ENCINITAS — In 1975, Doug Aldred came to California for the sole purpose of owning and operating a bar.
A year later, he opened a small bar along Coast Highway 101 next to the Cardiff State Beach. He called it The Kraken.
Today, the faded sky-blue dive bar with the low wooden ceiling is one of the region’s most well known nightspots, catering to everyone from bikers to attorneys and hosting hundreds of local bands and live music acts.
After 38 years Aldred is calling it a career, announcing his retirement after selling the bar to David Crilley, who owns the Beachside Bar and Grill.
“It’s time for a change,” Aldred said Tuesday. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
The engaging proprietor has left his imprints all throughout the bar today, from its NASCAR memorabilia to surfboards hanging from the walls to pictures of him smiling with patrons along one of the hallway walls.
He cracks a broad smile through his white goatee when he talks about the bar’s beginnings.
Aldred opened The Kraken on May 1, 1976 after moving to California from Detroit, where he was a construction manager. He got the idea of getting into the bar business after seeing how local bars in Detroit were packed even in the rain.
“This was a better shuffle,” he said he said to himself. “Even when it rains, you might make some money, and I didn’t need another 40 years of winter. Moving to California was the best decision of my life.”
Aldred’s California odyssey first landed him in San Jose, where he said people told him if he had no connections to the area he should try his luck in San Diego.
“They said it was much nicer down there, so that’s what I did,” Aldred said.
He settled in North County, and ultimately set his sights on a condemned building that used to be an old thrift store on Coast Highway.
He met some lifelong friends along the way.
On April 30, 1976, a young Will Dette said he strolled into the building to see what was going on at the old thrift store, only to see Aldred installing molding around the bar.
“I offered to help, and I spent the next few hours packing molding around the bar,” said Dette, who had his first drink at the Kraken that night on the eve of its opening. “He’s probably been my best friend ever since.”
Dette said Aldred’s personality and business instincts helped him turn the bar into a success.
For instance, when many of the local bars were getting out of the music business, Aldred tore one of the bar stools out, raised the floor in the right corner of the establishment, and created the 18-foot-wide stage that has hosted everything from heavy metal to country music bands.
For 20 years, The Kraken hosted live acts seven nights a week.
“He is the best businessman I know,” Dette said. “He didn’t go to a business school, he just knows what to do.”
Aldred said his business decisions were made by listening to his customers and, well, other instincts.
“You couldn’t get the girls to go into a bar,” Aldred said. “You either had to have a restaurant or entertainment, or the girls wouldn’t come.”
Loyal customers and friends also talk about Aldred’s loyalty to them and his staff, some of whom have been with him longer than 20 years.
“People don’t leave,” Dette said.
“I remember one time a lady asked if there were any bartending openings, and Doug said, “None of my people leave, so there aren’t any openings.””
Again, Aldred said his philosophy was simple.
“Why would I get rid of someone who is good for business?” he said. “These are my family.”
Over the years, the Kraken gained the reputation of being a biker bar, a stereotype that Aldred said he embraces. He’s never had a problem with the bikers. Anyone who thinks of the bar’s association with bikers is a bad thing probably hasn’t been to his establishment, he said.
“I always say the people who don’t like the Kraken are the people who never been there,” Aldred said. “We have one rule on the walls, “Be nice or be gone.”
“You come in here around Happy Hour, and you see everyone getting along, they all know each other by name,” Aldred said. “It’s like Cheers, but with bikers.”
So, what’s next for Aldred? He said he and his longtime girlfriend — who he credits for being invaluable to the running of the business — would probably spend the next few months following the NASCAR circuit.
“I love country music and NASCAR, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be a country singer,” Aldred said.
Regulars said while the Kraken will still be in business, it won’t be the same without Doug.
“He was the Kraken” Dette said. “No one is going to fill those shoes.”