A Home Away from Home

Photo by Kamala Kirk

Daniel De La Torre had frequented The Barkley Restaurant & Bar over the years as a customer, but never imagined that one day he would become the owner. He already owned The Castle Sports Bar and Grill in Manhattan Beach and wasn’t looking to take on a second business, but while chatting with Luis Cruz, one of The Barkley’s owners, he discovered that Cruz and his partner were interested in selling the place.

“I was born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley, and The Barkley was a place that I would visit every now and then,” said De La Torre. “I came in one night with a buddy and was chatting bar business with Louie, who mentioned that the place had been struggling. I felt it had so much potential and he suggested that I make him an offer. I thought he was joking, but he gave me his phone number as I was leaving and that’s when I realized he was serious. I was a little apprehensive, since my background was in the bar industry and The Barkley was more of a restaurant, but lo and behold, we started negotiating.”

De La Torre had always told his friends that someday he wanted to own a place similar to the bar on Cheers. He loved the idea of having a spot that would be like a clubhouse where he could book different bands and provide environment that felt like a second home to customers. He ultimately convinced his brother Frankie to invest in the business with him, and after almost a year of going back and forth with the owners, he closed the deal on the place.

“Part of the big reason why I finally settled on it was because I didn’t want to see The Barkley go away,” said De La Torre. “It was tough at first, but the place stayed alive, employees stayed employed and it worked out for the better.”

The Barkley has been open since 1951 and was originally named The Crossbow. In 1993 the restaurant was purchased by radio personality Roger Barkley, who renamed the place after himself. He eventually sold The Barkley in 1997 to former busboy Luis Cruz and waiter Carlos Quezada, who ran the business together until 2012, when they sold it to De La Torre.

For decades, The Barkley has remained a favorite among both locals and out-of-towners, and is known for providing great food and cocktails, outstanding service, as well as preserving and enhancing the tradition of warm hospitality and generosity that it has been known for throughout the years. South Pasadena Mayor David Sifuentes even proclaimed June 17, 2009, as “The Barkley Restaurant Day” in South Pasadena.

“At first we kept everything the same, including the bands that would perform here every week,” explained De La Torre. “But as time went on, we wanted to appeal to the younger generation as well. Frankie, who has a band, The Volcanics, and Mark San Filippo, who is in multiple bands including jazz/soul collective Angel Town Combo, which is The Barkley’s house band,  used their connections in the music industry to book different weekly acts, such as a popular Beatles tribute band, The Rubbers, which drew the crowds. Pasadena Weekly started doing articles on our shows and now we get new customers every month.”

Live music and entertainment are offered from Friday through Sunday evening (as well as the occasional Thursday), and on Wednesdays The Barkley hosts a comedy night in the banquet room. On occasion, famous faces such as Zach Galifianakis from The Hangover have shown up to perform a routine. One thing that makes The Barkley so special is that there is no cover charge or fee to come in—even for its annual New Year’s bash.

“We’ve never once charged a door cover,” said De La Torre. “Even dive bars will charge a cover and I vowed to never do that. Our drinks and food are also reasonably priced because we want to remain accessible to customers—especially our regulars that come in multiple times a week. We’re their home away from home.”

In regards to the overall look of the place, De La Torre kept changes to a minimum because he wanted to preserve the authentic feel of The Barkley. He painted the ceiling black to give it a homier vibe, and various bat-themed artifacts that were gifts from customers and friends are located throughout, but for the most part the place looks as it did many years ago—right down to the semi-circular leather booths. It’s also a popular filming location that has served as the backdrop for numerous television shows, including Modern Family.

Photo courtesy of The Barkley

“The joint looks pretty much the same as it did in 1951, which is cool because you don’t want to mess with that,” De La Torre pointed out. “A lot of our customers like the vibe in here, they feel like they’re walking into the past. We’ve even had customers do their wedding photoshoots here, posing in the booths. It has a very nostalgic feel to it.”

The Barkley has hosted numerous wedding receptions, parties and other events, and guests can rent out the entire back section of the restaurant. The private banquet room can also accommodate up to 40 people for those looking to host a dinner or smaller party.

The food menu features a diverse range of tasty offerings such as prime rib, filet mignon, New York steak, various pasta dishes, burgers and sandwiches, including the Monte Cristo—an old classic that uses French toast for bread and is hard to find at most restaurants nowadays. Lunch and dinner are served daily and all of the delicious cuisine is prepared by longtime chef Pancho, who has worked at The Barkley for 18 years.

“If there is anyone that gets the credit, it’s my entire staff,” said De La Torre. “My customers love the crew and bring them Christmas and birthday presents every year. We have a lot of long-timers like Pancho and Kristin, who has worked behind the bar for 25 years. I trust my team—they’ve become like family. Even when we’re on the clock, it doesn’t feel like work; everyone is hanging out and having fun.”

Another thing that makes The Barkley so special is that it’s open every day—even on holidays. Free tamales are offered on Christmas and a special turkey dinner is served to guests who don’t want to cook at home on Thanksgiving. Holiday or not, The Barkley is popular year-round with all of its loyal customers who enjoy coming in, whether it’s to kick back after a long day or enjoy a fun night out on the town among friendly faces.

Photo by Kamala Kirk

“I get a lot of people telling me that they would drive by here every day but didn’t know what The Barkley was,” said De La Torre. “There was some mystery to the place, which had to build up for some time before they finally came in—and now they’re regulars. My customers are like family. One of the recipes for a good bar environment is introducing people to each other, which my crew and I love to do. We’re always engaging people in conversation, getting them talking to one another which makes it a fun place. We offer an alternate reality in here. We’re like Disneyland—we make people happy.”

The Barkley Restaurant & Bar is located at 1400 Huntington Dr. in South Pasadena. It is open Monday – Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. For more information, call (626) 799-0758 or visit thebarkleyrestaurant.com.

The Barkley Restaurant & Bar Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 5.31.19. Support Local Business.