — was completely shut down by local health orders as the COVID-19 crisis raged.

“Even before the pandemic, we were not making tons of money, the profit margin was pretty slim,” McGee told Nosh reporter Supriya Yelimeli at the time of the closure. Unable to find a compromise with the landlord of his bar’s 1822 San Pablo Ave. space, McGee had no choice but to close the storied business. “We just didn’t make it, time just kind of ran out,” he said.

As part of his report on small businesses along San Pablo Avenue, journalist and audio producer Noah Baustin spoke with McGee about his memories of the Albatross and the difficult decision to shutter the business. You can listen to Baustin and McGee’s conversation in the player above, or read it in the transcript below. — Eve Batey

Please note: This transcript was created using an AI program and was then edited by Cityside staff. In some cases, it might not align perfectly with the audio, and might contain grammatical or spelling errors.

A collection of photos of regulars at the pub in 1967
A collection of photos of regulars at the Albatross in 1967, including some who later passed away and were given plaques. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

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Andrew McGee: When I first started working there, this was 2004, when I first started working there. There were a lot of people who were going to the Albatross who had been going to the Albatross since it opened in 1964.

My name is Andrew McGee. I’m the, yeah, I mean, I was the owner of the — I still am technically one of the owners of — the Albatross pub. 

We had, they were little brass plaques. That would go around the armrest of the wood of the entire bar. And those brass plaques were all people who were regulars. And whenever they passed away, we would memorialize them on the bar itself. 

A lot of the other old time regulars, they’ve all passed away, you know, and that’s, you know, I’m the one who has all those stories now.

Various people would come in, there was a conductor. Yeah, there was famous, yeah, well-known conductors that would come in. And and this particular conductor, he liked to tell dirty jokes. Yeah. So, he came in and he was with a lot of like very…orchestra people. Very proper orchestra people.

The cozy inside of the Albatross. Credit: Supriya Yelimeli

And this conductor came in and said, “Oh, Andrew, how are you?” I said, “Oh hey, what’s up?” And I just launched into a really dirty joke. All of, all of these, like really proper people were just kind of just a little like…and the conductor just laughed his ass off and was just like, “That’s why I love this place. That’s why I love this place!” And just, you know, ordered drinks for everybody. 

COVID is what made it challenging. Nothing was challenging about it until COVID.

You know everybody said, well, it’ll be a couple of months, it’ll be a couple of months. And then, when it was December of 2020 and there was still no end in sight, we still had to pay rent for everything. But we didn’t have unlimited money. So that’s when we knew things were getting really serious. 

Noah Baustin: What was that moment like, when you did have to make the decision that you were going to close down the bar at that location? 

McGee: It was incredibly frustrating and maddening. We were and still are determined to try and resurrect it as something. It just kind of stinks because that particular space is what the Albatross was, so much, because it had been there since 1964. 

You know, we didn’t need…There were a couple of people whose phone numbers I had, but really everybody just met at the Albatross. I didn’t need their phone number because it would just be like, “alright I’ll see you on Thursday” or “I’ll be here.” You know, they all knew when I was there.

That kind of sucks because there are tons of people who I wish I had their phone number. I just always saw them there.

Featured photo of Andrew McGee: Ximena Natera for Berkeleyside/CatchLight