The Coast News Group
Bully’s North opened in Del Mar in 1969, drawing celebrities, horse trainers, jockeys and Naval aviators over the course of its nearly 50-year history. Photo courtesy of city of Del Mar.
CitiesCommunityCommunityDel MarFeaturedNewsRegion

Bully’s North building undergoes demolition, locals say goodbye

DEL MAR — Although Bully’s North shut its doors in 2017, locals said a final goodbye to the building last month as it underwent demolition.

The property — located on Del Mar’s main downtown drag _ was sold to Los Angeles-based Hillstone Restaurant Group, which will be building a much larger, all-American restaurant on the former building’s footprint.

According to the city’s website, the lot will undergo construction for about a year. The end product will be a restaurant 4,700 square feet in size and include a two-story parking garage below.

The former restaurant has sat empty for the last two years, but several days before the start of demolition, a small group of parishioners from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church gathered outside the building’s front door.

“It felt important to say goodbye, and to say thank you,” said St. Peter’s Reverend Paige Blair-Hubert.

Although Bully’s is best known as a former local watering hole and restaurant — which opened in 1969 — the building traces its roots back to at least the 1930s. At the time, local parishioners used the site as a place of worship before St. Peter’s was constructed in 1940.

Blair-Hubert said the building served as a real estate office during the week and a church on Sundays — where 40-something locals came together for service.

“It was a place that had very deeply important, meaningful and holy occasions for our predecessors,” she said, adding that the building was the site of baptisms, funerals, and likely marriages.

And for many, it continued to be an important gathering place for decades to come.

The Bully’s restaurants in La Jolla, Del Mar and Mission Valley all opened almost back-to-back in the late 1960s and early 1970s — the brainchildren of George Bullington (“the king of Del Mar”) and Lester Holt. The two endeavored to create an “Old English Pub” atmosphere, boasting the finest Prime Rib in San Diego.

The Del Mar location became a local favorite, with Bully’s North drawing not only racetrack attendees and celebrities, but also a plentiful crowd of Naval aviators coming from Miramar’s former Naval Auxiliary Air Station.

Del Mar resident Cindy Clemons remembers accompanying her husband Dave Clemons, a pilot, and his buddies to “enjoy the beer, roast beef, and of course Bully burgers.”

“Bully’s was second only to the Officers’ Club for a place to go for guys home from Vietnam on leave,” she said. “ … Those of us who remained in San Diego long after the Vietnam War years still enjoyed meeting up at Bully’s.”

Clemons remembers the restaurant for its “warm and very celebratory” vibe, with Holt often at the bar to greet patrons.

Beverly Yuhause-Becker, the daughter of Lester Holt, took over ownership of Bully’s in the 1990s after Holt passed away in 1995. Bullington had died several years prior from a heart attack, in 1984.

Bully’s La Jolla location closed in 2008, with the Del Mar location following suit about a decade later.

With Bully’s days of Hollywood starlets and prominent horse trainers now in the past, what is left of the iconic restaurant is now searching for a new home. Del Mar’s Historical Society is currently digitizing the restaurant’s hanging art pieces, with some originals to be put up for auction, according to Historical Society President Larry Brooks.

A series of glass panels that used to line the front of the restaurant are now in the hands of the Historical Society and will likely be seen again in new locations around the city.

Although Bully’s is no more, it remains a salient and charming part of Del Mar’s history.

“We will miss the Bully Burgers, standing rib, and well-stocked bar that gave us such fond memories over almost 50 years,” said Clemons.