At the Jolly Roger Restaurant in the small Southern California town of Oceanside, you can order an Avocado Blast as a starter (tempura-battered avo stuffed with shrimp and tuna), Orange Coconut Salmon as an entree (panko-crusted with a sweet ginger glaze), and fruit-topped New York Cheesecake as a dessert, all while watching live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights. The “JR” may be a little fancy for your tastes but let me tell you; it’s a LOT fancy for mine. That’s because the only version of the Jolly Roger I ever knew was my favorite boyhood burger joint. As pirates like to say, “Aarrr…”
Why blog about a long-ago restaurant? Because I’ve just returned from several days of vacation in Del Mar (just a few miles south of Oceanside), where my family and I spent my childhood summers. Del Mar is renowned for its county fair and thoroughbred racetrack (“Where the Turf Meets the Surf”), but for me it was – and still is – a nirvana of sun, sand, and surf; chock-full of happy, carefree memories. Including the Jolly Roger.
The beauty of Del Mar back in the day, besides its seaside location, was the sheer simplicity of the place. The town was the perfect setup for a kid. You could walk or bike from the residential areas to the shops in minutes. You could spend pocket money on Slurpees and pinball at the 7-11. You could meet/greet frequent passenger trains at Del Mar’s tiny station (while those same trains flattened pennies on the rails). You could also sneak into the racetrack, collecting discarded betting tickets in hopes of finding an overlooked winner. And if you were lucky, you had dinner at the Jolly Roger.
The Jolly Roger got its start as an ice cream parlor in 1945, adjacent to the lake in Big Bear, CA. But the lake promptly went dry, which led to a lack of landlubbers walking through the doors. The parlor then relocated to Newport Beach (where the ocean never goes dry). Patrons soon asked for more than ice cream, so the JR evolved into a coffee shop; then into a chain of restaurants. At its peak, the JR had forty locations, each adorned with the trademark black flag with skull and crossbones. But as one article cruelly described its demise in 1985, “…the Jolly Roger pirate has ‘walked the plank’, and the restaurant chain has been consigned to Davey Jones’ locker.” As far as I know, Oceanside is now the only remaining restaurant.
There’s more to my JR memories than those couple of seaside locations. The JR also had a restaurant in the heart of Los Angeles, in a shopping center my dad developed back in the 1960’s. The center is still there but alas, not the JR (now a Mexican restaurant). No matter; the memories remain. I never complained when my dad wanted to stop by his center on weekends. That usually meant a family dinner at the JR, and a lot of yo-ho-ho-ing around the table.
Sadly, the Jolly Roger location where my family and I shared many a dinner – next door to Del Mar in Solana Beach – is also gone (converted into a Starbucks – shiver me timbers!) And the Oceanside restaurant has evolved into something a whole lot fancier. No matter again. My JR will always exist. I picture the restaurant where the waiters dressed like pirates, the kid’s menus looked like a pirate, and the best options for dinner were burgers & fries, grilled cheese, and milkshakes. The JR also had quite the dessert menu, including full-boat chocolate sundaes and coconut-cream pie.
Dead men tell no tales, but I sure do. Thanks for the memories, JR!