RIP, the Cellar

The Cellar, 195 N. Central Ave. in Upland, is gone, which caused me to reflect on the high turnover in that building.

Sneakers was the tenant in the late ’90s, the only time I ventured inside. There was at least one other restaurant or club in there between Sneakers and the Cellar, probably two (the name Penguin’s comes to mind), and no doubt there were many more before Sneakers.

At one point post-Sneakers an operator had (I think) Jello wrestling matches in a desperate attempt to get customers in the door, until police cracked down.

And yet year after year, optimistic entrepreneurs keep leasing the building, sure they can make something work. In fact, another business already appears to be moving in to replace the Cellar.

Anyone remember previous tenants there?

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  • Rod L.

    The restaurant on Central was a Jericho’s Mile for a while. That was the owner who brought in Foxy Boxing and mechanical bull riding.

  • Charles Bentley

    As I remember it, the building’s original tenant was a restaurant & bar called “McFly’s.” Sorry to disappoint, but I remember this as being well before the “Back to the Future” trilogy made it on the big screen. The building itself took some time to complete, with a tremendous amount of intricate and ornate woodwork, especially around the bar. The bill of fare was basic but nice (I seem to recall having a salad of some sort at lunch one day).
    One item that does stick out in my mind was a large window located on the establishment’s north wall. It perfectly framed the image of Mount Baldy, which was identified in a sign placed next to the window.
    While not positive, I believe Sneakers was the first true “sports bar” of its kind in the area. Other locations featured televisions and the like, but the whole focus of Sneakers was catering to the “sports crowd.” So much so that the owners opened up early during the 1994 World Cup so that soccer fans could come watch the East Coast matches, some which started as early as 8:30 a.m.
    Although it isn’t directly related, the McFlys story reminds me of another local establishment that took a long time to build because of the time and attention given to craftsmanship. Yanks was located on Foothill Boulevard in Upland just west of Euclid Avenue. It was a tremendously popular place for lunch and dinner, with waits of up to two hours during peak periods. Despite having great food, great service and a fabulous dining area, Yanks didnt survive. Today, I believe the Grand Buffet restaurant is housed in that location.

  • DJ

    Actually McFly’s was part of a chain — the summer “Back To The Future” was released they unsuccessfully sued Universal for trademark infringement. You can’t trademark a name or title no matter what Spike Lee says.

    McFly as I recall was the name of the Tombstone, AZ, photography studio where the “Gunfight At The OK Corral” was really shot.

  • John Dutrey

    It was orginally built for McFly’s in the early 1980s. I remember having dinner there with my parents. After McFly’s it became the famous Sneakers in the mid-1980s.

  • I worked at Sneakers from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s. Not too much to add about other tenants but I will chip in my two cents for the purposes of reflection and recollection.

    Sneakers was a sports bar above all else. But it was also a business that was willing to take chances on cockamamie ideas if they sounded fun and could generate revenue. That might help to explain why they would open up at some ungodly hour to watch soccer on the satellite big screen; one manager, George Franov (the new owner of La Piccoletta in Claremont), was a soccer FANATIC and it was IMPORTANT. That passion also led to a number of weird and oddly out-of-character situations instigated by different people in different colored hats.

    One of the hats I wore during my time at Sneakers was a pair of headphones as the DJ for a kitsch music night called “Tasteless Tuesdays.” I was the second person to run the show, taking over from George in the late ’80s. I played videos on the usually sports-showing big screen TVs, brought in my own collection of LPs (and later CDs), and helped develop quite the rabid regular crowd.

    The show was founded on a solid ’70s base with a punk aftertaste but evolved to incorporate some early ’80s tastelessness. The night became a popular destination and brought in a ton of money and people. The paradoxical juxtaposition of bad music, subversive content, friendly people with a pre-ironic disposition, and sports bar atmosphere was duly noted weekly. It was a lot of fun.

    Another enjoyable act of subversion for me was the “Indie Rock Nite” show in 1994 with Wckr Spgt and the mighty Refrigerator. A finer show has never been more ill-received. The hostility and tension was palpable, the anxiety reaching places only ever touched before by the disco ball and the dusty Bud signs.

    Neither side, the band side nor the crowd side — they were mortal enemies that night — understood or wanted to understand what was going on. I tend to think that the Indie Rock Nite show marked a turning point in the progression/devolution of Sneakers’ wildly chaotic swirling path. Or maybe it was all the booze.

    In any case, the whole experience was a rip-roaring ride that added layers of texture to the fabric of my life. I made some great friends, made up some great stories, and I think I formed some great memories. Again, I’m not too sure of that last part on account of all the booze. But it was a lot of fun.

    My wife and I actually tried to go to The Cellar a while back and found that it was shut down the night before. I hadn’t been to the building in about 12 years and thought it would be a hoot. Surprisingly, I wasn’t surprised that it had been shut down.

  • Drew Beets

    I too manned the DJ booth for many a Tasteless Tuesdays at Sneakers! There is still a core group of folks who speak of those nights with fondness as if it (and the 75 cent draft beers and the jello shots) never went away. Mark, very well articulated, my friend! I miss you and will never forget Chicken Damage’s smashing debut on that very stage!

    –Drew Beets, Seattle