The Golden Bear was a nightclub in Huntington Beach, California from 1923 to 1986. It was located on Pacific Coast Highway, just south of Main Street. It started out as a restaurant and eventually hosted such artists as Janis Joplin, Arlo Guthrie, Hoyt Axton, Jackson Browne, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Dave Mason, Tower of Power, The Chambers Brothers and Jerry Garcia.
The Golden Bear started as The Golden Lion Cafe at 226 Main Street in Huntington Beach and was founded by Harry Bakre in 1923. The name was changed to The Golden Bear Cafe in 1926 to avoid any legal issues with Bakre's former employer with the same name. It moved to its location at 306 Pacific Coast Highway (then called Ocean Avenue) on June 29, 1929, shortly before the Great Depression. It continued as a restaurant until Bakre retired in 1951. After that the building was the home to various restaurants. After Bakre's death in 1957, the building was vacant except for an art supply store in its front section.
In 1963, Delbert Kauffman took over and established the Golden Bear as a folk music club. The first act they hosted was Les Baxter's Balladeers, featuring a young David Crosby. Other artists that were booked at the Golden Bear under Kauffman were Hoyt Axton, Lovin' Spoonful, and Buffalo Springfield. Bob Dylan appeared at a Golden Bear Presents concert at Long Beach Wilson High School in December 1964. During this time Peter Tork, later of The Monkees, worked as a dishwasher at the club before becoming famous as a musician. However, by 1966 Kauffman was bankrupt and closed the club. Kauffman has lived in Takilma, Oregon for decades.
George Nikas reopened the club in 1966, and began booking rock bands as music evolved. Musicians performing during this time period included Janis Joplin, Neil Young, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Jimmy Reed, Seals and Crofts, Richie Havens, and others. The Doors and Jimi Hendrix are also reported to have played at the Golden Bear, although other sources indicate that Kauffman and Nikas both stated otherwise. By the early 1970s, Nikas felt he was ready to sell the business.
In 1974, brothers Rick and Chuck Babiracki, and Rick's wife, Carole, purchased the Golden Bear. They continued to book a diverse list of musicians such as Muddy Waters, Jerry Garcia, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Agent Orange, Arlo Guthrie, Maria Muldaur and Peter Gabriel.
In 1979 the artist Wyland, who lived next door, painted the outside wall of the building. It showed musical notes and some of the artists that performed at the venue. Wyland later became famous for his Whaling Walls.
The Golden Bear closed because of the costs involved in retrofitting the brick building for seismic compliance and the redevelopment of downtown Huntington Beach. The last performance was on January 29, 1986 by Robin Trower.
In 1990, an attempt was made to resurrect the Golden Bear as "Pepper's Golden Bear" in the new building on the original site. An unknown Will Ferrell made his stand up comedy debut at the club during this period. However, it closed after six months. In 2010, Joe Daichendt, co-owner of Pierside Pavilion, proposed a new, $2 million, 7,500-square-foot (700 m2) Golden Bear. The venue would be built at the site of movie theaters that closed in 2006.
Huntington Beach celebrated memories of the club for the city's centennial celebration in September 2009, with a two-day Golden Bear reunion at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, a few blocks from the original location. Honk, David Lindley, Ray Manzarek of The Doors, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson were among the performers for the city's 100-year anniversary. In 2014, the city unveiled a commemorative plaque honoring the venue on the wall of the Pierside Pavilion.