Blackwatch Pub to celebrate 40th anniversary Saturday
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
The best bars, taverns, and pubs can occupy both physical and emotional terrain. For me, like many, Upland’s Black Watch Pub — which will celebrate its 40th anniversary Saturday — is such a place.
Taking its name from an elite Scottish infantry battalion founded in 1881, Scots Hal and Mary Law opened the door in 1983 in an otherwise nondescript strip mall in Upland. Longtime regulars Peter — an Englishman — and Jill Curtis bought it in 1997.
On Saturday, January 21, the Black Watch, the beloved four decade constant in our hearts — and sometimes enemy of our livers — will celebrate its 40th birthday with a party from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. It will include free commemorative T-shirts to its first 100 customers, a DJ, and, in what promises to be a most entertaining feature of the celebration, a Black Watch Pub story contest, with winners judged by audience response earning gift certificates and T-shirts.
“There should be some good stories. Over 40 years there’s a lot of stuff that’s happened,” Jill Curtis told the Courier this week.
Uh, yes! I’ve both patronized and worked at the Black Watch since the mid-1980s, bellying up to the bar and playing music, and over that time have seen some stuff. Many of my foggy memories are ribald, but most all are funny, imbued with the glossy sheen of carefree youth. Heck, I even met my first wife there, and according to Jill, I wasn’t alone.
“It’s where Peter and I met, and now here we are 25 years later on after being married over 30,” she said. “Couples will come in, especially for British New Year’s, they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, we met 25 years ago here and we’re still together.’
“Yeah, you’d be amazed how many love connections happened there.”
For most of its four decades as our go-to British pub, the Black Watch was perhaps best known as an egalitarian live music venue, booking everything from earnest, acoustic guitar toting singer-songwriters to the most unhinged punk rock provocateurs.
Most every local musician over the age of 40 logged hours on the Black Watch “stage,” which was really just a smallish section of floor next to the bathrooms. There was a time when live music was arguably the main draw, and hundreds of folks would cram inside, sometimes overflowing onto the tables that once lined the sidewalk outside.
“D Squad,” Jill said, when asked about some of the pub’s most memorable shows, referencing the local shorthand for longtime punk rock/performance art stalwarts Desperation Squad. “Desperation Squad was always a big one I remember. Do you remember The Flys?” Indeed. The Flys (not to be confused with the Billboard charting 1990s L.A. group, or the early British punk band, both of the same name) ruled the Black Watch for a time in the mid- to late-1980s, sort of our version of vaunted but doomed L.A. barstool rowdies Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs.
“For a long time it was the only gig in town and it rocked it,” Jill said. “But I guess we just kind of had to adapt and change to what was our new reality.”
In 2018 the pub abruptly ceased booking live music after repeated noise complaints from a new condominium development to the west threatened to jeopardize the Black Watch’s long sought and newly approved liquor license.
“Anybody who was anybody played at the Black Watch,” Jill said. “That was why it was so hard for us to let it go.”
The Black Watch’s aesthetics had been largely unchanged for decades before Covid-related shutdowns allowed time for renovations. Peter and Jill live in Upland, but spend a lot of time in England. Their aim is to emulate that country’s centuries old pub traditions at the Black Watch, and I can report after stopping in last month it has evolved into a relatively elegant manifestation of a neighborhood British pub, befitting the 40-year institution.
“We were able to get into the kitchen and remodel in there,” Jill said. “We were able to re-do the bathrooms, we re-did the bar, the flooring, all the chairs. And we’re still going at it.”
The Black Watch’s patrons — and the pub itself — have (mostly) mellowed with age. After a period of adjustment, its evolution from youth-driven, boisterous live music haven to treasured neighborhood bar has been surprisingly rewarding, Jill said. “It actually has worked for us to be more of a meeting place, more of a community.” It’s also worked out financially. “We had a record-breaking month in December; we had the best month we’ve ever had.”
That things will change is about the only thing we can count on. Oftentimes those changes mean something has ended, and another has begun. The Black Watch sits between both polarities, wearing its proud, boisterous past and current elder statesman status quite well.
“We’re just really excited and happy that we’ve been able to stick around for so long,” Jill said. “The pub for us is like a community.
“We’ve got friends that we’ve known for all these years, and we see them three or four times-a-week at least. It’s that sense of belonging. It’s kind of passé that it’s sort of “Cheers”-like, in the sense of everybody knows your name. But after 40 years, there’s a lot of characters we’ve had through there, as you can imagine.”
If we’re lucky, our neighborhood bars become part of the soul of our communities, lifelong gathering places where we celebrate, mourn, talk things through, and reflect. The Black Watch Pub is now that spot for many.
“We’re kind of like our own church,” Jill said, “with the sense of community, the sense of camraderie, the knowing people, and just the humanity of it.”
The Black Watch Pub, 497 N. Central Ave. #B, Upland, CA 91786, celebrates its 40th anniversary Saturday, January 21 From 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. The pub is all ages from noon to 8 p.m., when their kitchen is open, and 21 and over from 8 p.m. to closing time. More info is available at theblackwatchpub.com, via email to email@example.com, or by calling (909) 981-6069.