Back in the day, Lubach’s (1956-1990) was one of the go-to places in San Diego for your three-martini business lunch. Dark mahogany walls. Red leather booths. Cheerful 24-ft fireplace. Seafood. Salad bar and grill. Homemade cheesecake.
Down on the waterfront, the one-story red and white framed building sat at the foot of Hawthorn Street and Harbor Drive. The front was decorated with a small fishing boat, cobblestones, nets, lobster pots and white a picket fence. Very Cape Cod. Very San Diego.
The building was sub-leased from Solar Aircraft Company, on land owned by the Port of San Diego. Its tenants had previously been Maurice Bernardini’s Cafe (Bernardini was known for Ye Golden Lion and Cafe Cabrillo), and Henry Langhorst’s Cafe. At one time, it was even Solar Aircraft’s cafeteria!
Restaurateur Rinse Cornelis Antonius (“Ray”) Lubach (1911-1994) immigrated from the Netherlands to America in 1937, and started out digging ditches while learning English. Soon he earned jobs in the L.A. restaurant business, rising to a top position at Romanoff’s.
In 1951, Lubach was food and beverage director at the U.S. Grant Hotel, and opened the Grant Grill with Grant owner Joseph W. Drown. The Grill ingratiatingly supported the businessman’s lunch — it was initially open to women only after 6pm daily. (Slowly that ban got whittled down to 3pm, and removed entirely in the early 1970s, but that’s another story…)
Five years later, Lubach and a group from the hotel formed U.S. Grant Associates partnership to develop their own side project, once again catering to that power-broker crowd they came to know from the Grill. Partners were Lubach, Drown, U.S. Grant manager Carleton Lichty, and Mitchell Yrigowen. Lichty’s first job was as a 13-year-old bellboy at the Grant. In 1961, John Alessio purchased the Hotel del Coronado and asked Lichty to be its manager.
Lubach’s Restaurant opened in March, 1956 and was an immediate success. Lubach kept his position at the U.S. Grant until 1958.
The new restaurant, like the Grant Grill before it, wrote a local newspaper, “proved to be a magnet for the power-lunch set and a favorite of San Diego’s old guard for decades…” Over the years, they entertained many celebrities including Cary Grant, Bob Hope, and the Pope.
Ray Lubach’s place was known for its mock turtle soup, lobster Newberg, and other exotic a la carte items by chefs Hans Lindemann, who’d known Lubach since the Bel Aire Country Club in 1938, and Wilhelm Duren, a fellow Dutchman hailing from the Dutch East Indies. During the day, Duren worked for Solar Turbines as a lead structures packaging mechanic. Working with precision tools and aligning generator units, he led many training classes to new employees.
Items were served from carts, and prepared tableside with much flourish by well-seasoned waiters. It was the perfect place to hunker down with business partners, or even with one’s mistress, have an expensive bottle of wine or a cocktail or two from bartender Frank Moran’s able shaker.
Over the years the business was run by Ray’s son, Bob Lubach.
Paul Metevier worked as a chef at Lubach’s for 16 years before succeeding Philippe Rousseau as executive chef in 1988. He managed the kitchen and honored special requests with an ability to tailor his continental cuisine to any palate.
“He knew all the judges, lawyers and merchants who frequented the restaurant,” recalled Metevier’s wife, Emma. If something requested wasn’t on the menu, the servers would ask Metevier. “He would say,‘Sure.’ All they had to do was sit and wait awhile.”
As times changed though, Lubach’s did not. Their menu remained static. Business fell off.
“It just kept going down and down and down,” said Lubach in a 1990 interview. “Everything went up — insurance rates, liquor prices, everything. If you don’t meet the costs, what else are you going to do?”
He closed the restaurant that year.
Ray Lubach’s restaurant, sadly, is no longer there, but the memories live on. The building has since been reclaimed by the Solar Turbines learning center, where turbomachinery courses are provided to its customer base.
Citation: Martin S. Lindsay. ‘Lubach’s.’ Classic San Diego: tasty bites from the history of America’s finest city. Web. <http://classicsandiego.com/restaurants/lubachs/>
June Crosby. June Crosby’s San Diego Fare: An insider’s guide to San Diego area restaurants. La Jolla, California: Crosstown Publications, 1972.