Club Tee Gee in Atwater Village is a rare and beautiful thing. The dark cocktail lounge is a neighborhood institution that has survived—more or less in the same family—for 70 years. Next month, the venue’s liquor license and lease are both up for renewal and the institution is in for some big changes.
Neil W. Tracy and his brother-in-law Joe Grzybowski, who combined their initials “T” and “G” to create the club’s unusual name, opened the spot in 1947. They remodeled the vacant storefront with a distinctive flagstone façade early that year. The spectacular neon sign went up by Christmas, just in time for the postwar economic boom.
Tracy died in 1961, but it wasn’t long before Grzybowski met a young woman who would stick with the club for half a century. Betty Bartlotta was a New York transplant who had recently moved to the neighborhood with her family. She was a secretary who worked just a few doors away. The couple ran it together until Joe died of a heart attack in 1984.
Fire swept through the bar in 1993, but the neon soon crackled to life again as Bartlotta restored the Naugahyde booths and wood paneled walls, and reopened the hideaway. Longtime patrons felt so at home that a bronze plaque declaring the saloon “The ‘Cheers’ of Atwater Village” now hangs by the door.
Betty passed away thirteen months ago at the age of 79. She died “intestate,” says Marc Ramirez, who has managed the property for 25 years. “She had no will, no trust, no kids, and now every aunt and uncle and cousin is putting in their claim over there.” Ramirez represents the Hartman family, whose 96-year-old patriarch—also recently deceased—owned the property since the 1940s.
Bartlotta’s boyfriend Bob Kick has been running the bar and recently informed the landlord he does not intend to renew his lease. Ramirez says he has been swamped with offers ranging from bar operators (“One guy has 50 bars!”) and restaurants (half the space is taken up by an unused kitchen) to retail shops. “Some of them want to keep the old flavor and the history,” Ramirez says. “It’s been stuck in time.”
The vintage cocktail lounge has endured while the neighborhood around it has thrived and receded like ocean waves. The landmark building has no protections and could easily be erased. Here’s hoping it can survive this transition and keep a legendary business alive.
h/t: Eastsider L.A.