Bully’s celebrates 40 years as Bird Rock cornerstone

Bully’s restaurant in Bird Rock, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is more like a shrine than an eatery, with memories galore and a colorful history to match.

That reality isn’t lost on the restaurant’s new manager, David Parrent, who feels almost like he’s the custodian of a museum full of artifacts. “People can appreciate when they step back in time a little bit,” said Parrent. “One of our regular patrons moved to San Diego 38 years ago, and he said Bully’s is the first place he ever went into. He said, ‘I feel like I’m walking back in time. It’s the same place.’ I get that so often.”

Prior to Bully’s, Parrent worked at historical properties and restaurants in New Mexico and New Orleans. “I enjoy the nostalgia,” he said. “I love being able to tell people the interesting stories of how we came to be and where we plan to go with that. Hold on to the past, but never lose sight of the future.”

Bully’s originally started out under another name, the Pourhouse. Historic photos dot the restaurant’s walls recalling its founding back in 1967, when owners Charles and Beverly Becker opened it with stud fees from Beverly’s father’s horse that had finished third in the Kentucky Derby.

One of the Bird Rock restaurant’s featured artifacts is a garish painting of a winking naked lady with an almost cartoonish face. “She was originally not as Rubensque,” said Parrent. “The owner of the Pourhouse’s wife cheated on him. So he altered her (painting) in different areas, her face, redid her toes, too, to make her a little less appealing.”

Parrent pulled down an original framed menu of Bully’s from 40 years ago that is now part of the dimly lit restaurant’s decor. In 1967, a full-cut, 22-ounce prime rib dinner sold for $4.95. Lobster or crab legs were $4.25. A humongous Bully burger was $1.50. A cup of coffee was 15 cents. “That’s how we started out,” said Parrent, “with a very simple menu. We do have more items now. But the core of our menu is still the prime rib and our steaks. All of our beef is from a ranch in Montana with no hormones or steroids or anything like that.”

Bully’s, which now has wireless computer capabilities set up for each of its booths, has a database with nearly 4,000 patron’s names. The month of May the restaurant will spend celebrating its 40th anniversary. Special anniversary coupons for $5 off will be sent to patrons. They’ll also receive $15 off the cost of a dinner when their birthday rolls around. “We’ve seen an amazing response from that,” said Parrent.

Parrent intends to join in the Bird Rock commercial renaissance that is ongoing. Business life, however, is going to be disrupted when construction on the last three of five roundabout traffic circles commences soon. “My vision for this place is really to network with the other businesses,” he said. “I’d like us to start building ourselves up as a district. This road construction is going to be a temporary setback. It’s just going to make it much more pleasant, going to allow more parking, make it safer out on the streets to go from shop to shop.”

Bully’s chef Enio Picasso has been with the restaurant almost 16 years. He said not much has changed about the establishment or its cuisine during that time, which is a good thing, because people know what to expect. Picasso went through 100 pounds of corned beef recently celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Picasso is also noted for his soups, which are made fresh every day of the week.

Bully’s now features live entertainment, jazz or blues, every Saturday night. Other nights are added when business picks up in the prime summertime between Memorial Day and mid-October when tourists and the Del Mar race crowd beef up attendance.

A successful restaurateur in Pittsburgh, Parrent was looking for new challenges. He sent out his resume and Bully’s proved to be the most attractive alternative. “I’m from the old school,” he said. “This place is a diamond in the rough now, but it can be polished and be that gem of the neighborhood. When I walked in, I saw so how much potential was in the place.”

With its solid, loyal, local customer base and some imaginative management, Parrent believes Bully’s will still be a cornerstone of the community 40 years from now. “This is part of La Jolla history now,” he said. “There are a lot of different ways we’ve come up with to make us a new destination.”

Bully’s opens daily for breakfast-lunch at 11 a.m. Dinner is served from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call Bully’s at 5755 La Jolla Blvd. at (858) 459-2768.