Filed in Movie News

Kansas City Barbeque known as filming location for ‘Top Gun’

Noted restaurant destroyed by fire

Kansas City Barbeque known as filming location for ‘Top Gun’

By Greg Gross and Susan Shroder

June 27, 2008

SAN DIEGO – A fire that started in an open cooking pit at Kansas City Barbeque yesterday gutted the landmark restaurant, known for its role in the 1986 Tom Cruise movie “Top Gun.”

NANCEE E. LEWIS / Union-Tribune
Kansas City Barbeque bartender Jerry Granquist (above, left) talked to San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Maurice Luque after the fire was extinguished.

NANCEE E. LEWIS / Union-Tribune
Granquist and cook Charles Ryan watched as firefighters battled the blaze.
“Catch us tomorrow, we’ll have a plan then,” owner Cindy Blair said when asked about rebuilding plans as she surveyed the rubble.

The fire broke out about 2:15 p.m. in the Marina area restaurant on West Market Street, across the street from the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel towers and near Seaport Village. Towering clouds of smoke could be seen billowing behind Petco Park, where the Padres were playing an afternoon baseball game.

A restaurant cook told firefighters the blaze flared up from inside the cooking pit and spread to the rest of the restaurant’s interior, despite his efforts to put it out.

A force of 45 firefighters with six engine companies and two truck companies, managed to keep the blaze from spreading to an adjoining office building and had the fire knocked down in about 20 minutes.

But there was no saving the restaurant.

“It’s gutted,” said San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Maurice Luque. “It’s destroyed.”

Martin and Cindy Blair bought the bar in 1983, transforming it to the rib joint that reminded them of their Kansas roots.

The building once housed a bail bond business, until a motorcycle mechanic bought it in the 1950s and opened Club 153, a rowdy bar catering to cops from the then-nearby San Diego police headquarters.

When the Republican Party held its national convention in San Diego in 1996, the Blairs got a box of dirt from candidate Bob Dole’s boyhood hometown of Russell, Kan., compliments of that town’s mayor. The idea was, if Dole stopped in for a bite, he could stand on his own home turf.

The restaurant’s ban on neckties didn’t deter Republican conventioneers. Manager/bartender Jerry Granquist was quoted as saying they were dropping $100 tips at happy hour.

The restaurant, which serves barbecue fare such as ribs and chicken, was used for a bar scene in “Top Gun,” where Cruise crooned to love interest Kelly McGillis. A sign in the restaurant noted that the jet jockey movie’s “sleazy bar scene” was filmed there.

Luque estimated damage at $250,000 to the structure and $150,000 to the contents, not including the value of decades worth of memorabilia, including photographs and props from the film. Hundreds of Navy caps and license plates hung on walls and ceilings.

Firefighters found Navy flight helmets inside the dining area – melted.

“It must’ve been a very intense fire,” Luque said. “You can see where the fire swirled around, then just took everything out.”

No one was injured. The only people inside at the time were five employees, including the cook. A few patrons were sitting on the patio outside; they quickly fled as the flames ravaged the interior.

Another cook, Charles Ryan, 53, was taking a break outside when he saw the smoke billowing out the front door. But he wasn’t alarmed – yet.

“I’ve seen pit fires before. They’re manageable,” said Ryan, who has worked at the restaurant for about six years. “Normally, you can put these things out; I’ve had a few of them myself. There’s a hose right next to the pit.”

This time, however, the fire couldn’t be contained. In the seconds it took Ryan to re-enter the establishment, “the whole kitchen was on fire and it was spreading out into the dining area,” he said.

Sandra Angelo, a magazine columnist and author, lives across the street from the restaurant on the 12th floor of City Front Terrace, a condominium complex.

She said her unit has a 280-degree view of downtown and San Diego Bay, and she saw smoke coming out of the chimney in the middle of the restaurant. She said it then got a little thicker, and “I just thought they were being a little enthusiastic with their barbecuing.”

But within minutes, she said, the smoke became very thick.

“It was just tons and tons of smoke,” she said, “billowing out of every single window” and was as high as a nearby 40-story building.

Railroad tracks used by the San Diego Trolley and the Coaster commuter train run right behind the restaurant. Had there been a freight train going by, it would have taken firefighters an extra 12 to 15 minutes to put out the blaze, Luque said.

Rob Schupp, a spokesman for Metropolitan Transit District, said trolley service in the area was stopped for about 10 minutes while fire hoses were across the tracks.

Staff writer Pauline Repard contributed to this report. (Source: Sign On San Diego)

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