One warm day in 1974, a wild-haired man on a Harley arrived unannounced at the doorstep of a family’s home in Palos Verdes. He was carrying dental tools.
A 23 year-old girl with chestnut hair and a big smile named DK was sitting on the back porch. Her mom came out and told her there was an unusual visitor looking for her.
“I don’t know anybody with a Harley,” DK said.
“He has your dental tools,” her mom said.
DK realized it was Sal Longo, her teacher at the dental technician office in Long Beach where she was training.
“Why would he bring my dental tools to my house?” she asked.
“He’s in love with you.”
DK dismissed her mom’s theory about Sal, a free-spirited man ten years her senior who had moved from New York to California at the age of 19 with nothing but his 1963 Chevy.
Four years later they were married. It was, and 35 years later still is, a marriage built on music.
“We were allowed to play music in our work stations,” DK said. “We both loved Little Feat…their music is kind of what brought us together.”
Two unlikely events led to Sal and DK getting married and to the couple becoming Suzy’s owners. It was Sal’s partner at the dental office who decided they should take on student apprentices. Sal had no interest in teaching but lost the argument, and DK and her sister soon began their training at his office.
Sal and DK soon realized they had much in common. Neither of them actually played music, but they possessed an outsized love for rock n’ roll. Beyond Little Feat, they both adored the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding and the Righteous Brothers. DK was a skilled dancer, and the couple would go out to dance at swing and zydeco clubs. Sal wasn’t much of a dancer – DK is adept at imitating his lone signature move – but he would happily join his date on the dance floor.
DK and Sal married at the bride’s parents’ house in Palos Verdes in 1978, followed by a reception at the Palos Verdes Country Club.
“It was a free-for-all,” DK said. “My father never showed me the bar bill. We have a lot of friends. And it was a drinking crowd.”
Once they married, the couple started going to Suzy’s Bar & Grill in Hermosa Beach to see live acts and encourage the hopeful singer-songwriters at open mic nights. Suzy’s is easy to overlook. It’s a small, unglamorous watering hole whose neon green sign is the only hint of its existence among a Big Lots, a Pilates studio, and a sushi restaurant in a strip mall on Aviation. Inside its modest walls, however, the bar is a sanctuary for locals looking for a cold beer, a familiar face, and some live music.
DK and Sal became fast friends with Suzy’s owners, the staff, musicians, and regulars. Sal was busy with his dental practice and DK was working in real estate, but Suzy’s became their home away from home.
One night a few years ago, DK was in her favorite spot on the front porch of the bar when she overheard a local businessman talking about buying Suzy’s, tearing out the stage, and turning the bar into a pool hall. DK would have none of it. She rushed inside and found the owner to ask what Sal and she could do to stop the bar from selling. Within days they were partners in the business and by 2011 they were sole owners.
Sal and DK had become the accidental proprietors of Suzy’s.
Now, on any given night after 8 p.m., you will undoubtedly see DK, sitting outside with a glass of white wine and a pack or two of smokes, chatting with friends while her husband hurries around the bar inside.
On a recent Thursday night, DK was stationed at her post. A singer performed on the stage inside and DK enjoyed the music from her spot on the patio. Sal rushed outside to join the conversation and to share a glass of wine with his wife. But he was unable to sit still, getting up mid-sentence to go back inside to answer a phone call or adjust the sound for the performer. DK and Sal have very different energies but in the rare moments that they sit together, their mutual adoration is absolutely palpable.
“They are a huge part of the music scene here in the South Bay,” said Michael Holmes, host of Open Mic Night at Suzy’s for years and longtime friend of the couple. “I don’t think there is a muzzo in the South Bay that doesn’t know who Sal and DK are. They have supported local musicians for many decades.”
Over the course of several hours, regular patrons strolled in, greeting DK and Sal, stopping to chat for a while. They come for a quick dinner or to see who is performing that night. But mostly, they come to see their friends.
A friend stopped by to drop off a plant. She was learning floral arrangement and Sal and DK were the beneficiaries of her experiments, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This one fell into the latest category: it was a two-tiered, three foot flowering monstrosity of a bush with a long stick connecting the two levels.
“It’s tall,” Sal said in his New York accent that he has never lost.
“Too tall,” DK agrees.
Their eyes met and the couple burst into laughter.
This is the third in a series of love stories running through Valentine’s Day.
Previously: Beach Valentines: love never lost