Remembering Kirby’s and Kirby’s Station at El Cerrito Plaza

A late 1980s exterior view of Kirby's and Kirby's Station at El Cerrito Plaza.

A week ago we shared a 1980s photo of the northeast corner of El Cerrito Plaza on the West County Times Facebook page that included a partial view of Kirby’s Restaurant and Kirby’s El Cerrito Station cocktail lounge.
There were dozen comments on the picture, mostly from people who remembered Kirby’s, so we thought we’d offer a closer look at the place that was once a mainstay of the original Plaza shopping center.
Kirby’s wasn’t an original tenant of the Plaza, which opened in 1958, but it became part of the center around 1961. The restaurant had an adjoining cocktail lounge that became known as Kirby’s El Cerrito Station after the El Cerrito Plaza BART station opened in 1973.
That gave the Plaza two cocktail lounges: Kirby’s El Cerrito Station on the north side and the Mel-O-Dee Lounge (which is still in operation) on the south side, an indication that many customers of that era were interested in more than shopping.

A 1961 ad from the Oakland Tribune for Kirby's and Kirby's Station, along with an ad for Billy Martin's (yes, that Billy Martin) Cerro Square, located where Burger King is today.

Judging from the ads, Kirby’s at the Plaza — which was opened by the same people behind Kirby’s Elegant Farmer and Kirby’s Merritt Bakery Restaurant and Bakery in Oakland — was originally intended to be a more upscale dining alternative.
But in its later years it was better known as a favorite hangout of senior citizens, who could get their coffee refilled endlessly while socializing.
In the late 1980s, the cocktail lounge was replaced by a Chevy’s Restaurant and in the early 1990s Kirby’s closed and a Chuck E. Cheese took over the space.
Here are some views of Kirby’s from the West County files and some memorabilia, courtesy of www.kookykitsch.com.

An early Kirby's matchbook courtesy of www.kookykitch.com.

An El Cerrito Station matchbook courtesy of www.kookykitch.com.

Someone's in the kitchen at Kirby's.

The restaurant's later owners, Veneta and Leon Pano, tend to a booth.

Veneta Pano talks to longtime patrons.

Chevy's later moved into the space formerly used by Kirby's Station.

Chris Treadway

  • John Stashik

    Kirby’s had a loyal following; same customers every day served by some long time employees. I used to eat there, too. The El Cerrito Station was our “high class” steak house (kind of a stretch). When Chevys moved in, I was a happy camper being a fan of the chain at the time.

    As for the Mel-O-Dee I seem to recall that on San Pablo Avenue, possibly in Albany, at one time. But I could be confused.

  • Warren Houghton

    Mom used to take us to Kirby’s in the late 60’s and 70’s when dad was on business trips. I usually ordered spaghetti, was occasionally allowed a milkshake and never worked up the nerve to try apple pie with a slice of cheddar cheese. My best friend’s mom’s boyfriend Kirk tended bar at the station.

  • Brad

    I used to take my 80 year old mother to Kirby’s twice a week up till 1999. So I believe Kirby’s still existed until about that year. Veneta and Leon Pano
    had remodeled the place a few years earlier but took
    a bath on the place when Capwells closed. Very sad.
    You know, their american cuisine was very good and very affordable. The place was immaculate and I miss
    it as well as the Pano’s. My mother passed away in late 1999 and I was always thankful we had shared such nice meals with eachother due to the Pano’s work.

  • Sandy Faccini Berry

    My dad used to work at Kirbys at one time & he actually opened Cerro Square with my uncle. Billy Martin, my Godfather took it over after my dad.