The Noriega Hotel stands as a pillar of Bakersfield's culinary scene.
The Elizalde family has owned and operated the Basque restaurant since 1931. But soon, that long-standing ownership will be changing hands.
Bill Osathanugrah, the owner of KK's Cafe and Happy Wings, purchased the Noriega Hotel name and liquor license. He's as much of a fan of the Basque establishment as anyone in Bakersfield.
With that said, he'll try to keep the same Basque food and environment that many have grown to love over the years. Osathanugrah's purchase of the Noriega was in hopes of keeping its identity intact.
"We're going to try and keep it the same," he said. "We love it. We eat there a lot."
Osathanugrah is looking for a new location for the restaurant and anticipates to find a new home for it in the coming weeks. He said his preference was to keep it in its Old Town Kern location but that rent prices became too high.
On April 24, the Elizalde family announced on Facebook that because of rising rent costs and an uncertain future caused by COVID-19, the owners would be liquidating the business and selling away dining tables, Basque table clothes and other items that held the history of the restaurant's 89 years of business.
The estate sale, originally set for Friday and Saturday, has been canceled after Osathanugrah purchased almost all of the old furniture, plates and Basque tablecloths that helped give the restaurant its identity.
He said he could have more details such as restaurant amenities and menu offerings as soon as next week.
There are two pieces of Noriega history that won't be making the transition to the new establishment — the bar and back bar. The Kern County Museum bought them to add in the trolley car room, a section of the Pioneer Village area of the museum.
"I've got a photograph of me and my parents in 1957 sitting at that bar," said museum Executive Director Mike McCoy. "There's something nice in the idea that this will continue to be engaged by the community."
McCoy remains in talks to purchase the neon sign of the Noriega. The unspoken rule for the bar was that it should stay in the county, McCoy said.
"We didn't want it to be in a man-cave or a private club, but some place that the community can go to," McCoy said.