By Bob Vickrey
Special to the Palisades News
After living in L.A. for almost 40 years, I find myself constantly reminded that we live in the shadow of the Hollywood sign.
Such was the case recently while watching a television rerun of the 1999 movie “The Cider House Rules.” I was once again completely engaged by this unique film, when suddenly my Palisades neighbor Colin Irving appeared on-screen during a dramatic turning point in the story.
I was aware that he had appeared in several movies in his younger years, but I had not yet met him when the movie was initially released. It occurred to me that the former actor—turned fitness guru—would be a perfect candidate to join our lunch club for our November trip to The Galley in Santa Monica.
Since The Galley is only open for dinner on weekdays, we decided to make this our first-ever evening event. This funky seafaring-themed restaurant opened in 1934, and is the oldest restaurant and bar in Santa Monica.
“Captain” Ron Schur has been at the helm for the last three decades and prides himself on The Galley’s personal service. There are four dining rooms, as well as the South Seas Bar and patio decorated with fishing nets and seashells, and of course—the requisite sawdust on the floor.
But it’s the Christmas lights that are strung from the ceiling and walls throughout the restaurant that give the place a warm cozy feeling and creates such a festive atmosphere. The Galley has always catered to locals and has been a favorite nighttime watering hole and dinner spot for decades. In fact, I’m betting several of those older “sailors” at the bar haven’t been home in months.
I could sense that Colin is rather modest about his short-lived career as an actor. He appeared in Dead Poets Society in 1989, but he most appreciates the shared creative experience of acting in three films based on books written by his father, the acclaimed novelist John Irving.
Colin’s first role was in The World According to Garp, based on his dad’s landmark bestseller in 1978. “The Cider House Rules” eventually earned his father an Oscar in 2000 for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Colin took a major career turn in 2006, when he commissioned two engineers to prototype a cycling-related concept he had developed as a teenager.
Many days spent training on stationary bikes during the long, snowy Vermont winters of his youth had inspired him to create a more realistic cycling trainer—a stationary bike that could be leaned and steered like an outdoor bike. Years later, developing the prototype would lead to forming the company he co-founded and currently operates, RealRyder International. His bikes can now be found in homes, health clubs and military bases throughout the world.
Like me, Colin said he had eaten at The Galley about a half-dozen times. Arnie revealed he had never been. When we asked Barry how often he’d been there, he said “Oh, maybe a thousand times.” So, let’s mark this trip down as number one thousand-one!
When we arrived, I watched Arnie’s face light up like a young boy when he took in the bright glow of the Christmas lights that filled the room. I reminded him that these lights were permanent fixtures throughout the year. Every night is Christmas at The Galley.
As we perused the menu, we were reminded that the restaurant is known for its seafood specialties, and steaks that are big enough to satisfy a lumberjack’s appetite. We began with their garlic bread that came with a generous-sized dish of marinara dipping sauce. Barry ordered fried calamari for the table. After munching on the bread and our appetizer for half an hour, we decided we should save room for dinner.
Arnie ordered the blackened salmon salad, while I went with the seared Ahi tuna that came with a terrific cilantro-scallion sauce. Barry ordered a jumbo-sized shrimp cocktail and a dinner salad, and Colin opted for blackened scallops with a side of asparagus.
Meanwhile, the bread kept arriving and we kept dipping. In fact, Arnie may have set an all-time Galley record for most garlic bread consumed in one sitting. I’ve heard of pie eating contests, but if there is a competition for bread-eating, we may have a winner.
We halted the bread-fest long enough to chow down on a slice of great key-lime pie, plus a rather intimidating wedge of chocolate cake that presented a formidable challenge. But despite the odds, we accepted the challenge— and we conquered!
Maybe it was just the overall effect of the Christmas lights, but I left The Galley that night humming “Jingle Bells,” which made me wonder if customers who go there in mid-June, also leave humming Christmas carols. Maybe we should just come back then and find out.
Bob Vickrey, a longtime Palisadian, is a regular contributor to the News. He also writes for the Houston Chronicle and the Waco Tribune-Herald.