BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Another fire, another one of Bakersfield postwar landmarks gone forever. This time, it’s Chet’s Club, which was right next door to one of the city’s original honky-tonks.
Mere weeks after another important Bakersfield Sound landmark, Trout’s, burned to the ground, another important place from Bakersfield history in the ‘50s and ‘60s, is gone as well.
Destroyed by fire Tuesday night was a card room called Chet’s Club, which in its heyday was right next door to the legendary Edison Highway honky-tonk, the Lucky Spot. Every local country music star of the era, including Buck Owens during the 1950s and Merle Haggard during the ‘60s, played at The Lucky Spot at one time or another, and every one of them most likely went out the back door to Chet’s between sets or after the show for a cold Schlitz or a bowl of Chet’s renowned chili. That made Chet’s a green room of sorts, where the stars cooled their heels.
Chet was Chester Thompson, who opened the card room in 1947 and it in 1954 sold it to Herb Malouf, who ran it for 30 years. It had a brief run as a strip club in the late 1980s but has otherwise been strictly a warehouse.
Herb’s son Bob Malouf, picking through the charred remnants Thursday, said Chet’s had a small but great menu.
“They prided themselves on having an honest card game and very good food,” he said.
Bob’s brother William Malouf, said Chet’s had a hilarious cast of regular characters.
“People in the motion picture industry from L.A. who drive up there where they could have anonymity,” he said. “Young Merle and young Buck, Fuzzy Owen, Bonnie Owens, and Gene Moles, that whole crowd, they would all hang out at Chet’s Club, because next door at the Lucky Spot, they’d play.”
William, who played in an L.A.-based rock band and kept his hair long, had to watch his step when he entered his father’s Bakersfield bar.
“There were times in the ‘70s where we’d be on Sunset Boulevard hanging and, You know what sounds good? A bowl of Chet’s chili. I, having long hair, and that being kind of a rough area at the time, I’d go in, sit down at the counter and I’d hear the murmurs down the counter. And I’d hear people whisper, That’s Herb’s boy. Don’t kill him.”
On April 17 the Oildale honky-tonk Trout’s burned to the ground, wiping out what many considered the last surviving country-music saloon of the era. The Lucky Spot burned down years ago when someone flipped a lit cigarette into a trash can. An auto body shop built at that location honors the name today.
At least a piece Chet’s Club remains – the most recognizable piece – the red and white metal sign, which the Malouf brothers fortuitously donated to the Kern County Museum two years ago. It’s now one of the most striking artifacts in the museum’s recently opened Bakersfield Sound exhibit. The Maloufs only wish they’d donated the bar their father built to the museum as well.
“It was just a great slab of history,” William Malouf said. “It’s sorta been gone, but now it’s really gone.”