1970s: Sam Varela Remembers the Galway Bay Inn

In the 1970s a fun place to go to for Sunday brunch was the Galway Bay Inn in Moss Beach. The owner himself, Michael Murphy, was often there, serving the customers.

Do you remember the restaurant?

I wish I’d kept the napkins with the four leaf clover logo. The Galway Bay Inn overlooked the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve; we’d get a seat by the windows; it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning. Do you know where it was?

In the early 1970s the low key Galway Bay Inn became the upbeat Moss Beach Distillery when several young, high energy guys bought the historic prohibition roadhouse, among them Dave Andrews and Sam Varela.

(Photo: I believe both Dave Andrews & Sam Varela are standing outside the Distillery; sorry the image is so small.)

Dave and Sam were personable and easy going; they soon had a big loyal following. Such a special, loyal following that every year there is a reunion in Princeton-by-the-Sea.

Here’s what Sam Varela, former owner of the Moss Beach Distillery remembers:

Back in the very late 60’s a drunken Irishman by the name of Michael Murphy, who worked for the Telephone Company, spent so much time drinking in Dominics in HMB, that one day he woke up there, and decided that since it cost him so much to hang out there, he might as well buy the place.

So he did, but not having much money, and being a real tight—– Irishman, he converted it to an Irish restaurant by simply adding an O to the name thus creating O’Dominics. Do you remember ?

After a few years in the business, he sold the O’, and worked out a deal for Vic Torres’ place with Pearl [Torres], a restaurant which was located over a cove that reminded Murphy of Galway Bay ( beats me ). Thus was born the Galway Bay Inn an Irish restaurant.

In early 1973, I was diving for Abs near Flat Rock, right below “Weebies” (Sp ?) place, which I think is where “Goofus, the duck” lived. This is a Sunday about noon; I didn’t live on the Coastside then, so not too familiar with where I was. I was thirsty from diving, and wanted a beer, looked at the building , couldn’t figure what it was, so checked it out, and by golly there was a Bar in there, but not one customer in the whole place.

To make a long story short, 9 months later I was behind the Bar and “Goofus” was in my ice bin behind the Bar with two of my friends, Jerry and Mark, cracking up.

October of 1973 the Moss Beach Distillery was born, as was the world famous “Tamale Jerry enterprise.” As well as a classic Streaker with a very cold butt ! God those were fun times ! The “Still” today is geared for Tourists, not locals and lacks the Color of the early days. There are too many memories to list but I know you can recount many, I did spend time with Fannie and Frank Torres at their home close to the Still and enjoyed their stories. (Photo below: Fanny & Frank Torres; behind them the “lost” painting of Frank Torres wearing suit & tie, with Devil’s Slide in the background, courtesy Millie Muller.)

Does anybody know who “Goofus the duck” was? And what about the Tamale Jerry enterprise? I know Sam is referring to photographer Jerry Koontz,

(Photo: Jerry Koontz & Doug St. Denis in the 1970s.)
and I do remember Jerry selling homemade tamales from a cart.


Sam? Are you there? Peter Adams remembers the good times. He and his wife send you a big hug.

Millie: Desperately Seeking Fanny Lea & Frank Torres


(Photo: Looks like early Moss Beach. Courtesy Millie Muller. Email Millie: [email protected])

A few days ago, I got an email from Millicent Muller, who lives in Farmville, North Carolina. Millie is a devoted genealogist who began researching her family roots in 1980, “back when,â€? she explains, “you actually had to handwrite a letter to the clerk of the court, asking for information. Of course, that included sending a check to pay for a copy, if there was a record.â€?

Today Millie uses the Internet, including ancestry.com, with pouring in faster than before.

She began “searching for a connection to Cherokee Indians on my mother’s side. Then I switched to my father’s side. Through him is the Frank Torres connection.â€?

In the 1920s Frank Torres built and ran the popular roadhouse called “Frank’s,â€? (today known as the Moss Beach Distillery.) He married Fanny Lea, who died on the Coastside in 1976.

Why does Millie want to know more about Fanny and Frank Torres?

Fanny Torres was Millie’s aunt, one of her father Howard Lea’s three sisters. Millie never met Frank or Fanny but “would love to contact someone related to Frank Torres. That would probably have to be a grandchild of Frank’s who might have a photo of him with Fanny, someone who could pass along family stories. I’d love either one!â€?

HalfMoonBayMemories (HMBM)

Tell me a little about you. (Photo: Millie Muller)

Millie Muller (MM):
I was born in 1954 when HH ( my father Howard) was 64 years old. Everyone either called him HH or Old Man Lea. I had an older sister and yes a younger one. We were called The Lea Girls. HH married my mom when she was 20. She is still alive and remembers some things about what he talked about. To the best of my knowledge he never spoke with any of his family. HH died in 1966. He was 75 years old.

So you began your search.

Millie Muller (MM)

The first real information I got about Fanny came from a copy of my grandmother’s death certificate. Her name was Martha Lea and she died in 1941. Grandmother Martha and Aunt Fanny lived on the East Coast and then suddenly moved to Moss Beach. But I don’t know why.


What else did you learn?


It was my Aunt Fanny who provided the information on her mother’s death certificate. That was the first time I knew for sure that Fanny had been married, and what her married name was. And that was the first time I heard of Moss Beach.


What about Frank Torres?


It says that Fanny’s husband, Frank Torres, was the owner of the Frank Torres Beach Hotel on the Coastside. When I did an Internet search on the hotel, it brought up a page that shows the Moss Beach Distillery, and there was mention of Frank Torres. id.jpg

Three years before my grandmother’s death, she drew up a document for my father. It was dated Sept 13, 1938, giving his place of birth and birth date. The notary was R. Guy Smith. I searched Amazon.com for books about the Coastside and found his name in association with some pictures in a book. That was very exciting for me!


And you also got Fanny’s obit, right? How did you get that?


I posted a query on rootsweb asking for information about Fannie’s obituary and burial. Within nine days, a lady called Colleen copied and posted Fannie’s obituary for me.

There was so much information in the obituary. Her funeral service was held at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma; her street address, Ocean Blvd. in Moss Beach.

Her husband, Frank Torres, was the owner of Frank Torres Hotel on the Coastside. She was a 47-year resident of the Coastside, a native of Verona Mills, New York. She was survived by her husband and four step-children: Frank Jr., Jacinto, Margaret and Nellie.

My goal is to learn as much as I can about these people. Why the move from New York to California? That would have been a huge move for a widow (her husband, Edwin Charles Lea, died in 1906) and her three grown daughters, Fanny, Alice and Maude.


Did you know Frank’s restaurant was a prohibition-era roadhouse?



I first learned about the prohibition roadhouse when I did a search on the Frank Torres Beach Hotel in Moss Beach. That search brought me to your website, and that’s where I read about that.


Did you know there were rumors about Fannie working as a “madam,â€? running a bordello in the bungalows (now gone) next door to the roadhouse?


I had no idea about the rumors, and it doesn’t bother me at all. Matter of fact, I got a chuckle out of it. My oldest sister, Wanda, her mother-in-law, ran a house in Norfolk, VA back in the day. Wanda passed in ’96.


What else did you learn from Fanny’s obit?


In Fanny’s obituary, it says she was survived by Frank and four step-children: Frank, Jr. of Hillsborough; Jacino of South San Francisco; Margaret Rossi of Pacifica and Nellie Tooring of San Francisco.

If anyone has pictures of Frank and Fanny together, I’m guessing it would be them or their children. So far I haven’t found any information about them—but I just learned about them.

HMBM: thompsonbk.jpg

Here’s some background info about Frank Torres gleaned from food critic Ruth Thompson’s 1930s book (“Eating Around San Francisco.â€?)

Born in Peru, Frank Torres left his home at the age of 14, and traveled the globe, trekking through Central and South America, Europe and the Philippines. As a steward on vessels that called at ports of the world, he “learned to cook in every language.â€?

He also rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, such as Alice Roosevelt, a cousin of Eleanor Roosevelt, the future First Lady. In 1905 Torres was present when Alice met and fell in love with Nicholas Longworth, a freshman congressman from Ohio. Their wedding, later held in the East Room of the White House, was to be the social event of the season.

About 1920 Frank came to Moss Beach. At first he had an “attractive rambling place,â€? but in 1928 he built the new “bungalow restaurant.â€?

The kitchen was commandeered by members of the Torres family, including Mrs. Torres, “ a charming hostess,â€? Frank, Jr., the chef, and Victor, who not only worked as a waiter but also played the piano.

In the eyes of food critic Ruth Thompson, Frank Torres “led a life of romance and adventure which makes the live of us ordinary stay-at-homes quite pale beside it.â€?


I just found Frank’s name on the 1930 census report. He’s number 185. And on the 1920 report, he is number 1418.

I think all this exciting!


Let’s talk about the photos a bit. The one of the lady with the white cat—could that be taken at the Distillery? I know you’ve never been there, and the restaurant doesn’t look like that today, but, to me, it feels familiar.


I was thinking the same thing about the picture of Martha (my grandmother) and the white cat. Two things: the color of the building and the archway shadow appear to be the same as in the photo.

According to the dates on the snap shots, the time frame is right for all the photos to have been taken in Moss Beach.


We all hope you’ll solve the mystery—and that someone from the Lea or Torres family will contact you soon.

I’ve been doing genealogy research on the family for several years now. I like to know the where for and what if about things. And I enjoy putting puzzles together. This is like one giant puzzle to me. I want to know things like, Fanny had a middle name and the initial was “P” but I don’t have a clue what the “P” stood for. For Martha there was “A,” but I don’t know what the “A” was for.
I would love to contact someone who was related to Frank Torres.

Email Millie Muller: [email protected]

Moss Beach Distillery, circa 1980

(photo courtesy Jerry Koontz, jerrysphotos.com)
The Distillery was built about 1927 when Prohibition was in full swing. Frank Torres, a native of Peru [I believe] was the owner and his residence stood steps away. I may have told you before but I did meet with Frank at his home once. He was a friendly man, full of mischief–but what struck me was the painting on the wall–of Frank Torres, wearing suit and tie, with Devil’s Slide behind him. I often wonder where that painting is….the image certainly reflected where the power lay at least on that part of the Coastside.

By 1980 the restaurant’s name had changed from Frank’s to the Galway Bay Inn to the Distillery and one of the owners was David Andrews.

Fragment From A Day In El Granada In The 1970s

Cathy Duncan came by to visit. She was thinking of changing her name to Day Keith. She lives in La Honda with “Peaches” who used to play the piano at the Moss Beach Distillery.

Invite.jpg “In the spirit of love..May the circle be unbroken…” Here’s an invitation to Cathy Duncan’s wedding (to Frank A.) that took place at the Kings Mountain Firehouse on Sunday, April 20, 1980.



In 1977 I had a small cabinet shop in El Granada, and built a lot of signs and things for Carolyn Wood, a graphic artist. Carolyn was doing the menus, and designing the big sign out on Hwy 1 for what was going to be called “the Distillery” but had been the Galway Bay Inn for years.

This guy Paul had purchased the restaurant and in talking with Carolyn, he found out I had knowledge of an old whiskey still’s location. The old postmaster of the El Granada Post office’s grandfather (as the story was told me) had buried the original still from this restaurant behind a barn somewhere in Half Moon Bay during prohibition. It was supposed to still be there.

Carolyn came by my shop, and introduced me to Paul. Paul let me know–with his southern California attitude showing– that he was going to get this original still buried behind the barn. It truly left me scratching my head wondering why he came by to meet me just to tell me this but whatever! He made it very clear he did not need mine!

In Burlingame was (as far as I know) the first mini storage place on the peninsula named “U Stor It” run by a friend of mine named Mark. This was a warehouse with lots of plywood cubicles and mesh wire composition built the entire area for two stories except for the office, and a driveway from the front to the back. Along this driveway people were allowed to sell things if they had a box there, and this is where the whiskey still sat. $85.00 said the piece of binder paper taped to it.

A couple of weeks later Carolyn Wood called me up and said Paul could not find the whiskey still buried and so was interested in mine. He came over to my shop and started going on (very wired dude) about how he had found a still for $800.00 but it wasn’t in very good shape. I agreed to show him the one I knew about and told him the location. As soon as he left I called Mark, and told him to put a price tag on it for $800.00. Mark did it one better, he brought it into the office, put a sheet under it on a table, wrote a full typed page of its history and placed it neatly to the side of this giant metal tea pot with a straw.

When Paul arrived with Carolyn (I wasn’t far behind in my car) he was elated going on about how much better this one was than the other for $800.00 and in so much better shape!

$800.00 was a whole lot of money to us back in 1977 so you will never know how gleeful we were when Paul said he wanted it!

He started dealing out the hundred dollar bills, put the still in the car, drove away happy while Mark and I deducted the $85.00 we owed the original owner and split the rest……….. I always feel I can afford to eat at the Moss Beach Distillery!

I guess Paul took the whiskey still with him when he moved away but this is truly how the Distillery got its still!

What is it?


You can see it in the Pacific Ocean west of the Moss Beach Distillery–you can see it from the tidepools and the dreamy Cypress forest.

What is it?

It’s a concrete wall that dates back to WWII when it was erected to warn commercial fishermen and aircraft of the target practice range in the vicinity.

It’s west of the Moss Beach Distillery: Distill.jpg