Prince Lounge closing

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Bartender Linda Kelm serves drinks at the Prince Lounge. Owner Kit Pettigrew opened the bar in 1965.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

With money he said he earned gambling, Kit Pettigrew bought one of 12 liquor licenses available in Clovis and opened a bar.

More than four decades later, he is closing the doors of the Prince Lounge.

“I’m a dinosaur,” Pettigrew said, laughing.

The Prince Lounge is expected to close by the end of the week, but Pettigrew is trying to extend the closure into mid-September, he said.

Craig Pettigrew, co-owner of the Prince Lounge, said his family is reluctantly closing the bar. He said he can’t comment on whether the closure is connected to a lawsuit recently settled out of court.

In 1961, about a year after Clovis did away with laws prohibiting the sale of liquor, Kit Pettigrew said he bought a bar on Second and Mitchell streets called the Smokehouse.

The Smokehouse was “wild,” Kit Pettigrew said, recalling barroom brawls and lots of excitement.

“That old Smokehouse was wild, but when you’re 25 you are wild, too. You just mix it up with them and don’t think nothing about it,” the 75-year-old said.

In 1965, Kit Pettigrew closed down the Smokehouse and carried his liquor license to a new location, and the Prince Lounge was born at Second and Prince streets.

Several years later, Pettigrew said he moved the bar to its current location at Seventh and Prince streets.

“This was back when Clovis was jumping. We had five bands playing every night and had a crowd,” he said.

“We were packed every night. (Bands) might sound like crap, but they’d stand in line to get in out there.”

Several famous musicians have played there over the years, he said, including Charley Pride, Tommy Allsup and The Fireballs.

Pettigrew said he will miss his employees and regulars when the bar is closed, some of whom have been with him more than 30 years and are like extended family.

Kevin McDonough, a regular customer, said he has patronized the Prince Lounge for many years.

“You get comfortable in one place,” he said.

“I know everybody in here,” the Clovis floor installer said. “We’re not just customer and employee — we’re friends.”

Pettigrew said things have changed in the bar business and he’s ready to move on.

Society is pushing bars out, Kit Pettigrew believes, making the business harder.

In January 2006, Christian Heller Jr. of Clovis filed a personal injury suit against the Prince Lounge and Package Goods for injuries he received that left him paralyzed in an accident caused by a drunken driver.

The lawsuit alleged the driver, who later pleaded guilty to driving under the influence causing great bodily harm, was served alcohol at the Prince Lounge on July 17, 2004, the night of the accident.

In May, Heller died from the injuries he sustained. Christian Heller Sr. proceeded with the suit, amended as a wrongful death suit.

Court officials said the case has been settled out of court and the terms of the settlement, when filed, will be sealed.

Heller Sr. declined comment.

Kit Pettigrew said it’s a good time to get out of the bar business.

“Making money on the whiskey business (these days), you can forget it. They’re just prohibitionist, is what they are. They’re just going about it in a different way,” he said.

“I’m sick of it. Fifty years is enough. The people that drank with me were super people, and I appreciate them.”