For nearly a half century, adventurer, actor, and bon-vivant Jay Fiondella operated his tiny bar as a haven for celebrities and a showcase for his personal daring exploits.
Fiondella's life was packed with unlikely adventure: from competitive hot air ballooning to treasure hunting, he recovered millions of dollars in coins and historic artifacts legendary shipwrecks. In 1971, he convinced astronaut Alan Shepard to transport one of the bar's peanuts into space on the Apollo 14 mission. In 1989, his self-built 65-foot replica pirate ship caused a traffic nightmare when it fell off his trailer on Culver Boulevard.
From its start in 1959, Chez Jay has been a sanctuary for celebrities coming to hang out through the years, unmolested by the cameras and prying eyes of journalists and autograph seekers. Fiondella was known to confiscate cameras and lie to reporters to protect his patrons, from Sinatra to Steve McQueen - who almost devoured the famous space peanut.
Fiondella died in November 2008, and, as of 2012, the future of Chez Jay in uncertain. Currently surrounded by piles of developer construction detritus, Peter, the friendly bartender (who will even play music from your phone if you ask nicely and have good taste) said they were working with the city of Santa Monica to preserve the tiny one-story dive bar. The upcoming Palisades Garden Walk threatens to remodel or rebuild Chez Jay into "a 'pavilion-like' structure" to meet the needs of the new city park environment - so visit it in all its eccentric glory while you still can.