Pickwick’s fire ends a CSUN, Valley tradition

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I turned 21 two months ago, but had been looking forward to it for a long time, if only for the ability to go to shows that were 21 and over, and have new places to hang out late other than the dorms.

Shortly after my birthday, I recalled a place to go that my mother used to visit during her 20s and 30s, a local landmark known as Pickwick’s Pub.

This English pub, located on Ventura Boulevard between Canoga Avenue and DeSoto Avenue, was something of a family tradition. My parents had been drinking and playing darts there ever since it opened, and when my older brother turned 21, my parents took him there to pass on the family tradition. After my 21st birthday, I began to frequent Pickwick’s, mainly on Thursday nights.

The dark interior gave the pub a welcoming atmosphere. The long wooden tables lined up nicely, and were always filled with people responsibly enjoying their beverages, listening to live music from house musicians like Gary Ballen, Bob Cowsill, Mary White, and the Red Muffs. The back room was filled with people playing foosball, darts, video golf. The front porch offered pet-lovers a place to enjoy spirits in the company of their pets and each other.

This Valley tradition, decorated ceiling to floor with bits of British memorabilia, became a place for all its patrons to sit down, enjoy a beer, and have a conversation. Everyone from college students to war veterans, mothers and brothers, all enjoyed the warm, inviting atmosphere that Pickwick’s Pub provided.

My new Thursday night tradition came to an abrupt and devastating end earlier this month. Pickwick’s Pub burned in a fire the early morning of Sunday, April 3.

As I approached the pub the following Thursday, not knowing what had happened, I noticed that the sign that usually sports a portly English man, presumably Mr. Pickwick, was not illuminated or flashing as it normally does. As I walked up closer, I noticed that there was no one standing at the gate surrounding the patio, nor were there even any tables on the patio. The only contents of the patio were burned tables and charred debris from inside of the pub. The front was boarded up and the only sign of life was a note written on the plywood directing the mail-delivery person to leave the mail next door at the bookstore.

As I waited for my friend to show up to see the burned out bar, many others drove by, noticeably disappointed and angry. Others were just as confused as I was. There had been no word of this on the news or in the newspapers. What had happened to our bar?

I later found out while talking to a waitress at a Calabasas watering hole.

The night of the fire, a male customer was a bit irresponsible with alcohol, and became overly intoxicated. In typical drunken behavior, he began to verbally abuse a female bartender and took it to another level when he spit in her face. The bouncer escorted the intoxicated male customer out. Suddenly, the customer pulled a knife and threatened the bouncer with it before leaving without any further confrontation. The night continued as any other, although patrons and employees alike were still shaken by the encounter.

The pub closes at 2 a.m. nightly, and everyone had left when the drunken man returned with a surprise for the bar. Instead of coming back for a drink, he brought a cocktail with him — a Molotov cocktail. According to the waitress, the closing crew of the bar across the street saw him chuck it in through the front window. The fire gutted the bar, and that was the end of Pickwick’s.

The pub, which had been open for just about 30 years, is in a state of limbo regarding its being rebuilt. Although the owners would like to rebuild, the insurance may not cover the costs of rebuilding and that the landlord may not even allow them to rebuild after the fire.

The Red Muffs held a fundraiser for Pickwick’s to benefit the rebuilding process two weeks ago at Harper’s Sports Bar and Grille in Northridge.

The Pickwick’s Pub fire ended not only a tradition for a good number of CSUN students, but also for many people living in the Valley. There are few other options in the area for students looking for a good place to enjoy a nice beverage and good conversation. Nowhere I have found has an environment quite like that of the torched pub.

Pickwick’s will be greatly missed by the Valley, its patrons, the college community, and this one college student, in particular.

Gregg Fuller is a junior history major.