“The only way to survive for 30 years is if you evolve,” said Slaga, a Chicago native, who noted 710 has been voted best beach bar in San Diego by the Union-Tribune three out of the last four years.
Slaga said there is one thing over the years that hasn’t changed. “You have to give people the entertainment they’re going to like,” said Slaga, a big blues devotee, of the countless bands he’s hosted over the years. “I had to have people who work for me sit me down and say, ‘Hey old man, this is what we like.’”
Slaga said there are four major changes now from when he took over the place in 1989.
“We didn’t own the restaurant next door (Dude’s), and our ceiling was much lower, about 8 feet,” he said. “The bar itself was the old school tiered shelves of liquor, all dark brown and it was all carpet back then. In ’89 it was Bangers. We turned it into Blind Melons (blues reference).”
Interestingly enough, Slaga had never dreamed of owning a bar – or a live music venue. He had been an engineer out of college working up in Los Angeles when the opportunity to co-own an oceanside restaurant-bar literally fell into his lap.
“I came down to San Diego a lot to work with the big engineering firms down here,” he said, noting he was still in his 20s at the time.
Noting he and his buddies were regulars at Bangers, one day the bar’s then-owner, Mary, presented him with an offer he couldn’t resist. “She said, ‘I made a mistake buying this bar, you want it? I’ll sell it to you if you just take over my payment, and no money down.’ The very next day, I got a call from her agent saying she was motivated to sell, she wants out.”
So, Slaga and three of his friends took the leap of faith and purchased a live music bar, though none of them had any prior experience. He said they made it work, virtually on sheer will. “I commuted for three years every day from L.A.,” he said. “I had to keep my (engineering) job. On the weekends, I would sleep on the stage.”
By Slaga’s own admission, Bangers was rundown and really needed some updating when they took it over.
“We changed the name to Blind Melons and we made a big splash by painting the facade out front fluorescent green,” he noted adding, most importantly, “We changed the music from just local acts, went after the blues market. I had every national act you could think of come in here for the first 10 years.”
But then times changed. And Slaga changed with it, adapting his business model.
“The crowds got young in the ’90s and 2000s that it was getting harder and harder to keep the blue going, there was no reward,” said Slaga. “We needed young bands in to bring in the young crowds.”
Patrons dining habits also changed.
“It used to be you didn’t eat when you drank, maybe you had popcorn,” Slaga noted, adding, “The new drinker has to have food. There’s maybe only one or two bars left that I know of that do well without food.”
Slaga said he got a huge “lift” as well from the Ubers and Lyfts of the world who came in some five years ago furnishing a partial solution to the problems of parking and drinking and driving to and from a beach bar.
Slaga got another lift by changing up his musical menu “to more young, hip, that’s what they (patrons) wanted, cover and tribute bands,” he said. “That and more upbeat danceable reggae works here.”
And, Slaga added, there was literally a cuisine explosion of sorts going on in the rest of PB that helped too.
“There used to be only half a dozen places you could go to and eat here,” he said. “Now, there’s 50.”
Slaga’s got something really special planned for his bar’s 30th anniversary weekend on Saturday, Dec. 28 and Sunday, Dec. 29.
“On the 28th, we’re going to be going back to 1980 prices the whole day,” he said. “I’m bringing back some old school bands. And on Sunday, I have Dick Butkus (Chicago Bears' Hall of Fame linebacker) coming in here for a benefit for Wounded Warriors veterans, who will be guest bartending.”
What lies ahead for 710 Beach Club?
Slaga said three things will change soon.
“I bought the restaurant (Dudes) next door and I’m going to have outside barbecue opening in March,” he said. “I’m going to change my bar to a U-bar shape so people can see better. And I’m considering going to live music with no cover.”
Of his future at 710, Slaga said, “In five years I’ll have an exit strategy. I’m hoping I’ve got 10 years left in the tank.”
710 BEACH CLUB
Where: 710 Garnet Ave
Special guest: Dick Butkus on Sunday, Dec. 29
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Info: 710 Beach Club.