Friday, May 16, 2008

Adios, Amigo

Time to say farewell to someone with whom most of my blogreaders won't be familiar. Hell, I only met the guy a few times myself. But, oh how he impacted my social life!

I'm talking about Bob McCord, owner of the Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas, California since 1974. Bob died May 12, 3 weeks after getting the diagnosis of a rare brain cancer. Ironic, in a way. According to reports, he went out cussing his "one-in-a-million" luck--yet those same odds played in his favor back when he was a young man. Turns out, his first career was in television, and it was while he was scouting locations in Arizona that his plane went down, killing all aboard but him. Injured, alone, and without water or food, he survived two days in the desert before being located. Later, a faulty transponder led to a hefty settlement--which he used to purchase a small, family-owned restaurant in Calabasas.

Personally, I'd be interested knowing whether he had a vision then--or, if he improvised as he went along. As the story goes, one day he took the tables and chairs outside to wash them, then noticed arriving customers sitting down to wait for service. Voila. Dining al fresco at the Sagebrush Cantina was born.

I remember well the first day I encountered its new incarnation. It was 1978, and I'd moved back to Calabasas after graduating from college. About ten of us, hung over from partying the night before at a club called Tennessee, Gin & Cotton, gathered to drink pitchers of margaritas and kamikaze shots. On a tiny stage crammed against a wall, a trio played mostly mellow music. Under the gently swaying trees, we shared jokes, laughs...youth.

Back then, the Sagebrush was a well-kept secret, but as the years passed, word got out. Either because Bob created a buzz or because the place on its own did, I don't know. Eventually, he absorbed half the parking lot to double the size of the patio and began adding oddities he'd collected from all over the world. I'm talkin' things like ferris wheels, train locomotives, and all kinds of circus memorabilia. No matter how often you went, you never knew what to expect.

And it wasn't just the decor. Oh, no. Nor was Bob satisfied with merely offering decent Mexican food at reasonable prices. Entertainment became key as well. Still mellow on weekday afternoons, but come Friday night, the rockers arrived. Good ones. I swear, one of the reasons younger generations in this area know about 60's music is because they grew up hearing it at the Cantina with their parents.

I'm not sure which decade saw Sundays at the Cantina become so popular. I mean, like I say--they were a staple for me and my friends from the get-go, but eventually the routine caught on all over the Valley. Hell, how about all over southern California? Celebrities, too. I've never been able to verify whether Bruce Springsteen truly got up and jammed one afternoon, but it wouldn't surprise me. After all, Sundays attract the widest variety of people you'll ever find in one place. From bikers in leather to socialites in silk. From babes in bikinis to sikhs in saris. Amazing.

And an integral part of the social fabric. In truth, the Sagebrush Cantina isn't a restaurant; it's a community, as evidenced by the countless relationships, friendships, marriages and yes--babies--which originated there.

So, it's with a heavy heart I note the passing of the man responsible for it all--the man who never once looked or acted like the hotshot owner of a popular restaurant/bar.

I hope he knew how much he meant to us.


Roberta said...

Very touching words!

Anonymous said...

so you remember it as 1978?

we spent my 21rst birthday al fresco @ the cantina - the year was 1974. El otro margarita por favor...

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you are aware but Mr. McCord's father Robert L McCord Sr.(1915-1980), was in the entertainment industry at one time. He worked as an extra on Television shows and motion pictures in the 1950s-early 1960s.
If you are familiar with the original Twilight Zone (1959-64) series, Mr. McCord was a regular. It appears that he worked as an extra on MANY of the episodes. A listing of his appearances can be seen here:
It appears that Mr. McCord appeared on more episodes than any actor, except for host Rod Serling. My reason for posting this message is to inquire whether you knew of the elder McCord, and his role on the TV series and other work he did. As a fan of the Twilight Zone I’d love to hear more about his work on the show.
I remember reading that Bob McCord (of Calabasas Cantina) had a son Robert IV, who is still living. This would be Robert L McCord Sr. grandson. If the grandson is aware of his grandfather’s role on the show, and has any information, I as well as other Twilight Zone fans would be much obliged if he would be willing to share any memories he has of his grandfather.
Thank you very much.