The big, black penis sculpture that used to kick it in the corner near the pool tables at Sparky's is gone. Owner Paul Broadway says someone upset over the bar's upcoming move left an anonymous letter, threatening to steal it. The theft threat rattled Broadway. Just to be safe, the artist who sculpted the thing, Jason Bonham, is keeping the piece at an undisclosed location. It's a temporary setup, said Broadway, who promised that “Big Black” would be one of the first items shipped to Sparky's new location.
Broadway said he'll also be taking his prized Belgian beer selection, his hot-sake machine, the Japanese Flag that was given to him by a WWII veteran who survived the Battle of Okinawa (then ended up committing suicide), the old black-and-white photo of Harold Sparks (Sparky's original owner and namesake) and the mysterious Y-C-H-J-C-Y-A-B-F-T-J-B sign hanging behind the bar. Almost everything in the joint will be packed up and moved to the new spot-all the bits and pieces of the place's whacked-out history.
Plus, what's a bar without its back-stories, especially one that's been around for 70 years making it, arguably, San Diego's oldest bar? If you happen to catch Broadway on a night he's feeling inspired to bartend, you just might be lucky enough to hear a tale or two. Take the story of Big Black, for example:
“Bonham made it for me because I'm someone that has just about everything,” he said at an informal going-away party last weekend, adding that he wasn't the inspiration for the piece, prompting everyone sitting within earshot to erupt into laughter.
If you've ever frequented Sparky's and happened to miss the story about the bar's impending closure in the Union-Tribune a couple of weeks ago, you're probably scratching your head. What, Sparky's is moving?
Sadly, the rumors are true. Sparky's, located at 30th and Beech streets in Golden Hill, will no longer grace the neighborhood with its classic dive-bar kitsch.
On Feb. 9, Broadway, who purchased the bar five years ago, got a letter from the property owner, a company called Universal Boot Shops.
In the letter, Richard Annen, attorney for Universal Boot Shops, takes issue with Broadway's addition of a small outside smoking deck behind the bar, demanding that Broadway “immediately cease and desist from using the space behind you as a location for your patrons.” In the letter, Annen also points out that Broadway's lease is up on May 1 of this year. “Therefore,” Annen wrote, “you are to vacate the premises no later than May 1.”
Krista Baroudi, whose family co-owns the property on which Sparky's is located, said the back deck was causing problems. “Noise-related issues, damage-related issues from cigarette butts and beer bottles and that sort of thing,” she said.
When asked about the letter, Annen said he never meant to give Broadway the impression he was being kicked out.
“The reason I sent the letter to him is that their lease expires... and they had never contacted the landlord to seek to renew the lease,” he said. “I mean, we were basically informing him, thinking that he would come back to us and say ‘OK, let's talk about that, and let's talk about renewing the lease.'”
Broadway has a different take on the letter.
“If this is a negotiation letter he sent me, he needs to go back to school and learn how to write,” he said. “I read that letter-I read it probably a hundred times. Nowhere in there does it say, ‘We want to negotiate your lease.' It says, ‘You are to vacate the premises no later than May 1, 2006.' What questions would I have?”
Broadway said he eventually talked to Annen and floated an offer to buy the building or sign a long-term lease, but now he says he's ready to let it go and move on. As of press time, he was still waiting to sign papers to relocate Sparky's to 7200 El Cajon Blvd., just west of the San Diego/La Mesa border. He says he hopes to purchase the new spot for a little less than $2 million, which will mean a monthly mortgage payment considerably more than the $354 in rent he's been paying.
Baroudi said several people have already expressed interest in moving into the Golden Hill property.
Broadway chose the new location, he said, because “it's the only real neighborhood left in San Diego.” He said patrons won't be let down by the new spot. “It'll have everything and more,” he added.