Some are calling it an end of an era.

The old sign that has burned neon red and green above Amestoy's on the Hill for decades was carefully removed Monday in preparation for the closure of the once popular neighborhood watering hole.

The bad news may be that another old neighborhood gathering spot is closing its doors. The good news is that the sign will be restored and displayed at the Kern County Museum's Neon Plaza for years to come.

"What is it they say? If the walls could talk? I believe that sign has a million stories," said Jessica Lessaos, who worked for years behind the bar at the 71-year-old tavern before becoming a barber.

Amestoy's proprietor Mike Miller donated the bar's weatherbeaten but venerable old sign to the museum, but when museum CEO Mike McCoy initially said the nonprofit museum didn't have the money to cover the electrical repairs, restore the surface of the sign, and reinstall the antique at the museum's neon plaza, people in Bakersfield "stepped up" to help, he said.

Mike Miller also received several phone calls, each one essentially asking, "How can I help?"

The Ben H. And Gladys Arkelian Foundation, The Harry and Ethel West Foundation and an anonymous individual reached out to help, McCoy said.

"People in the community stepped up," McCoy said. "It happens all the time."

Miller, now 58, was just 25 and a regular customer when he decided one day he'd earned the right to walk behind the bar. 

The bar's founder, the late Frank Amestoy, came down hard, telling him in language too colorful to include in a family newspaper that if Miller was going to be behind the bar, he'd better start washing dishes.

Miller did as he was told.

"At the end of the night Frank told me, 'Be back tomorrow and I'll show you how to pour,'" Miller remembered.

Miller would go on to work for Frank and Marie Amestoy for decades before buying the bar and running it as his own — but always with Frank and Marie's names burning in neon on the wall.

"My dad's parents came in here," he said. "It was a family tradition."

That was the case for countless other families who frequented the joint, sometimes to celebrate, sometimes to share their sorrow over the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job.

"I grew up here," said Paul Martinez, 42, who stopped by Monday to get a photo in front of the sign before it was hauled away.

"My cousins came here. My family came here," he said. "I'm sorry to see it close, but I'm glad to know the sign is going to the museum."

Lessaos was on the verge of tears as she watched workers cut the steel supports for the sign and lower it to the ground with a crane.

"It's going to be weird coming down the street and not seeing the sign up there," she said. "For me, no matter what was going on in my life, or what kind of day I was having, when I turned the corner, it felt like home."

People in the neighborhood celebrated weddings and divorces, marked the births of grandchildren and held wakes there to say goodbye to friends who had passed. It was a place where everybody knew your name.

"I left here as a bartender," Lessaos said, "but I never really left here."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

(2) comments

Django

Nothing racist about this bold statement.

Stephen

It's great the sign is being preserved but the greater issue is who defines a neighborhood. Do punks and gang bangers rule or do the decent people who pay the taxes and do the productive work of making society operate? Based on what we observe on the street it's the punks and gang bangers who've won the streets and the neighborhood.

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