It’s not too often you see a business that has one part of its building in one city and the other part in another.
In the case of a local bar and grill, it’s a reality and has been that way since the 1930s. Formerly known as Lona’s Wardlow Station, the rustic saloon located at 1174 E. Wardlow Rd. has taken on a new name— Lona’s City Limits Cantina— thanks to Spike TV’s reality show Bar Rescue, which has given the establishment a fresh start.
TV producers have taken an interest in Lona’s in an episode that airs this Sunday at 7pm and 10pm.
The show is hosted by famed nightlife and food & beverage expert Jon Taffer, who temporarily takes over struggling bars and whips them into shape. Producers decided that the new name is a better match for the dark-lit cantina that is oddly placed on city borders.
For example, when patrons enter the tavern, they’re officially in Long Beach— California Heights to be exact. If they sit down in the back of the building, they’ve entered Signal Hill. But, when they go to pay the bill, they’re back in Long Beach again.
In fact, this is why Long Beach gets the sales-tax revenue because the cash register is positioned in that city, explains Lona Lee, who has owned the establishment for 13 years.
Artwork on the walls and even some of the stools now resemble oil derricks, reminding customers of Signal Hill’s oil history— all courtesy of the TV show’s makeover.
Some regulars have known about the property separation but never made a big deal about it, she said. But now, the new theme is something to embrace, Lee said.
“I love the name City Limits, and they put my name on it,” she said.
Lee, who also works behind the bar, said she didn’t know what to expect when turning her keys over to the surly TV-show host who she called “really a nice man.” Production of the show earlier this year was an ordeal that involved closing the doors for nearly a week but ended up being a blessing in disguise, Lee said.
Regarding Taffer’s tough love, she said, “I cried so much, because I was getting screamed at. My bartenders were getting chewed out, the cooks were getting chewed out, but out of gratitude, gratefulness and appreciation, I just felt so blessed.”
Lee also expressed heartfelt emotion at the taking down of the bar’s former sign. She said that heirs to the family after whom Wardlow Road was named offered to purchase the sign to keep as memorabilia, adding that the family still keeps in touch by dropping by whenever they visit nearby Long Beach Municipal Cemetery.
What was left over from the old Lona’s was put in storage, she said. The entire enterior and exterior makeover included re-felting the pool tables, adding a new draft system with refrigerated kegs, taking walls out to create three entrances to the pool table, replacing windows, putting in new lamps and replacing blinds. As far as the new look, she said, “Everybody loves it. It’s much cozier, and it’s warmer.”
Lee said the menu also got an overhaul. New food items include fish tacos, Lona’s albondigas, fajitas and a signature “border burger.” Also, Lona’s staff members, including four bartenders and a waitress, were sent to a school where they learned a point-of-sale system, and employees worked with one of the top mixologists in the country.
The episode, titled “In A Pinch,” also highlights the bar’s former, and controversial, lobster-tank game that once allowed customers to attempt plucking the crustaceans with a claw crane. Lona has since gotten rid of the tank.
Lona’s will host a viewing celebration when the episode airs this Sunday. Space will be limited.