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larry blake’s

I suppose I should say a few words about Larry Blake’s, now that the place has closed down. As is often the case when your blog has been around for nine years, I’ve probably told all of these anecdotes before.

To get the basics out of the way, I’ll quote the Chronicle article:

Blake opened the restaurant in 1940 with a $700 investment. The restaurant's initial selling point was that it was the first establishment within a mile of campus to gain an alcohol license. Before this breakthrough, thirsty Cal students had to travel to Oakland, Albany or San Pablo Avenue to imbibe.

Larry Blake's second claim to fame was the salad dressing, a closely guarded recipe Blake reportedly devised while working as a cook in the military during World War II.

That salad dressing was delicious, by the way … I got a salad almost every time I ate there, just for the dressing. It was some kind of vinaigrette … might have used balsamic vinegar, I’m not sure.

What follows is a blend of fact, memory, and third-hand tale-telling. Before opening Larry Blake’s on Telegraph, Blake ran a place around the corner on Bancroft called Woody’s. (One last time: I’m not vouching for the accuracy of anything in this post.) I don’t know if the above-mentioned restaurant that opened in 1940 was Woody’s, or if that marks the time when Woody’s on Bancroft became Larry Blake’s on Telegraph. Based on what I know, I’m guessing Woody’s opened in 1940, and the move to Telegraph came later.

My mother grew up in Berkeley. She was 12 years old in 1940, and yes, her age makes some of this story sound a bit … well, you’ll see. In that year, or close enough to count, her father, George Harrison (no, not the Beatle), the chief engineer for an oil burner company (I have no idea what that is, I’m taking this from his obit in the Oakland Tribune), moved out of the house and into the Durant Hotel. I’ve heard various explanations for this, but the most believable seems to be that my grandmother kicked him out. As it was told to me, my mom and her family did OK during the Depression … her dad always had his engineering job. Once he left, though, the money left with him. He died in June of the following year … he was only 41, and I’ve been told he drank himself to death, and that he was a brilliant but troubled man.

Now, I know that part of the story is that my mom got a job waitressing. The age thing has me confused, but maybe it was different back then, and maybe 12 or 13-year-old girls waited tables. In any event, she waited tables, and the place where she worked was Woody’s. I believe her mom might have worked there, too … more about her and Larry Blake in a bit.

Sometime in the early 40s, my dad graduated from Antioch High School and started college at Cal. My sister knows more of this than I do, and hopefully she’ll correct me in the comments. He only lasted one semester before he joined the Army, and I think he was in the service during 1944-5. So maybe it was the fall of 1943 when he was at Cal … he would have been 19 at the time. Maybe this was a year earlier, 1942 when he was 18. Anyway, Woody’s was across the street from campus, and one day, my dad went there and my mom was working there, and that’s when they met.

Back to the age thing. If I place this in the fall of 1943, it doesn’t sound so bad … my dad a 19-year-old college freshman, my mom a 15-year-old high-schooler. If it was 1942, well, let’s don’t go there. However it began, in July of 1945, they were married.

Now there’s the gossip part of the story … my sister told me this one, I think. Someone, maybe a sister of my grandmother, once said that after my grandfather died, there was only one person who my grandmother seriously thought of marrying: Larry Blake.

Well, the rest of the story is barely worth telling, mostly a post-script. Robin and I ate at Blake’s a lot when we were first married and lived on Telegraph, and during my 14-year association with Cal, I would often suggest Blake’s when someone wanted to go to lunch. The salad dressing was always good. At some point, I ended up with a photo of the place when it was Woody’s on Bancroft … I brought it with me to Blake’s one time and told our server that my parents had met there back in the 40s. I haven’t been there for several years, though, and now I guess I’ll never get back.