Photos and video courtesy of Steve Guillen.
When Steve Guillen took over Iguana Kelly’s on Anaheim in the Zaferia District, effectively taking what was once a college crowd’s dive fave and turning it into a legitimate bar, few knew that his other endeavor—Opus Technique—was all about creating events, hosting live entertainment, and investing in the music scene.
This explains the man’s bold next move: taking over the former site of amazing-how-long-that-stayed-open Sgt. Pepper’s Dueling Piano bar in the Pike Outlets and creating a full-on live music venue-meets-bar and restaurant, complete with a menu by Chef Shea Enriquez (formerly from The Pike, Tavern on 2, and Padre).
This is Broken Drum Bar (91 S Pine Ave)—and Guillen hopes, after a soft opening on St. Patrick’s day this past weekend, that their official opening on April 1 will set their mark on DTLB in stone. Or through the soundwaves of a much-needed boost in the live music scene (considering that Don the Beachcomber’s famed reggae Sundays will find its new home at the Broken Drum on April 8).
“Y’know, I’ve been a part of the Long Beach community since 2000, been slinging drinks and food in the hospitality and service industries for more than 20 years,” Guillen said. “And, when it all comes into focus now, I recognize the evolving needs for live entertainment and in particular, the importance of their venues.”
Personally speaking, I have long lamented the roller coaster of our city’s live music scene, where after being in the doldrums for seemingly endless periods, it comes back—think Live After 5 (LA5) or the announcement of the famed Vault in DTLB being restored into the live music venue it once was—only to fall back into the doldrums—LA5 went on a year-long hiatus (and has thankfully returned this year) while the Vault continues to sit empty (more on that below).
Long Beach’s rich musical history is being directly underlined by Guillen. Whether it’s smaller venues like Alex’s Bar and Que Sera or larger giants like the Arena and the Vault, the live music scene in Long Beach has been a vital part of the culture—but one that has slowly been lost.
Vault 350—sitting for years with a lack of life at 4th and Pine Ave—once hosted acts ranging from the B-52s to Kanye West, Flogging Molly to Ghostface Killah. After famed owner Mitchell Stewart passed in 2008, the venue sat silent, collected dust, waiting. That waiting resulted in a quick-but-failed partnership between Luis Armen Kaloyan & Rudy Medina that was to have the Vault up and running once again in 2010—only to end in a dispute that dissolved said partnership. Then, the Matriarch of DTLB, Michelle Molina, purchased the building with hopes of activating it.
Taken even further back, Long Beach was once a gem in the world of jazz.
In 1978, jazz guru Al Williams created Long Beach’s first venue dedicated solely to jazz when he opened the Jazz Safari by the Queen Mary. Over several years, the hallowed space was frequented by musicians and music fans alike while Williams became a jazz entrepreneur of sorts when he opened his second jazz space, Birdland West, in DTLB nearly a decade later. But closings in the 1990s followed, leaving yet another void in the live music scene.
And for Guillen, the power of live entertainment, the creation of music, and the drum all hold special meaning—which is why Broken Drum is such an important cog in reigniting the music scene that once was flourishing.
“Being a kid from South Downey, I would venture into Long Beach twice a week to be part of the Long Beach Junior Concert Band,” Guillen said. “It was a huge privilege to play cymbal amongst the almighty drummers because they stole the show. They stole every show… So to be an eventual part of their drumming team was a big deal because the show we gave was such a big deal. It was loud, syncopated drumming—like thunder!—and the reality was that you weren’t trying hard enough unless you handed in a broken drum at the end of the show.
Guillen’s own percussion-driven interests led him to first band, Kingdom Sound, “playin’ places like Sumos Sushi in Town Center, Golden Sails, Sea Port Marina and even a spot on Pine Ave that was called the M Bar. We even played gigs at Khoury’s—which is now Ballast Point. Straight-up roots reggae… Who breaks drums in a reggae band? Well, me.”
He went on to play alongside Detour Posse, Big Cat, Isoljahs, Mystic Roots & The Rhythm Doctors (now known as The Aggrolites) and opening for Maxi Priest at The Galaxy Theater. (If you ever meet Guillen, ask him about Maxi Priest and the basketball game.)
Ultimately, the metaphor of breaking something to prove you’re working hard stuck with Guillen—to the extent of creating the Broken Drum Bar.
“I am confident The Broken Drum is delivering the best options for the community, surpassing the needs of this industry, and we’re doing it in the heart of the city that I love,” Guillen said.