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Building a Family: Past, Present, and Future of the Cat & Fiddle Pub

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I went to the Cat and Fiddle as a patron for the first time ten years ago, during the first days I lived here. I was an outsider moving into the big city, but at the Cat and Fiddle, I felt like an insider. Jess, my best friend from college, was a native of L.A. During one summer break, we had stayed in L.A. and spent much of the summer hanging out with her childhood friends. I found her friends fascinating -- they were so cosmopolitan, so mature, so effortlessly chic. The most interesting to me were the twins, Ashlee and Camille Gardner. Ashlee, with her fringed bangs and vintage car, was particularly captivating. She was so cool, but her coolness didn't stop her from being incredibly engaging and warm. I knew the girls' family owned a pub in Hollywood and that their dad, Kim, had recently passed away. I think one time we even dropped in on Ashlee at the pub on a sleepy late afternoon. But it wasn't until I graduated from college and moved permanently to Los Angeles that I experienced the Cat and Fiddle in all its congenial glory.

I stood in the packed Spanish style courtyard late one night with a group of equally eager new friends, who had all come from other places to make some sort of artistic dream come true. A couple of drinks in, I was eager to tell everyone that I knew the owners, but I quickly realized it didn't matter. At the Cat and Fiddle, everyone belonged. Everyone was family. Everywhere there were groups from different parts of the globe laughing and talking, hoisting a pint in the air, getting a little rowdy.

Over the years, I would occasionally return to the Cat and Fiddle, and always feel at home. When it was announced that the Cat had been forced out of its lease and would be closing its current location on December 15, I got invitations from no fewer than three very different groups of friends, all arranging one last meet up at their favorite haunt. Rich rockers, poor hipsters, intellectuals, artists, preps, and jocks all considered it to be a very important place in their lives. A week ago, I visited this incarnation of the Cat and Fiddle for the last time. My friends and I laughed and hugged and even sang a song or two. It was a very good night.

Pub Life

On the first night in his new role as a publican, British rock bass player Kim Gardner was so anxious to make the classic [last call] announcement "Time gentlemen, please!" that he stood on a high bar stool to say it. "I got smacked right in the head by the ceiling fan," Gardner said. "It was on high speed, too."--Los Angeles Times, April 16, 19881
"That boy will do anything for a pint."-- Kim's step-dad

Kim Gardner was born in Dulwitch, England, in 1948. He grew up with his mother and grandparents. In his early teens, Kim moved to West Drayton, England. It was here that the good-natured, gregarious Kim met up with Ronnie Wood, a neighborhood boy who would become a legendary member of the Rolling Stones. They began jamming together and would become lifelong friends and early collaborators. Kim soon dropped out of school and took to the road in a van, playing in pubs all over England and Germany. Over the next few years, he played bass in a series of highly influential rock and roll bands, including the Birds, the Creation, and Ashton, Gardner and Dyke, whose single "Resurrection Shuffle" was a hit on the European charts in 1971.

Kim's life changed forever in 1973, while he was in New Orleans recording and touring with Jackie Lomax, the first artist signed to Apple Records, the Beatles' music label. He was hanging out in a bar on Bourbon Street when he met Paula, the owner of a vintage clothing store in the French Quarter called "The Cocky Fox." "It was a really good bar,"( L.A. Times Cat & Fiddle Is a Pub's Pub With a Kicked-Back Feel June 26, 1996) Paula remembers. Kim soon came to Los Angeles on a record contract, and Paula came to visit him. She never left. Instead, she and Kim began to build a life together (their first daughter, Eva, was born in 1979). Kim continued to tour and to work as a sought after session musician. Business-savvy Paula opened Lily Bleu, a successful shoe store in Santa Monica. In their downtime, they would hang out in bars and pubs with Kim's many famous friends. Eventually, Kim decided to stop patronizing pubs and start one himself. According to his daughter Ashlee:

Dad didn't know how to run a business, let alone a pub. He loved people and people loved him. He was an entertainer and there was no pub around. The closest place Mom and Dad liked to go to was the King's Head over in Santa Monica. So he saw an opportunity.

The first Cat and Fiddle opened at 2100 Laurel Canyon Boulevard in October 1982, two weeks before the birth of twins Ashlee and Camille. After Kim realized he had bit off more than he could chew with his new venture, Paula closed her shoe store to help manage the pub. This led to a long running joke between Paula and Kim. "When Dad was being silly and Mom was upset about something in the restaurant, he always said, "Well, I gave you a job, didn't I?" Ashlee remembers her Mom would reply, "I had a job, and one that I liked very much!"

Paula Gardner at the original Cat & Fiddle in Laurel Canyon
Paula Gardner at the original Cat & Fiddle in Laurel Canyon

The pub, which featured a full bar and traditional English fare, soon attracted many British expats, as well as the couple's friends from the world of music and fashion. The pub was so successful that it led to its downfall. Neighbors began to complain of late nights filled with drunk shouting and motorcycles revving. In 1984, vengeful Canyon residents found the site had never been zoned for a bar, and the Cat and Fiddle was forced to find a new home. A Los Angeles Times profile from the time reported:

During the last week of business, faithful customers filled the woodsy-looking pub. Displaced Britons, many of them musicians ... ate fish and chips, usually washed down with a dark beer. Some played darts, but most seemed to be talking wistfully about the closing of their favorite gathering place. A young man with long hair, whose attire seemed an elaborate Hollywood version of a homemade Western style outfit, asked a female newcomer, "Don't you feel comfortable here? That's the kind of place this is. Women can come in here and not feel threatened. Lots of us live in the canyon. We don't want to go up to Hollywood. It's a shame they are making them close." 2

Kim soon found a new place to do business. It was an indoor-outdoor space in a two-story Spanish-style shopping complex at 6530 Sunset Boulevard. Built in 1927 by cowboy star Fred Thomson (husband of famed screenwriter Francis Marion), it had been billed as the first step in making Sunset Boulevard equal to the famed Rue de la Paix in Paris. Over the years, it had been home to popular restaurants like Le Gourmet, Mouling, and Sunset Gardens. Kim was instantly smitten, particularly with the garden-like patio, shaded by palms, eucalyptus, and enhanced by a small gurgling fountain:

"I looked three or four places, but when I saw this one, I got very excited," Gardner ... over a pint of Harp lager ... holding a Marlboro, said, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial tone. His eyes twinkled as he quietly sang, "It's got a nice patio." He had uttered the same words to his wife, Paula, when he made the decision to sign a long term lease on the property. 3

The fun had only just begun.

Thomson Buliding, the future home of Cat & Fiddle as it looked ca. 1928 | Photo: Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Thomson Buliding, the future home of Cat & Fiddle as it looked ca. 1928 | Photo: Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

Kim's Club

"Dad liked EVERYONE. The pub was like his own personal playground. He even had a box of toys -- yes a box of toys, like whoopee cushions, fake electric lighters, kaleidoscope glasses, rubber insects. He was constantly playing jokes. The staff were often confused cause they didn't know what he was saying with his thick English accent. They didn't know whether he was telling a joke or being serious."--Ashlee Gardner
"I don't have any idea what I'm doing. I was bluffing when I started, and I'm bluffing now."-- Kim Gardner 4

The Gardner family soon settled into a comfortable routine. Paula ran the pub during the day, taking care of the paperwork and payroll. Kim held court at night. The three girls grew up at Cat and Fiddle and other pubs the family frequented on their many trips around the world. Ashlee remembers secretly playing slot machines, and playing with the children of John Entwistle and Ronnie Wood while their parents relaxed and shared a pint. In their high school years, the girls spent many afternoons doing homework at the bar and hanging out with regulars, like those they called Uncle Skip and Uncle George. Employees, like manager Christie Scarafia, became part of the Gardners' extended family. She remembers, "As a 24 year old moving to L.A. and away from my Midwest small-town, the Cat and Fiddle became my home ... Four separate times over the past 21 years I would leave and the Gardners would always welcome me back. I have always loved the diversity of the clientele, from the rockers to the families with their kids, and of course, the famous and almost famous."

Kim Gardner sitting in with the band
Kim Gardner sitting in with the band

This family feeling extended to the pub's many famous patrons, who were able to relax at the Cat and Fiddle. One night found Kim and Eric Clapton playing darts. Always the showman, Kim turned around backwards to throw his last dart and got a bulls eye, winning the game. Rod Stewart would arrive with his entire soccer team in tow. Drew Barrymore and Christopher Lloyd were there all the time. It seems every popular British band that came through Los Angeles stopped in at the Cat, whose menu of bangers and mash, kidney pie, and plowman's lunch reminded them of home. But besides a weekly jazz brunch, an open mic night, and special events, Kim made the decision that the pub would not be a music club. "Then people come by based on who you've got performing that night," he explained. "So instead, I've made this a place to get away from all the music clubs." 5

Kim was the sun around which life at the Cat revolved. "My favorite stories are mostly of Kim," Scarafia says. "He would wander around reciting limericks, sipping a pint with the lads, and just looking to have a laugh with anyone who would join in. If the night wasn't lively enough, he'd get up on the bar and tell a joke or do a little jig with a funny hat -- just get everyone riled up!" At the Sunday jazz brunch he'd sit in as the 'mystery bassist' and jam to Miles Davis' "All Blues."

"Dad was nocturnal," Ashlee says, "so he used to invite regulars, friends, or homeless people walking around our front gates inside for a pint. He would hang out with anyone that would listen to him and his stories."

After Kim died of cancer in 2001, the homeless folks he befriended would occasionally still come in, looking for their non-judgmental friend. Eva was now on her way to being a very successful touring musician, and the only woman honored with her own Fender signature bass. Camille and Ashlee were in college. In 2005, Ashlee became a full-time employee at Cat and Fiddle. Shortly thereafter, she became a partner with Paula. But Kim's spirit lived on. Many years later, Ashlee talked to Sir Paul McCartney and his wife, as they sipped coffee on a bench in the courtyard, before a show down the street. He was one among many who had known Kim back in the day.

Kim Gardner with his father at the original Cat & Fiddle in Laurel Canyon
Kim Gardner with his father at the original Cat & Fiddle in Laurel Canyon

The Torch is Passed (Resurrection Shuffle)

"I wind up coming to the Cat on most of my days off. I kind of assumed it would always be there, even as a place I could come back to in the future and bring my kids there, if I ever have any. When I took a job opportunity in Seattle in 2010, I found myself thinking about the Cat all the time. I would call the host and check in and want to know stories. When I came back to Hollywood for a wedding 10 months later, I picked up a few shifts and wound up moving back the next week."--Danny Riordan, Cat and Fiddle server

Life at the Cat and Fiddle eventually moved on. Ashlee was perfectly suited in her role as the friendly face of the Cat and Fiddle, graduating from USC in business/entrepreneurship and having spent much of her life working in and patronizing pubs of all sorts. Weekly trivia nights, movie nights, soccer viewing parties, and special music events drew new clientele. The 2000s also saw a new group of celebrity regulars, including Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant from Reno 911. Morrissey is another regular. He recently spent the night rocking out with Noel Gallagher in a corner, as Russell Brand chatted with customers at the bar, drinking an iced soy latte. The collegial, fun spirit of the pub is as strong as ever. Longtime customer and family friend Jamie Rarrick remembers:

Halloween ... Camille and I decided to go all out for our costumes, so we rented a full cow costume. I'm talking a giant cow costume, where one is the head and one is the back of the cow. We had also decided to not tell anyone what we were so not even Paula knew. That night the pub had a live band, as they usually do for big parties. We timed it so that we would dance from the front entrance. So there we were, a dancing cow in the middle of the court yard, dancing with the guests, everyone loved it. People were taking pictures. It was one of the times that everyone was having such a great time and celebrating, enjoying each other, such a great crowd.

It is fitting that the pub that was the result of Paula and Kim's love story has been the site of so many more. Longtime employee Christie Scarafia met her husband, Rob, at the pub over 15 years ago. Steve and Stacy were aspiring actors and servers who fell in love while working their shifts. Erin was a bartender who was pursued for months by Jake, a patron, until she finally relented (they now have twins). Melanie was a server who met her future husband, Charles, the CEO of a neighboring company, Creative Asylum, through the window on the famed patio. Most recently, Kim, a server, met and married Matt, a director at Creative Asylum. "During this difficult time," Ashlee says, "Mom and I constantly are touched by all the stories and marriages and babies that come from this special location."

This fall, the gentrification of Hollywood finally caught up with the Cat and Fiddle. After their landlords refused to renegotiate their lease, the blogosphere was in an uproar. Protest petitions were started, Facebook pages were formed, and the Cat and Fiddle experienced a huge increase in sales. As always, the Cat and Fiddle staff has stuck together. "All of them are doing such a great job right now with the huge increase in business with the announcement of our closing," Ashlee says. "They are pulling doubles and pitching in wherever they can. I keep hearing from them and have gotten text messages saying: 'We are staying till the end cause we are a family and we stick together.' What a crew."

The Gardners plan to open the Cat and Fiddle in a new location. No doubt, their many loyal customers and staff will follow them, wherever they go. The Cat and Fiddle remains a decidedly family affair. "My twin sister, Camille, will be brought in as a partner in the new location, along with Mom and my fiancé, Justin Raisen," Ashlee explains. "He is a producer and songwriter for today's top up and coming musicians, and some already successful artists will also be involved. The new generation is here to move the Cat and Fiddle forward, and we're ready for it!"

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Special thanks to Ashlee and Paula Gardner and the employees of the Cat and Fiddle.

Photos courtesy of The Cat & Fiddle/Facebook, unless otherwise noted.

_____

1 "Oh to sink a pint and sling some arrows" Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1988
2 "City oversight will force pub to close" Los Angeles Times, November 8, 1984
3 "Pub ambience on a patio" Los Angeles Times, July 23, 1989
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.

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