Much about the restaurant we once knew as TL Maxwell’s is new — new owners, new name, new aspirations. But much is old, too.
Or shall we call it "authentic"? Or "established"? Or maybe "historical"?
Let's call it all three. In fact, let's add commas and call it a marketing tagline.
The decades-old dinner house, about to be rechristened Horse in the Alley, has a rich history, and the couple who'll be running the place — Jason and Beth Browder, spouses who were servers at the old Maxwells — explain the place's history like a couple of museum docents.
The Browders, with the off-site assistance of Dr. Lee Marek, former owner of The Mark, are still renovating, but the Horse could be ready for a soft open as early as this week. It'll have essentially the same menu as before — steaks and seafood, including lobster, as well as that renowned malva pudding spongecake dessert — and the same head chef, Raul Cerda.
The Browders, married for 21 years, worked at Maxwell's for two years before former Bakersfield City Councilman and longtime restaurateur Terry L. Maxwell closed its doors this past spring.
The restaurant's new, full, official name is Block 273, aka Horse in the Alley Vintage Steakhouse, with the first part of that name representing, quite literally, the building's block designation on the original city grid and the second representing the password that'll get customers through the door — an "open-source password," so to speak, Jason Browder explains.
The restaurant opens onto the 17th Place Alley on the north side of what is commonly referred to as the Haberfelde Building. In actuality, it's the Elks Building, which was built in the 1890s, about 30 years before the larger, closely adjacent Haberfelde opened in 1927. The Elks Building served as the original home of the Bakersfield Elks Lodge, which occupied it from 1893 to 1923, when Prohibition essentially turned it into a speakeasy.
So, why "Horse in the Alley"?
"People used to hitch their horses in front," Jason noted. "There was a horseshoer around the corner."
Starting in the mid-1940s, the establishment was known as The Office, a gathering spot where, in the pre-Ralph M. Brown Act days, municipal movers and shakers sat around the distinctive, horseshoe-shaped bar and routinely hammered out local government business.
It was during that time, when the legendary Clyde Barbeau ran the place, that horses came into play in another sense: Patrons regularly came to place illegal bets on the ponies.
The Browders have that from a pretty good source: Clyde "Cookie" Barbeau Jr., a fixture at the bar until Maxwell's closed in May. Barbeau died in July at age 86.
"He was rooting for us to get this place," said Jason, who as bartender poured "Cookie" many a glass of red wine. Barbeau would then unfailingly shuffle off for a rack of lamb with broccoli (no other vegetables, please) on the side. "I wish he could have made it long enough to see us now."
The place is "Authentic, established, historical" — says so right on the Browders' business cards.
The official opening day could be as early as this weekend. Call 323-6889 for reservations.