Erik C. Andersen’s most recent visit to Tinhorn Flats Saloon and Grill was in 2019, when his company rented out the restaurant for a mixer. But that event may have marked the last time he’d ever visit.
Tinhorn Flats has been open recently, of course. Its defiance of coronavirus public health orders prohibiting in-person dining, and continued operations despite losing its permits and fighting the city and county in court, have garnered the restaurant national fame. Supporters both local and outside of Burbank have rallied to the eatery’s defense, seeing the city’s efforts to close it as government overreach.
But for Andersen and many others who live or work in the Magnolia Park area, where Tinhorn Flats is located, the matter is simple: Tinhorn Flats is a bad neighbor.
“It’s selfishness,” he said. “It’s me, me, me — it’s all about me and not the community. And Burbank is a very community oriented city. … There’s just so much pride in Burbank, and when something like this happens, I don’t know even how to react because it’s so disappointing.”
Andersen said that if Tinhorn Flats had asked the community for help months ago rather than flouting health orders, he would have patronized the saloon every week to help keep it open — it was that important to him. Now, he’s sworn off visiting the place as long as it remains under the current ownership.
Out of the more than a dozen Magnolia Park area community members who offered opinions about Tinhorn Flats, the vast majority said they were frustrated or angry with the restaurant. Some complained about noise, others the profanity sometimes displayed on protestors’ flags and signs. Several were worried about their health and that of their family members, saying the restaurant’s activity could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.
Katie Amanek, a Magnolia Park resident who has a heart condition that puts her at heightened risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, said she’s felt that Tinhorn Flats was acting irresponsibly since it reopened its outdoor patio in December.
Those who argue that people like her should remain isolated and allow Tinhorn Flats to operate as it wishes, she added, are “basically telling me, ‘You can stay home for the rest of your life, and your ability to enjoy your community is not as valid or as important as my ability to do whatever I want.’”
Several other Magnolia Park community members expressed interest in speaking with the Leader regarding their frustrations with Tinhorn Flats, but were concerned about retribution from the restaurant’s supporters. Baret Lepejian, the owner of Tinhorn Flats who currently lives in Thailand, did not respond to the Burbank Leader’s requests for comment.
Not all believe the restaurant is wholly in the wrong, however. One Magnolia Park resident, who similarly asked not to be named for fear of being condemned for his opinion, said he felt city officials were unfairly targeting Tinhorn Flats.
In his view, while the restaurant isn’t completely blameless, the city should have focused on fines rather than escalating the situation by switching off power or making arrests. Though he said he has regularly voted for Democratic candidates and believes COVID-19 is a threat, he is worried that those with extreme views — whether against or in favor of Tinhorn Flats — will create conflict within Burbank.
Alisa Nelson, who said she lives so close to Tinhorn Flats that she can see — and hear — it from her front yard, also worries that clashing stances regarding the restaurant might eventually lead to violence. But while she supports the right of the saloon’s supporters to protest, she takes issue with the sometimes-vulgar nature of their signs and flags.
“I have a child who’s old enough to read those things, and it’s just really frustrating that we have to deal with all that right there in our home,” Nelson said. “There’s no way we can escape it.”
A neonatal intensive care unit nurse, Nelson said she takes the pandemic very seriously, particularly since her youngest child has a heart condition that puts him at high risk of being seriously affected by the coronavirus.
“Everyone has been affected [by the pandemic] in one way or another,” she added. “For this one business to think that they are superior and shouldn’t have to abide by the same rules and laws as anybody else, it just blows my mind.”
Amy Bloom Mazziotti, who owns the Spray Studio — located almost directly across the street from Tinhorn Flats — said she has followed those rules, shutting her business down for months when required to. Business owners have to put food on the table, she acknowledges, but she has a hard time sympathizing with Tinhorn Flats, whose actions she believes are politically motivated.
“It’s harder to feel bad when I am going through it,” Mazziotti said, “and they’re just like, ‘Screw it, screw everyone else, we’re going to do whatever we want.’”
Having large crowds across the street — often monitored by armed police officers — hasn’t helped her business, she added. And like her fellow Magnolia Park community members, Mazziotti is concerned about the conclusion of the issue at the restaurant.
“When does it end, or how does it end?” she wondered. “That’s kind of scary to not know.”
When she was growing up in Burbank, Mazziotti said she used to dream of walking through the double doors of Tinhorn Flats, which she saw as a kind of idyllic, old-West bar. And she did, when she was older, frequently enjoying a burger and beer with her husband after work.
But after all that’s happened now — however it ends — she won’t be going back, she said.