Bully’s Steakhouses have been around in southern California for over 45 years, but who started Bully’s? Why the racehorse theme? How has this family owned and operated restaurant stayed popular after all these years?
Bully’s first opened its doors January 19th, 1967 in La Jolla, California. The original owners, Lester Holt and George Bullington, were both avid horseracing fans who worked in the racetrack business, thus the racehorse theme.
Bully’s is famous for serving the finest Prime Rib in San Diego since 1967. In 1966, over dinner at Chuck’s Steak House in La Jolla, George Bullington, an avid horse and race track fan, who worked as a jockey agent and Lester Holt, a well known Horse Owner and Trainer, came up with the idea for a restaurant partnership. They decided on the name Bully’s, a take off on Bullington’s name, and they wanted the restaurant to have an Old English Pub atmosphere. That is how and where it all began.
Lester himself provided the financing, and one of the horses he had trained, Don B., later helped with his stud fees. Don B. was a wonderful horse that earned money by being put to stud after finishing 6th in the 1968 Kentucky Derby. The horse was named after its owner Don B. Wood. Lester was the horse’s Trainer, and the Jockey was Donald Pierce (Pierce is retired, and lives in Encinitas, not far from Del Mar Racetrack). Don B.’s portrait currently hangs in Del Mar Bully’s. Lester also trained Tragniew, a horse that ran in the 1966 Kentucky Derby with Pierce as the Jockey.
Bully’s “English Pub” look was inspired by Bullington’s historical English last name. They created an authentic “Pub” feeling, with rich red leather booths, dark wood ceilings, a conversation-friendly environment, and large portions of hearty food. George Bullington actually poured the first drink ever made at Bully’s La Jolla.
The original menus were hand-lettered by Beverly Becker in India Ink, and you can see one on display near the front door at the Del Mar Bully’s. A local artist painted the famous “Nude Lady” painting that hangs over the booths in La Jolla (A painting that has embarrassed many a small child over the years).
Other artwork includes:
Leroy Neiman paintings, photos and drawings of racehorses, caricatures of local customers, and historical photos of the early landscapes of La Jolla and Del Mar. The beautiful hand-carved wooden doors (At all three Bully’s) were created by Mark Seaman.
Among our famous customers that have frequented Bully’s over the years are: Bandleader Harry James and his wife Betty Grable, composer Burt Bacharach (Who also owns racehorses), Angie Dickenson, Victor Mature, George Brent, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Shoemaker, Earl Schieb, Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball, Jack Haley, and scores of great Jockeys, Managers, and Trainers.
Bully’s was an instant success upon opening, and based on the loyalty of their wonderful customers, they soon opened their second location in Del Mar, California on May 25th, 1969. The Del Mar Bully’s, or Bully’s North as it is now known, is located about one mile from the beautiful Del Mar Racetrack. It is a popular lunch spot for the many local businesses, as well as a late-night place to get a bite to eat and a cocktail.
Bully’s North is also a favorite among the thousands of people that visit Del Mar Racetrack every year for the summer racing season. The track holds races daily from mid July to early September, and has live concert events on the weekends as well. Opening day at the track is quite a spectacle, with contests for the most creative ladies’ hats. Bully’s opened two more locations: Bully’s East on Texas Street, and Bully’s Mexican Café on 15th Street in Del Mar. John Dahlen (J.D.) was the first bartender at Bully’s La Jolla, and he went on to become part owner of Bully’s East. On October 25, 1995 Lester Holt passed away, and his adopted daughter Beverly Becker became the owner of the Bully’s in La Jolla and Del Mar.
The famous Keoke Coffee was created, according to Bully’s current owners Beverly and Charlie Becker, by George Bullington himself. The restaurant staff was experimenting with different cocktail recipes after hours, and George put together a tasty coffee drink. The staff called it “George’s Coffee”, and a Hawaiian cook suggested “Keoke Coffee”(“Keoke” is Hawaiian for “George”). The drink is hand-crafted using: ½ oz Kahlua ½ oz Dark Crème De Cacao ½ oz Brandy 4 oz coffee and topped with real whipped cream. It has been a signature drink at Bully’s for many years.
It is not unusual to see a table filled with small children, their parents, and grandparents, all of whom have grown up on Bully’s great food. We have regular customers that take pride in the fact that they have been customers for 30 plus years. Bully’s has been a tradition for over forty years, and we look forward to serving you and your families for another forty years!